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N.H. AG Launches Investigation Into Sexual Misconduct Allegations at Dartmouth

  • Bill Kelley, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College.

  • Paul Whalen, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College.

  • Psychology professor Todd Heatherton is photographed in a study area at Dartmouth College's Moore Hall on October 7, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hanover — The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday announced it will open a criminal investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against three psychology professors at Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth last week said it had placed Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen on paid leave and restricted their access to campus as administrators investigated potential “serious misconduct,” but did not say what the accusations entailed.

Other than a mention of alleged “sexual misconduct,” Tuesday’s news release from New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald did not provide more details about what is alleged to have occurred.

Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment.

Attorneys for Heatherton said in a Tuesday statement that he had been cooperating with Dartmouth’s internal investigation.

Given that the college’s inquiry and the budding state probe both were ongoing, “there should be no rush to judgment as to Dr. Heatherton’s violation of any policies or laws,” said attorneys Julie Moore, of Wellesley, Mass., and Steven Gordon, of Concord.

Moore and Gordon said they had “repeatedly” asked Dartmouth about the details of the investigation, including “whether it relates to an out-of-state incident about which Dr. Heatherton was previously questioned,” but did not receive a response from administrators.

Heatherton’s attorneys did not respond to a follow-up question about the “out-of-state incident” they mentioned.

“Dr. Heatherton is confident that he has not violated any written policy of Dartmouth, including policies relating to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment,” the attorneys said. “He has engaged in no sexual relations with any student.”

The attorneys said Heatherton has continued to meet with and mentor his current graduate students and advisees, all with “the college’s knowledge and approval.”

College officials on Tuesday confirmed that they had allowed Heatherton to meet with students, but said his access to campus has been restricted.

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon addressed the investigation in a letter to campus on Tuesday, saying the college takes the allegations “very seriously” and is cooperating with authorities.

He also reminded the community that the investigations were ongoing and had not reached any conclusions.

“I want to say in the most emphatic way possible that sexual misconduct and harassment are unacceptable and have no place at Dartmouth,” Hanlon said. “Such acts harm us as individuals and as members of the community.”

Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty expressed dismay at the news surrounding their department and called for a “fair and thorough” investigation.

“The mood is low,” Robert Leaton, a professor emeritus of psychology, said on Tuesday as he left Moore Hall.

Leaton said he feared the department’s reputation could suffer “irreparable harm,” which in turn could affect recruitment of graduate students and its research profile.

“It’s not a good day for the department, that’s for sure,” Matthijs van der Meer, an assistant professor, said during an interview at his office a few minutes later.

Neither faculty member said he knew the three professors well or had knowledge of the allegations. Both cautioned the public not to draw conclusions before the investigations end.

Van der Meer also noted that the allegations are surfacing during a wave of revelations about sexual misconduct sparked by accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“It’s probably not just at this department,” he said, adding later, “People are asking questions and saying, ‘Maybe we should confront these issues publicly.’ ”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Kelley’s and Whalen’s personal research websites appeared to have been taken offline. Their faculty pages list at least one collaboration, a paper titled “Neural responses to ambiguity involve domain-general and domain-specific emotion processing systems.”

Whalen’s research focuses on the area of the brain called the amygdala and its influence over fear, according to his page.

Kelley’s faculty homepage says he uses neuroimaging, neuropsychological and behavioral techniques to answer questions about the brain, including, “How does the human brain represent different kinds of reward? And how do we self-regulate against short-term rewards when they can lead to maladaptive habits down the road?”

The New York Times Magazine in 2011 described Heatherton as a “pioneer” in social neuroscience, or “the study of links between brain processes and social behavior.”

He currently serves as the Lincoln Filene professor in human relations in Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, as well as the director of the school’s Center for Social Brain Sciences.

The timing of Dartmouth’s internal inquiry, as well as the state’s response, remained unclear on Tuesday.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office cited reporting from student newspaper The Dartmouth that it said prompted Dartmouth to publicly announce that the three professors were under investigation.

Without specifying the order in which events occurred, the attorney general also said in his statement that he “has engaged in a dialogue with Dartmouth College and we have learned from the college that it has received allegations of sexual misconduct.”

Based on that information, MacDonald’s office said, it will launch an investigation, along with the Grafton County Attorney’s Office, the New Hampshire State Police, the Grafton County Sheriff’s Office and the Hanover Police Department.

College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said she could not comment beyond a statement posted on the school’s website that included Hanlon’s remarks.

“Dartmouth is cooperating with law enforcement,” the statement said. “From the outset of our investigations, we have encouraged the reporting of possible crimes to law enforcement and have offered resources to support that reporting.”

The attorney general’s release asked anyone with information pertaining to the investigation to call State Police Trooper Catherine Shackford at 603-419-8014 or Scott Gilbert, an investigator with the state Attorney General’s Office, at 603-931-9570.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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Posted at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Updated at 3 p.m. on Tuesday to include Heatheron statement. Updated at 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday.



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