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Hanlon’s involvement in U Mich. case questioned

  • Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon answers questions during an editorial board meeting at the Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/21/2020 10:14:24 PM
Modified: 2/21/2020 10:14:10 PM

HANOVER — A group of Dartmouth College community members advocating against sexual misconduct and harassment raised the alarm Friday over allegations of misconduct by a University of Michigan administrator, tracing the case back to current Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon and his time as a provost at Michigan.

The Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence is demanding answers about Hanlon’s involvement in promoting University of Michigan administrator Martin Philbert in 2010 to dean of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

Philbert, who himself later became provost in Ann Arbor, was placed on leave last month while an investigation examines allegations of sexual misconduct. Hanlon was the provost at the University of Michigan before coming to Dartmouth in 2013.

“The U of M case illustrates how leaders deeply embedded in academic cultures may ‘circle the wagons’ as the primary response to allegations of abuse of power,” DCGHSV said in an emailed statement on Friday. “Such defensive responses support professional collegiality without accountability, increasing the likelihood of systems failure, and scenarios in which few or no steps are taken to investigate reports of misconduct.”

For his part, Hanlon says a 2010 investigation regarding allegations about Philbert found no evidence of misconduct.

“In 2010, when Martin Philbert was appointed dean of Michigan’s School of Public Health, a thorough background check by an external search firm, and a rigorous independent investigation of the allegations did not uncover any evidence of misconduct or anything that undermined his qualifications or fitness to serve,” Hanlon said via Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence in a statement she emailed to the Valley News last week.

Lawrence on Friday said Dartmouth would not comment beyond the statement, declined a request to interview Hanlon and directed questions to the University of Michigan press office.

As the Michigan provost, Hanlon recommended Philbert, a neurotoxicologist, be promoted to dean of the School of Public Health in 2010.

At the time, Hanlon fended off attacks on Philbert and defended the search committee’s process in an email to the School of Public Health community, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Then-University of Michigan “President (Mary Sue) Coleman and I stand by the work of the Search Advisory Committee and offer them our full support,” Hanlon wrote in the 2010 email.

Hanlon’s email was responding to an anonymous email previously sent to the School of Public Health, which the Free Press said suggested the process had been manipulated by the search committee leader to “ensure that Dr. Philbert has no real competition.”

Hanlon denounced the anonymous note, saying, “This kind of vicious, personalized and anonymous attack threatens the collegiality of the School and violates all standards of professional behavior.”

The Free Press, citing anonymous sources,reported earlier this month that more than 20 women have come forward with complaints against Philbert going back decades. He first joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1995.

The Free Press reported that people have brought complaints against Philbert to the attention of administrators at least three times over the years.

The university settled a 2004 lawsuit for $200,000 with a former employee in Philbert’s lab, Thomas Komorowski, The Detroit News reported.

According to the Free Press, Komorowski alleged that Philbert wrongfully terminated him to make room for a female researcher Philbert favored. The university has said there was no sexual relationship between Philbert and the female researcher.

The Free Press also reported that in 2009 a woman reported to her supervisor in the dean’s office that Philbert had sexually harassed her. The resolution of that case is unclear, the Free Press said.

Dartmouth is in the midst of reforms to the way it handles sexual harassment in the aftermath of a lawsuit that alleged that college administrators turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct by three professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

A federal judge granted preliminary approval to a $14 million settlement in the case last month.

The DCGHSV group on Friday also raised concerns that as many as 90 students in the department may have been affected by sexual misconduct by the three former professors, who all left Dartmouth in 2018 as the college was moving to revoke their tenure and fire them.

“With so many known victims, we must once again ask why Dartmouth did not act sooner to address what was obviously an out-of-control situation?” the DCGHSV said in its statement on Friday. “What changes have been made to improve the systems that are clearly broken, having allowed the PBS abuses to persist for so many years?”

Though those concerned with sexual harassment at Dartmouth welcome recent reforms on campus, they say the changes in tone and process may not be enough to address the problem. They also have asked the institution’s leaders to step up.

“The direct perpetrators of sexual harassment are bad enough; when systems failures follow, we wind up with institutional betrayal rather than courageous, fair, and exemplary leadership,” the DCGHSV wrote.

Diana Whitney, a 1995 Dartmouth graduate who co-founded the DCGHSV in the wake of the filing of the PBS lawsuit, said in an email on Thursday that she is personally concerned about Hanlon’s connection to Philbert.

“I would say that this connection to an alleged serial sexual harrasser in Hanlon’s past is deeply troubling, and I’d like to see the College acknowledge this history rather than sweeping it under the rug,” said Whitney, who emphasized that she was writing on her own behalf, not on behalf of the group. “It is only by looking with clear eyes at abuses of power in academia that institutions can create real change.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com.




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