On Friday night, Assistant Vice President for Communications Dan Day confirmed that professor Sergio Verdú was dismissed from the faculty as of Sept. 24 following a University investigation into his conduct in relation to University policies that prohibit consensual relations with students and require honesty and cooperation in University matters.
A Title IX investigation also found Verdú responsible for sexual harassment of his advisee, graduate student Yeohee Im, on June 9, 2017, but he was not disciplined beyond an eight-hour training session after accusations emerged, according to a Nov. 9, 2017, article in the Huffington Post. The University clarified on Saturday that there was in fact one stage of discipline for Verdú “that included the counseling sessions and other penalties, which the University cannot disclose because of privacy concerns for those involved,“ according to Day.
Im wrote in a Sept. 28, 2018 email that she thinks the University’s punishment of an eight-hour training was “not appropriate because it did not have a preventive effect although an essential role of punishments is to prevent in advance further misconducts from happening.”
Verdú did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The dismissal by the University’s Board of Trustees “was recommended by the president and the provost after an investigation established that Dr. Verdu violated the University’s policy prohibiting Consensual Relations with Students, and its policy requiring Honesty and Cooperation in University Matters,” Day wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
Im, the graduate student who initially alleged Verdú’s sexual misconduct, wrote in an email Sept. 28 that she did not know the details of Verdú’s termination as she is currently in Korea.
“I heard today [Sept. 28] that [the] ELE department chair announced to ELE students that Verdu got dismissed,” she wrote, adding that the University did not notify her of Verdú’s termination “in any way.”
“Before the recommendation was submitted, it was reviewed by an independent, standing committee of the faculty at the request of Dr. Verdu, and that committee agreed with the finding that Dr. Verdu violated those policies and concluded that the recommended penalty was reasonable,” Day wrote in an email.
Im wrote that the University “finally made a decent decision on Verdu’s case . . . thanks to students’ courageous voices.”
“Abuse of authority can be prevented only when there is a clear message from the institute that abuse is never tolerated,” Im wrote. “Administrators of the university should remember that the decision to terminate Verdu’s position is not a closure of the sexual discrimination issue, but rather is a baby step in the right direction.”
The ‘Prince’ reported in November 2017 that the Title IX’s panel deliberations focused on two incidents between Im and Verdú when the two were watching television alone in Verdú's home. In the first incident, the two watched “The Handmaiden” which Im said made her uncomfortable because of its graphic sexual content. Verdú also allegedly put his arm around Im. In the second incident, the two watched a different film and Verdú allegedly wrapped his arm around her shoulders and also allegedly put his left hand on her thigh close to her underwear. In November 2017, Verdú wrote in an email that he “unequivocally den[ies] any allegations of advances, let alone sexual harassment.”
At the beginning of the spring 2018 semester, Verdú was later placed on administrative leave pending a review of his conduct regarding University policy on consensual relationships with students. In February 2018, new allegations were published about Verdú’s past relationships with students, including that he was allegedly seen romantically kissing a graduate student at a conference. These allegations had been told to the University in February and March of 2017.
In an email to the ‘Prince’ in February 2018, Verdú denied allegations that he has had relationships with students.
Before 2016, a clause in “Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities” stated that relationships between students and professors were violations of University and professional standards, as well as potentially violations of state and federal anti-discrimination statutes. In 2016, that clause was clarified to explicitly forbid relationships between professors and graduate students under their academic supervision.
“Considering every faculty member was already obligated to have an education about sexual discrimination, I do not believe that the assailant's misbehavior may have occurred due to the lack of training,” Im wrote in a Sept 28. email. “It happened from [Verdú’s] wrong mentality that he can take advantage of his authority over his advisees.”
Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter deferred comment to Day.
On Monday, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni clarified the minimum penalty for all cases in which faculty members are found responsible for sexual harassment is a one-year unpaid suspension from the faculty, effective immediately. The memorandum was sent to all faculty members. According to Day, this recent action was “in response to the latest report of the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which has been examining such issues since 2014.”
As of Sept. 28, Verdú is no longer listed as faculty on the Department of Electrical Engineering’s website.
This story has been updated to reflect Vice Provost Michele Minter’s response. On Saturday, the University clarified that although Verdú's dismissal was decided on Sept. 22, it did not take effect until Sept. 24. Additionally, the details of Verdú's initial punishment have been clarified.