Former Northwestern adjunct professor leaves after saying sexual harassment complaint inquiry was unfounded

Benjamin Din, Digital Projects Editor

Dave Linhardt never made it to teach the third meeting of his Principles of Entrepreneurship class.

On Jan. 12 and Jan. 14 — only the second week of the quarter — Linhardt, who was an adjunct professor, sent two emails, obtained by The Daily, to his class that said he could not continue teaching at Northwestern after someone had complained about an alleged sexual harassment incident involving Linhardt and someone outside of the NU community.

Linhardt, the founder and CEO of startup incubator FounderSensei, was teaching the entrepreneurship course when someone submitted a complaint about him after coming across a blog post he had written before coming to NU. The post — which is no longer online — was an exaggerated and embellished account of a past relationship, which, he said in his emails, someone misconstrued as sexual harassment.

“Let me make this absolutely clear,” Linhardt wrote in his email. “I have never sexually harassed any one (sic), in any way, ever. No one has ever accused me of sexual harassment, ever. The person that I referred to in the blog post has never accused me of sexual harassment.”

Linhardt later told The Daily in a July interview that he had initially assumed the person who filed a complaint was a student but realized he was not certain that was accurate.

He said in his emails that he was asked by McCormick Prof. Michael Marasco, whom he has known for more than 20 years, to teach the course and that he was teaching it without pay. Now that Linhardt is no longer at NU, Marasco is teaching the course with McCormick Prof. Mark Werwath.

Linhardt, who declined to be interviewed for this story in January, told The Daily in an email, “The only thing else I’d like to say is that I’m glad this nightmare is over.”

According to Linhardt’s emails, Title IX investigator Colleen Johnston contacted him on Jan. 11 to discuss the complaint against him. Under federal law, the University is required to investigate all sexual harassment complaints.

“It was clear to me that Ms. Johnston was following up on (the person’s) complaint and was conducting an investigation,” he wrote. “It was also clear to me that I was not being provided a presumption of innocence in this matter.”

As a part of the University’s investigation, he said he was asked to disclose information about not only his personal life, but also the personal life of the other person mentioned in the post. However, he said he had done nothing wrong and the investigation was “without merit and completely unreasonable.”

“I refused to participate in this baseless witch hunt and intrusive investigation into my personal life and the life of the other person,” he wrote. “I don’t deserve to be treated this way, and neither does she.”

In the email to his students, Linhardt said he was fired from the University. But in a July interview, Linhardt told The Daily that Marasco informed him via text that if he didn’t cooperate with the University’s request to have a meeting, he wouldn’t be able to continue teaching the class. Because of Marasco’s message and because Linhardt did not believe the University inquiry into his blog post was warranted, he did not return for the third class, he said.

Both Johnston and Marasco deferred comment to University spokesman Al Cubbage, who declined to comment on the personnel matter. Provost Daniel Linzer said he is not aware of who Linhardt is.

Linhardt said he has moved on to his other endeavors and is focusing on spending time with his family. NU’s “indelible commitment to political correctness” makes it impossible to attract genuine entrepreneurs to teach at the University, he added.

“Unfortunately, I also saw tremendous bulls— at Northwestern,” he wrote. “I was there to teach entrepreneurship. I am not there to appease overly-sensitive bureaucrats about meaningless bulls—. I just don’t have time for that crap. There are too many other sources of meaningful activity for me that I’d rather be doing.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to include a July interview with Dave Linhardt clarifying that he was unsure the source of the complaint was a student and that he initially misinterpreted that he had been fired from the University. The headline has been updated to reflect the new information.

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Twitter: @benjamindin