Klein to take leave of absence from Northwestern


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Medill Prof. Alec Klein at an event in 2012.

Nora Shelly and Mariana Alfaro

Medill Prof. Alec Klein, who on Wednesday was accused of harassment by several former students and employees of Medill, is taking a leave of absence from Northwestern.

University spokesperson Al Cubbage made the announcement in a statement Thursday afternoon. According to the statement, Klein requested the leave of absence from all his positions at NU until the investigation into the allegations made against him is complete. Klein is the director of the Medill Justice Project.

Klein was accused of “harassing” and “predatory” behavior by former students and employees in an open letter sent to Northwestern administrators on Wednesday.

In the letter, former students and employees of Klein and the Medill Justice Project allege that the tenured professor displayed “controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior” while working at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The letter accuses Klein of attempting to kiss a prospective female employee and asking a female employee to come to his hotel room for drinks during a business trip, among other accusations.

The letter states Klein “talked about his sex life and pressed for explicit details about others,” and gave “unwanted neck massages while a female employee was trying to work.”

Meribah Knight (Medill ’09), one of the women who helped coordinate the creation and distribution of the letter, said Klein’s decision to take a leave of absence is “progress but it’s not the final outcome that we hope for yet.”

“There were 10 names on the letter and since that letter was published, we’ve gotten more than that in a response,” Knight said.

The letter alleges that there was one settlement paid out because of Klein’s behavior. According to a document reviewed by The Daily, the University paid $8,000 to a former employee to settle a complaint made against Klein in 2015.

Cubbage said in statements the University will investigate the allegations published in the letter.

“The University takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention and is investigating those allegations promptly and thoroughly,” he said in his Thursday statement.

In a Wednesday statement to The Daily, Klein “categorically” denied the allegations made in the letter and said he intends to take legal action.

“Investigating potentially wrongful convictions is rigorous work, and it requires the highest-levels of accuracy, fairness and thoroughness because we are publishing for the world,” he wrote. “Our work sometimes challenges powerful institutions and is always closely scrutinized.”

A day before Klein announced his leave of absence, a group of Medill graduate students began circling a Change.org petition asking for his replacement as director of the Medill Justice Project. Hannah Wiley and Peter Rubinstein, who coordinated the creation of the petition, said they started it because students chose to come to Medill partially because of the Medill Justice Project. The allegations “soured” the experience, they said.

In the petition, students said they felt “disgusted, disheartened and disappointed, and robbed of an important opportunity to learn and report in conjunction with the Medill Justice Project.”

Klein’s lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg, told The Daily in a statement that Klein intends to “respect the confidentiality and privacy of Northwestern University and its internal process.”

“We are confident that upon review, the allegations will be determined to have been unfounded,” Miltenberg said.

Miltenberg works for Nesenoff & Miltenberg, a New York firm that specializes in the “representation of college, university and high school students and faculty facing allegations of misconduct,” according to its website. He did not immediately comment on Klein’s decision to take a leave of absence.

This story was updated at 11:45 p.m. on Thursday with additional information.

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