the entrance sign of the University of Illinois
the entrance sign of the University of Illinois

University of Illinois Protected Harassers: Investigation

Comparative biosciences professor Valarmathi Thiruvanamalai was among those able to leave the institution quietly despite credible accusations of misconduct, ProPublica reports.

Shawna Williams
Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Aug 28, 2019

ABOVE: WIKIMEDIA, BEYOND MY KEN

Multiple professors at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who were credibly accused of sexual harassment have been put on paid administrative leave, allowed to leave the institution quietly, or both, ProPublica Illinois and NPR Illinois jointly reported yesterday (August 27). Among them was Valarmathi Thiruvanamalai, a comparative biosciences faculty member who went on to a position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham after his resignation from UIUC.

According to ProPublica, a student reported Thiruvanamalai to the university for inappropriate behavior in 2014, which he denied. The student was moved to a different lab, and Thiruvanamalai was directed not to contact the complainant. Another student and a lab tech then came forward with allegations. Thiruvanamalai’s alleged behavior “included calls, texts, inquiries about bathroom breaks and menstrual cycles, an invitation to a student to stay in the same hotel room, and unannounced visits to...

See “Dealing with Unethical or Illegal Conduct in Higher Education

The professor denied the allegations, but a university investigation found he had violated conduct policies. He agreed to resign in November 2015, but remained on paid administrative leave until the following August, when his contract expired. He began working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in November 2017, but left for unspecified reasons in June 2019 after ProPublica had contacted UAB with questions about him.

The other UIUC cases unearthed in the ProPublica investigation include a landscape architecture professor who agreed to retire after being found to have stalked a colleague; an anthropologist put on paid administrative leave after he was found to have violated the university’s code of conduct, but not its sexual harassment policy; and a law professor found to have “made the working and teaching environment uncomfortable for a countless number of female colleagues and students,” and who is currently on unpaid leave but plans to return to work at UIUC next year.

Shawna Williams is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at swilliams@the-scientist.com or follow her on Twitter @coloradan.

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