He Denied Sexual Harassment Allegations In An Academic Journal. Now Two Universities Have Found Against Him.
William Jacoby set off a storm of protest last year when he used the journal he edited to rebut allegations of sexual harassment.
Last April, William Jacoby, a political scientist at Michigan State University (MSU), used the website of American Journal of Political Science to dismiss allegations of sexual harassment as “false” and “unfounded.” But now both MSU and the University of Michigan, where Jacoby taught at a research methods summer school, have concluded that he violated their harassment policies by propositioning graduate students.
In a report finished last October, the University of Michigan concluded that in 2002, Jacoby asked an attendee at the summer school, Rebecca Gill, now an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to have an affair with him.
MSU’s report, completed earlier this month, concluded that in 2012 or 2013 he propositioned a graduate student for sexual favors in exchange for his guidance on her research. The student, whose name is redacted in a copy of the report obtained by BuzzFeed News, alleged that Jacoby said: “You can’t expect me to do something for nothing, quid pro quo.”
Jacoby, who is known for his studies of the “culture wars” and political polarization in the US, retired from MSU on Jan. 1.
He denies both allegations. The University of Michigan’s conclusion was “based on a biased and incomplete consideration of the evidence that was presented,” Jacoby told BuzzFeed News by email. “With respect to the MSU report, I continue to deny that accusation as well… Currently, I am considering my appeal options.”
The University of Michigan said it could not comment on investigations as a matter of policy. Jacoby last taught at a summer school it hosts on campus, the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) summer program, in 2017, before the allegations became public. He also was a member of the advisory committee for the summer school, which is run by his wife, Saundra Schneider.
“We do not anticipate having William Jacoby participate in any future ICPSR summer programs,” University of Michigan spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told BuzzFeed News by email. “He is no longer a member of the advisory committee.”
MSU said that it could not comment at this time. “While there was a finding, any decisions regarding corrective action or sanctions for the respondent will not be made until the conclusion of the appeal process,” MSU spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant told BuzzFeed News by email.
Gill is also appealing MSU’s investigation report, which concluded there was “insufficient” evidence that Jacoby retaliated against her after the allegation became public.
Gill maintains that Jacoby’s rebuttal, published in the American Journal of Political Science, amounted to retaliation because it effectively branded her a liar. The controversy was widely discussed on social media, with many researchers outraged that an editor would use a journal in this way.
“The discipline certainly viewed that as an abuse of power and retaliatory,” Gill told BuzzFeed News. Jacoby stepped down as editor shortly after the post, which was quickly removed from the journal’s website.
A third woman, Valerie Sulfaro, a political scientist at James Madison University in Virginia, also filed complaints against Jacoby with the University of Michigan and MSU. She was a graduate student in Jacoby’s department at the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s, and also participated in the ICPSR summer school. She had a sexual relationship with Jacoby, and told BuzzFeed News that she felt pressured to do so because of his influence on her career.
Sulfaro said that she spoke to investigators at the University of Michigan last summer but has heard nothing since. “They have not contacted any of my witnesses,” she said. “They haven’t told me that they’ve ended the investigation.”