Students protest WashU professor’s continued employment amid sexual misconduct allegations
Students protested the continued employment of Washington University professor and Nobel Prize winner Philip Dybvig. Multiple former students alleged that he engaged in inappropriate conduct. The protest occurred outside Dybvig’s classroom, Jan. 16.
Protestors expressed dissatisfaction with the University’s handling of the allegations against Dybvig and called for him to be fired. MeToo WashU also created a petition calling to fire Dybvig, which has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures.
Students who attended the Jan. 16 protest, which was organized by MeToo WashU, have since been contacted by the Office of Student Conduct over allegations of violating campus protest policies, but were not found guilty of violations.
Multiple graduate students, most of whom are Asian, spoke to Student Life beginning in Oct. 2022 about allegations of misconduct against Dybvig. At the time, Dybvig was on a scheduled sabbatical, but is currently teaching two classes for graduate students in the Olin Business School.
Senior Erin Ritter and sophomore Sonal Churiwal attended the protest outside Dybvig’s classroom.
They said they wanted students in Dybvig’s class to be made aware of the allegations against him. After the protest, they said that multiple students in his classes approached them to say that they had not heard about the allegations of misconduct.
“They didn’t know about the allegations and were almost surprised that there was this kind of huge thing about their professor that they didn’t know about,” Churiwal said.
She said that she believes the University has a responsibility to fire Dybvig, but also to communicate more clearly with students about how the inquiry into Dybvig is being handled.
“The University hasn’t communicated what at all they’re doing to protect students,” Churiwal said. “Are there going to be proctors in his office hours? Are students still going in alone with the door shut?”
Ritter added that she believes the University’s messaging about Dybvig’s inquiry has been unclear and creates an unsafe environment for students.
“The language that was used to describe Dybvig is that he’s under inquiry by the Title IX office,” Ritter said. “We have no idea what that means. What does it mean to be under inquiry…We have no idea what the University is doing at this point.”
Student Life reached out to the Title IX office for further comment on Dybvig’s inquiry, but it did not make a comment. Julie Flory, Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications, declined to comment on Dybivg’s individual case per university policy.
Churiwal talked about whether the University would be taking on a greater level of legal liability if they made the choice to terminate an employee under investigation for misconduct. She said that she believes they assume more risk by keeping Dybvig on.
“If there was to be another case [in which Dybvig is accused of harassment], I think there’s a very valid argument there that the University is liable for that, because they have knowledge that this person has been accused of being a perpetrator and haven’t communicated at all what they’re doing,” Churiwal said.
Churiwal also said that she believes the University should take more action to protect students, even without a legal ruling on the allegations.
“There’s widely reported allegations coming from seven students,” Churiwal said. “If the University doesn’t have a legal mechanism to investigate that and act upon that and revisit the conversation surrounding his tenure, that is probably an issue.”
Rob Wild, Dean of Student Affairs, did not comment on the details of the inquiry because he said they are not in his purview, but he expressed confidence in the proper enforcement of University policies.
“The university has an obligation to respond if there’s wrongdoing that’s discovered in the investigation,” Wild said. “I don’t have access to that information, but I trust my colleagues in the administrative offices that respond in this situation.”
After students protested outside Dybvig’s classroom on Jan. 16, Churiwal and Ritter said they received emails from the Office of Student Conduct requiring them to report to the office for a meeting about a report of alleged violations of the Code of Conduct.
The students were investigated by the Office of Student Conduct for possible violations of the following policies: “Interfering with the rights of of members of the university community to engage in educational…activities, failure to comply with the reasonable and lawful requests of university officials…, knowing or recklessly violating a publishes University policy…”
Both students said they were ultimately found not guilty of violating the Code of Conduct after conversations with the Office of Student Conduct.
Nicole Gore, Associate Dean for Student Conduct and Community Standards, declined to comment when asked about the Jan. 16 protest or on expectations for student protestors.
The email Churiwal received after the Jan. 16 protest said that she was alleged to have “entered Simon Hall Room 113 where a class was being held, stood in the back of the classroom facing the professor, held signs and chanted in an attempt to disrupt the scheduled class and did not leave the classroom when asked twice to do so by Dean of Students Rob Wild.”
Wild said he could not comment on individual cases within the Office of Student Conduct, but that some students at the protest did enter the classroom, which violates the Demonstrations and Disruptions Policy.
“I understand and respect the need for freedom of expression, but when there’s a class involved, there are students who are paying money and asking to sit in that class and learn from that professor,” Wild said. “And so out of respect to all the students in the class, we do ask that if there’s demonstrations and disruptions that they do not happen during a class.”
Churiwal also said she believes that the University’s treatment of her and Ritter, and other students who were present at the protest, is hypocritical.
“This protest was on Tuesday, we were asked to meet on Wednesday, and less than one week later I had my meeting with the Office of Student Conduct,” she said. “Why is this promptness not also evident in the way the university responds to cases in Title IX?”
The Title IX office, which handles sexual misconduct allegations, and the Office of Student Conduct are separate entities within the University.
Ritter and Churiwal also said that they felt like being called into the Office of Student Conduct felt like an effort to dissuade them from protesting.
Wild said that neither he nor other administrators in the Office of Student Conduct want to prevent protests from occurring.
“I can just tell you emphatically, we never will try to intimidate students by putting them through a conduct process without reasonable belief that a conduct violation occurred,” Wild said.
Wild added that he values student activism on campus, even when it challenges University leaders and sheds light on uncomfortable issues.
“There is no place for sexual harassment, sexual violence, or sexual assault on our campus but, unfortunately, it does happen here,” Wild said. “I don’t know whether this was an example or not, but I think the energy that students are bringing to this is important, because…without that kind of student activism, many in our community aren’t aware of that.”
Churiwal said that she hopes to see more action from the University to protect students.
“[The University taking] cases of sexual violence seriously, and survivors [being] supported…would honestly be the greatest deterrence that we can have to stop more people from becoming perpetrators and to stop further acts of sexual violence,” Churiwal said.