BREAKING: College terminates tenured professor accused of sexual assault

By Noah Jennings, Co-Editor-in-Chief

File photo

Content Warning: The following article centers around the subject of sexual assault; the Chronicle regrets any discomfort this may cause.

Tenured professor Sam Weller, who was accused of sexual assault by a former faculty member in February, has been terminated by the college.

In an email statement, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim announced that Weller, who was an associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department, was issued a Notice of Dismissal earlier today as a result of the investigation conducted by the law firm Mayer Brown LLP.

“Based on Mayer Brown’s findings that Professor Weller engaged in conduct that violated the college’s sexual harassment and other policies, Provost Marcella David concluded that the conduct warranted termination,” the statement read.

Cara Dehnert, a former associate professor of instruction in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department, accused Weller of sexually assaulting her in her office in 2018 in an article published to Medium Feb. 12.

Dehnert said she spoke with Human Resources in a February 2020 meeting where she told then-Associate Vice President of Human Relations Norma De Jesus “everything,” and provided texts, emails and Facebook messages between her and Weller, but never heard from Human Resources again following the meeting. 

De Jesus resigned from her position at the college two weeks ago on June 24. 

Mayer Brown’s investigation included a review of Columbia’s Title IX and HR processes, according to Kim’s email statement.

On Feb. 18, Weller agreed to “step away” from his classes while the college investigated Dehnert’s claims, as reported by the Chronicle.

On Feb. 22, the college announced that it retained Mayer Brown to conduct an investigation into Dehnert’s allegations, as well as the college’s original handling of the case, as reported by the Chronicle.

In addition to finding that Weller violated Columbia’s sexual harassment policies, Mayer Brown “identified areas for improvement in the college’s handling of sexual misconduct and related allegations,” according to Kim’s statement.

As a result, Kim outlined new ways the college is focusing on how it handles sexual misconduct and related allegations in the future.

Moving forward, Kim said the college will hire more specialists to work in areas dealing with issues such as Title IX, sexual harassment and discrimination. They will also “leverage outside expertise to guide changes in structure, policies and process” and are currently exploring the possibility of centralizing these areas.

Kim said the college also plans on providing more training for faculty and staff on handling sexual misconduct allegations as well as providing more information and spreading awareness about Title IX across the Columbia community. 

In an email to the Chronicle, Dehnert said her initial reaction to the decision was a feeling of “peace.”

“I am very pleased with the thought, care and depth that CCC put into its investigation. I am proud of the institution from which I graduated and for which I worked for 15 years for holding true to its stated values and beliefs,” Dehnert said. “I hope this decision brings solace and healing to us all, and I hope it sends a message to would-be abusers that using their power and influence in ways that are coercive, manipulative or improper will no longer be tolerated.”

Madhurima Chakraborty, associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department and president of the Faculty Senate, said the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate presented ideas to the Provost’s Office in spring regarding the handling of sexual misconduct allegations.

“I’m grateful that the college is taking this seriously and is thinking about this not just as … a one-off thing, but an actual systemic issue that needs to be looked at,” Chakraborty said. 

Chakraborty said although she has not heard anything related to today’s announcement through her formal capacity as Faculty Senate president, she thought the decision to terminate Weller was appropriate and said the colleagues she’s spoken with feel similarly.

“We’re happy to see that there’s some accountability,” Chakraborty said. “We’re happy to see that there’s been some response, that the allegations were taken seriously, that the report was taken seriously [and] that people are looking at more than just this one sort of case.”

Weller did not immediately respond to the Chronicle’s call and voicemail to his cell phone today or previous emailed requests for an interview as of publication July 8. 

Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story. The Chronicle will continue to update the campus community.