BREAKING: Professor accused of sexual assault to ‘step away’ from teaching during Columbia investigation

By Camryn Cutinello and Noah Jennings

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

A Columbia faculty member publicly accused of sexual assault by a former colleague at the college has agreed to “step away” from the classroom while the college investigates the claims. 

In an article published on Medium Feb. 12, Cara Dehnert, a former associate professor of instruction in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department, accused Sam Weller, associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department, of sexually assaulting her in his office on March 25, 2018. 

Weller, who is a tenured professor and the author of three biographies on science fiction author Ray Bradbury, was teaching three classes this semester. 

“Sam used his power and charisma and celebrity and experience and age in a coercive way. He had taken advantage of my sadness and loneliness and vulnerability. Predators love a lamed prey,” Dehnert wrote in her article. “And March 25 was rape, full stop.”

Dehnert, now a full-time faculty member at the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma, said she originally had a meeting with Human Resources in February 2020, in which she described what happened and provided records of texts, Facebook messages and emails between her and Weller, including a text message where Dehnert told Weller how she felt about the alleged assault, which he denied.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Dehnert said she told Human Resources “everything” when she filed her complaint in 2020. 

“I felt [during] the meeting I was taken very seriously and my claims very seriously,” Dehnert said.  “I left the meeting feeling heard. But nothing happened after that.” 

Dehnert said she received no communication from Human Resources after her meeting with them in 2020, and as of Feb. 18 has not heard from the college following the publication of her article.

In a Feb. 15 statement, Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations, said the college was investigating the allegations against Weller. 

“Columbia College Chicago is aware of recent new allegations of potential criminal behavior and misconduct, which the College is investigating,” the statement said. “All reports of crimes and misconduct are taken seriously, investigated by the College and forwarded to local law enforcement if necessary.”  

Over the course of the past week, Dehnert’s post was shared on various social media platforms, via email and in the Columbia Engage app. As word of the accusation spread, calls for accountability and for Weller’s removal from the classroom grew. A petition titled “Hold Sam Weller accountable” was posted Wednesday on, and as of Friday evening had garnered more than 2,600 signatures. 

In a Feb. 16 interview, Madhurima Chakraborty, president of the Faculty Senate and associate chair of the English and Creative Writing Department, said she wanted more transparency from the college. 

“I want there to be clarity around accountability,” Chakraborty said. “I want there to be a clear understanding of what it is that we should be able to expect from our workplaces and the place where we study.” 

A statement from Lukidis to the Chronicle on Feb. 18 said Weller and the college “have agreed he will step away from his classes pending the outcome of the investigation.”  

Students enrolled in Weller’s classes received an email Friday afternoon from Pegeen Reichert Powell, chair of the English and Creative Writing Department, informing them that Weller’s classes would be taught by a substitute “for the time being.”  

Weller has not responded to the Chronicle’s emailed requests for an interview or calls to his office and cell phone as of publication Feb. 18.

The Feb. 18 statement from Lukidis said the college had met with Dehnert in 2020 and has now opened a new investigation following the publication of her story on Medium. 

“Professor Dehnert previously met with the College in 2020 about events related to her recent essay regarding 2018 events,” the statement said. “In 2020, the college looked into the issues raised then, based on the information before the college at the time.” 

According to Lukidis, the article published Feb. 12 included a new allegation different from what was first reported to Human Resources. 

“Professor Dehnert’s recent post contains a new allegation that is substantially different,” the statement said. “The college has opened a new investigation.” 

In a Feb. 18 interview with the Chronicle, Dehnert said her article did not contain any new allegations. 

When asked about this, Lukidis provided the Chronicle with an additional statement that said, “Because of questions raised in Professor Dehnert’s post, the college also is reviewing its prior handling of the matter.” 

Chakraborty, who is associate chair of the department in which Weller teaches, said she is not involved in the investigations. Chakraborty said she has had conversations with other faculty members about their concerns. 

“What [faculty are] saying to me is concern over process, is concern over accountability, a concern over what is supposed to happen,” Chakraborty said. “If there is a pattern of inappropriate behavior that’s tolerated by the college …​ ​that’s not the college that we look forward to coming to and teaching at and sharing with our students. That’s not the place that we want this place, that we actually kind of love, to be.” 

In a Feb. 17 email to the Chronicle, Dehnert said it is up to the college to decide further action against Weller. 

“I feel that actions should have consequences, and I believe that CCC carries the responsibility for ensuring a safe learning, creating and working environment for its employees and especially students,” Dehnert said. “I know I did what was right, but I also accept that any next steps are out of my control. So at this point, I’m choosing to focus my energies on helping and supporting others.” 

The Feb. 18 statement from Lukidis said “Columbia is committed to a safe learning and working environment as well as to an investigative process that is fair to all involved.” 

The statement went on to say complaints can be filed to Human Resources by emailing Complaints can also be submitted to Columbia’s Whistleblower Hotline through an online report or by calling 844-406-8158. 

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