Northwestern University agreed Monday to halt mediation efforts that could have resulted in an out-of-court settlement with a professor who was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing students.
Northwestern's legal team had quietly been considering mediation with Peter Ludlow, a philosophy professor who the school determined had harassed two students, though it did not find he had assaulted them. Ludlow sued the two students and the university this year for defamation. The university's mediation attempt could have resolved the lawsuit, over the objections of his accusers, three people with knowledge of the cases separately confirmed to The Huffington Post.
A group of students staged a sit-in at the university president's office on Monday, insisting Northwestern should take a moral stance against cutting a check to Ludlow after finding he had behaved inappropriately.
"At the end of the day, these cases are not about how to rearrange figures in the university budget," said Kathryn Pogin, a philosophy graduate student who led the protest. "They are human beings and have a right to be treated as such."
The accusers would no longer have been liable for defaming Ludlow had the university entered into mediation. But protesters were concerned that it would have denied the accusers the chance to have their names cleared in court.
Alan Cubbage, Northwestern's vice president for university relations, said mediation was only one route the school was considering. Administrators scrapped the plan after receiving an email on Saturday from one of Ludlow's accusers asking them to do so.
"The court case is proceeding, with the University asking for dismissal of the case against all the defendants, including the student," Cubbage told HuffPost in a statement. "Nonbinding mediation was being considered in an effort to avoid having the student and other defendants go through the lengthy and often stressful process of pre-trial depositions and a trial itself."
The university investigated the allegations against Ludlow and did not find him responsible for assault in either case, but did find he had sexually harassed both students.
The first, an undergraduate journalism student, sued the school in February, claiming it had mishandled her case when she first came forward in 2012, shortly after the alleged assault took place.
The second, a graduate student in the philosophy department, came forward in March to formally accuse Ludlow of assaulting and harassing her in 2012 as well. She did not file a lawsuit.
Ludlow responded by suing both students. He also sued Northwestern for defamation, gender discrimination and invasion of privacy, claiming the school had run flawed, biased investigations.
An attorney for Ludlow did not respond to a request for comment. Philosophy professor Jennifer Lackey, who assisted the graduate student's internal complaint and was named in the suit for doing so, declined to comment.
Ludlow is not the subject of any criminal investigation, and he has disputed the accusations against him, claiming that he had consensual relationships with both students. He has also asserted that he denied their advances.
Ludlow's spring classes were canceled when students began protesting them, and he was not selected to teach any courses this fall. The undergraduate student's lawsuit led to Ludlow being denied a raise and losing out on an endowed chair, the university has stated. He was also required to attend sensitivity training.
The graduate student released a statement to HuffPost through student activists on campus Monday afternoon, praising Northwestern for suspending plans for mediation:
"There has been so much in the news lately about the many and horrifying failings of university administrations’ dealing with Title IX issues. ... Today however, the Northwestern community has taken a real step in the direction of modeling what it’s like for a university to be an ally in the fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Today, in response to criticism from the student population, who were in turn vocalizing my objections as the graduate student named in Peter Ludlow’s lawsuit, Northwestern’s administration has agreed to halt all mediation proceedings with Ludlow's attorneys. To be clear: I voiced my concerns, the broader Northwestern community mobilized on my behalf (in only 24 hours), and the administration heard our cry, in turn responding appropriately by suspending all mediation proceedings."
This story has been updated with comment from the graduate student who accused Ludlow of assaulting her.