Advancement was contingent on compliance, the plaintiffs said, and the professors used their power to force them to participate in an alcohol- and sex-saturated culture. Some students suffered emotional distress. Two attempted suicide.
The complaint also implicated Dr. Bucci, Dr. Wheatley and other administrators. They were accused of knowing about the professors’ inappropriate behavior — calling one “handsy” and a “hugger” — but ignoring clear warning signs, for years. They retaliated against the students who came forward, the plaintiffs said, and called a department meeting in October 2018, as the lawsuit was about to be filed, to disparage them.
“We couldn’t even process it, it was so strange,” Dr. Wheatley said.
She said they were being blamed unfairly. Much of the bad behavior took place after hours, off campus, and before Dr. Bucci became chairman. The signs of misconduct had been ambiguous, Dr. Wheatley said. The professor described as a “hugger” would go down the graduation line hugging both men and women. It was considered one of his personality quirks.
“Hanging out at Pine, the local bar, seemed a little weird, but I mean, God, we had no idea” about the pressure the women were under, Dr. Wheatley said.
The lawsuit had come as standards for workplace behavior were rapidly changing. “We’re all savvier now,” she said. “If I saw that now, I would ask more questions.”
Dr. Wheatley said she and Dr. Bucci had called the department meeting to dispel rumors on Twitter that they did not really care about the women, not to go on the offensive. They did not know the women were about to file a lawsuit, she said.
Katherine Alfred, a graduate student in the department who was not involved in the lawsuit, said she could see both sides. “I don’t want to put myself in the position of doubting the victims,” she said. “Things that were intimidating might not have come off as intimidating to me, because I wasn’t directly affected.”