The University of Wisconsin College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson sent an email to students Wednesday announcing the return of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Akbar Sayeed this spring, though he will not be teaching.
UW suspended Sayeed in 2016 after a student in his lab committed suicide and allegations of his aggressive behavior towards students surfaced. The ECE Graduate Student organization recently released a letter urging UW not to allow Sayeed to return.
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In the email, Robertson said neither he nor the university had finished evaluating the situation, so they plan to place Sayeed in the Dean’s office on administrative duty.
Sayeed will not teach, Robertson said, until he and the rest of the administration are “satisfied that adequate measures are in place to provide oversight of the faculty member as a teacher, mentor and research advisor, as well as to prevent potential harm to students.”
In a statement also sent to engineering students, Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Provost Karl Scholz described measures they were taking campus-wide to address this and other related issues.
The two main efforts they described were increasing communication outreach regarding reporting resources available to students and establishing a system to oversee all concerns centrally.
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Blank and Scholz urged students, faculty and staff to keep an eye out for inappropriate or hostile behavior and to report it.
“Going forward, we call upon each member of the campus community to be a partner in identifying, addressing and confronting incidents of hostile and intimidating behavior,” Blank and Scholz’s statement said, “For too long in academia, these types of interactions have existed in the shadows or been discounted as ‘just the way it is.’ The problem is exacerbated when a power imbalance (such as advisor/student, or supervisor/employee) exists.”
Last week, Blank announced the plan for a central harassment reporting system to the Board of Regents, which would allow them to better investigate concerns or instances of hostile behavior. ECE has also integrated a cohort model to build community among students, and expanded mental health resources for students that might be struggling, as they said in a recent statement.
Blank and Scholz said that overall, they do not accept hostile and intimidating behavior on campus, and they will continue to work through the situation with ECE.
“Let us be clear: hostile and intimidating behavior is unacceptable. We all deserve an environment where we’re treated with respect,” the statement said, “Each and every one of us on campus has a responsibility to help confront hostile and intimidating behavior.”