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Harassment, Plagiarism Case Could Tarnish Northwestern, Expert Says

December 20, 1992

CHICAGO (AP) _ A judge’s denunciation of Northwestern University over accusations that a professor plagiarized a student’s work and sexually harassed her could tarnish the school’s reputation, a legal expert said.

Mary Becker, a University of Chicago law professor and specialist on sexual harassment and discrimination, said judges in such cases usually take a school’s side.

″Judges often tend to believe important people from universities, so this case has got to hurt a school with a name as big as Northwestern,″ she said.

Cook County Judge Edwin Berman ruled last week that Northwestern committed ″willful and wanton misconduct″ when it failed to investigate accusations by student Marilyn Bilut that her pre-doctoral adviser stole her research and pressured her to leave school after she refused to go out with him.

The university and Professor Gerald Canter, co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by Ms. Bilut, deny the charges.

The judge said the actions of Canter and the school were ″arbitrary and capricious.″ He said the faculty and administration in the school of speech ″closed ranks″ against Bilut and refused to investigate her allegations.

″It is readily apparent to the court that the defendants engaged in an active conspiracy to thwart Bilut’s pursuit of her doctoral degree and, in the process, drive her from Northwestern University,″ Berman wrote.

He ruled that Ms. Bilut be readmitted to the school and given two years to finish her dissertation on a speech disorder. Berman also said Ms. Bilut was entitled to damages, which could be determined at a later date.

Northwestern plans to appeal, said Ken Wildes, director of university relations.

″It goes without question that the university believes that Mr. Canter has been wrongfully maligned in all this,″ he said Saturday from the school’s suburban Evanston campus. Berman’s order to readmit Ms. Bilut is an infringement on the university’s decision-making process, he said.

Canter, who has taught at Northwestern for 28 years, said Saturday that long before Ms. Bilut came to the university, he developed the same material she presented to him in her pre-doctoral dissertation. He said he told Ms. Bilut repeatedly that he thought it was too complicated a topic for her.

″She failed, and that is the end of the story as to why she did not earn her degree,″ he said. ″The court concluded that a conspiracy had taken place. That is a fantastic and outrageous conclusion and is totally false.″

Ms. Bilut, who lives in a northern suburb with her husband and two children, testified that Canter asked her out for drinks several times. ″We are both older, and we should be together,″ she testified he told her.

″This professor’s behavior went unchecked,″ Ms. Bilut said Friday. ″He became committed to keeping me from graduating.

″And when I tried to take it up the line ... all the way to the dean, who is now the university’s provost, I was really unable to find one person who would do the right thing, even though they had a process in place to help me.″

Christine Cooper, a law professor at Loyola University and specialist in sexual harassment cases involving universities, agreed with Ms. Becker that judges generally hesitate to take the word of a plaintiff over a university.

″It’s really hard to know what really happened,″ Ms. Cooper said. ″He (the judge) apparently thought that everyone from Northwestern was slime and believed her work was stolen.

″It didn’t help Northwestern that they didn’t follow normal procedure and admitted they didn’t give her a fair hearing.″

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