UML Students Protest Over Alleged Harassing Professor
LOWELL -- Several UMass Lowell students sat in a circle, markers and poster boards scattered between them with statements reading, “Keep harassment out of our school,” and “Fire Oliver Ibe.”
The man the students referenced on the signs is a former UMass Lowell associate dean who was demoted to a position of professor following accusations of harassment he allegedly committed against another staff member.
The roughly dozen students gathered outside Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney’s office on Wednesday to say the university’s actions against Ibe were not enough.
They occupied the space to hold a silent protest and to create the forceful messages portrayed on the poster boards. That message is calling for Ibe’s suspension from his professional duties pending the results of an investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment.
UMass Lowell freshman Maria Kotob, who spearheaded Wednesday’s silent protest, also started a student petition calling for Ibe to be removed from campus. She said the petition has garnered 1,300 signatures.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that women, who come to this university with such ambition and with such a vision of what their life is going to look like, have that destroyed because something like this happened to them,” UMass Lowell freshman Majed Almustafa said during Wednesday’s protest.
“It makes me sad that stuff like this is still happening, even in a school that claims to be so progressive,” added freshman Courtney Heath. “We keep letting people like that -- sexual harassers, sexual predators -- get away with this and then demoting them to a job where they’ll have more access to people who would be more scared to say something.”
Ibe, who joined UMass Lowell in 2003, is accused of touching a staff member and sexually harassing her. The alleged victim claims she has been diagnosed with PTSD due to the unwanted sexual advances.
The story is one of several complaints alleging inappropriate behavior by the now 71-year-old Ibe.
Attempts to reach Ibe by his office phone number and school email were unsuccessful.
An investigation into this allegation and similar claims two years ago determined Ibe violated the university’s sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and other sexual misconduct guidelines. University officials said the school took appropriate disciplinary action and the matter had been addressed.
The university settled with the staff member for $75,000, which included $25,700 in attorney fees.
University officials also removed Ibe’s associate dean title and designated him as a professor of electrical and computer engineering. The Andover resident was paid $159,893 last year, a drop from a salary that topped $200,000 in each of the previous two years he was an associate dean.
“This closed the case and it cannot be re-adjudicated based on the same set of facts,” Christine Gillette, a spokesperson for UMass Lowell, said in a statement released Wednesday. “Further, after the same matter was filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the case was dismissed in April 2018 after mutual agreement by both the university and the individual employee who brought the claim.”
The student petition mirrors a petition signed by nearly 100 faculty and staff members earlier this month that was sent to the school’s Executive Cabinet. The petitions asked it to remove Ibe from campus. Staff also want a Committee of Inquiry to investigate, and for Ibe to be suspended from professional duties, pending the outcome of the process.
The petition states the university’s efforts to build an inclusive climate -- where women feel valued and are protected from discrimination -- are “severely undermined when the University allows a known sexual harasser to continue to work here.”
“This is important for students to get involved because you never know who has faced this issue before,” Kotob said. “It could be their friends, peers, coworkers. By showing their support and by getting together for this protest, they show a unity against any sexual assault or harassment that happens, whether on a college campus or not.”
The group of students will be gathering again near the chancellor’s office inside the University Crossing building on Thursday. The plan is to hold the signs they created on Wednesday outside the new provost event.
UMass Lowell administration stressed on Wednesday that they support the rights of students to express their views and protest peacefully.
“We look forward to continuing to hear what they have to say on this important topic,” Gillette added in Wednesday’s statement. “The university is moving forward with the establishment of a task force of faculty, staff and students to study our current policies and practices regarding sexual harassment and the ways they are communicated and reported, and to make recommendations to the Executive Cabinet for consideration.”
The deadline to volunteer or nominate others for the task force was May 1, she added.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis