Settlement reached after U of M professor found to have harassed graduate student

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) has settled with the University of Minnesota after a Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor was found to have sexually harassed a graduate student.

Friday, MDHR stated the settlement requires the university to pay the graduate student $75,000 in damages and allow the student to complete her degree tuition-free.

The MDHR investigation revealed that in 2018, the professor—identified by the university as Jim Ron—made sexual comments and discussed his sex life in front of the student, and commented on the student’s appearance in front of her classmates. MDHR reported Ron told the student he wanted to be her boyfriend and wanted her to move in with him.

MDHR reported the "unequal power dynamic" between Ron and student "was very apparent." MDHR stated that the student was Ron’s class and that she reported to Ron as a research assistant. Ron "had influence over her grades, employment and reputation within the school," said the MDHR, adding Ron was "also a gatekeeper to her career after graduate school."

"Schools should be places where students go to learn more about the world and what kind of person they’re going to be," Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. "They cannot be places where professors sexually harass students. What should have been a safe and sacred relationship between a professor and a student instead became an unsafe and abusive space. Sexual harassment must stop. Students deserve better."

Ron’s conduct violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, MDHR stated. In addition to paying damages and allowing the student to complete her degree tuition-free through the settlement, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs must do the following:

  • Provide harassment and bystander training to faculty and students.
  • Send quarterly communications to faculty regarding refraining from – and reporting – harassment.
  • Send quarterly communications to students encouraging them to report harassment.
  • At the start of each school year, distribute the university’s sexual harassment policy, resources and reporting avenues to students.

Additionally, MDHR reports it will monitor the Humphrey School of Public Affairs for four years.

According to the university, in 2018 following the reports of harassment, Humphrey School of Public Affairs leadership consulted with the Title IX/EOAA office and others and took disciplinary action at that time. The university reports officials developed plans that included a five-month suspension without pay. On July 1, 2020, Ron resigned from his position.

"I recognize that the announcement generates difficult feelings for all of us and some members of our community may relive some painful experiences as a result," Catherine Squires, interim dean, said in a statement, in part. "Please reach out to the available resources within our School, the University, or the broader community if you need support or assistance."

Editor’s Note: The first line of this report has been corrected to indicate the Department of Human Rights not the Department of Human Services.