A Rape-Prevention Scholar Faced Sexual-Misconduct Charges. Now His University Has Revoked His Tenure.

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The University of Illinois system’s Board of Trustees has fired a tenured professor who was accused of sexually assaulting one of his graduate students and behaving inappropriately with five others.

The trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to revoke the tenure of Paul A. Schewe, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has researched rape prevention, and dismiss him immediately.

It’s rare for professors to have their tenure revoked in such cases. Often, faculty members facing sexual-misconduct charges retire or resign with a settlement agreement before an investigation is completed.

Erin O’Callaghan, a UIC graduate student, told The Chronicle in 2019 that Schewe had sexually assaulted her after a night of drinking. Other current and former students leveled a range of misconduct allegations against Schewe, including that he inappropriately touched students, sexted students, hosted alcohol- and drug-fueled boat parties, stored pornographic images and videos on a university computer, and tried to hire a postdoc with whom he was romantically involved.

Schewe dismissed many of the accusations outright in interviews with the university’s Title IX investigators and in a 2019 interview with The Chronicle. He denied assaulting O’Callaghan. But he admitted to unintentionally texting a student an image of “two women in skimpy bikinis,” and keeping pictures of nude women on his computer, asserting that such images are common in work on rape prevention and teaching safe sex.

Although six complaints were filed against Schewe, the university’s Title IX office investigated only two of them, and the investigators exonerated him.

According to the trustees’ final report on Schewe, that investigation “was limited to the narrow question of whether Prof. Schewe’s conduct” violated the campus sexual-misconduct policy. But in May 2019, an outside lawyer hired by the university “substantiated much of the misconduct,” according to the trustees’ report.

In the spring of 2021, a UIC faculty committee held seven days of hearings on Schewe’s case and concluded that the students’ charges were true. Evidence showed that Schewe frequently invited his students to gatherings that involved drugs and alcohol, many of which occurred on a friend’s boat. The committee found that attendance often wasn’t voluntary: If students politely declined, he would repeatedly follow up.

“It’s the responsibility of the faculty to establish boundaries and to monitor them and to enforce them if they need to,” the faculty committee stated in its final report. The trustees agreed, writing: “Here, Prof. Schewe not only did not establish appropriate boundaries, he repeatedly encouraged students to violate the boundaries they had set for themselves. This is the polar opposite of the behavior we expect and demand of our faculty.”

As the last step in the tenure-revocation process, the Illinois system president recommended to the system’s board that Schewe be dismissed.

The board received personal testimony from Schewe before making their final decision. But after reviewing all of the evidence, the trustees concluded that “the record clearly and convincingly establishes that Prof. Schewe has been grossly neglectful of his duties and that he can no longer be relied upon to meet the standards of competence and responsibility required of our faculty members.”

According to the trustees’ report, “allegations involving his conduct at a November 2, 2017 party at his home” — the incident involving the sexual-assault allegation — were not included in the written charges.

A federal civil-rights and Title IX lawsuit against Schewe, UIC, and its Title IX investigators is still pending in court. O’Callaghan and the five other students who reported Schewe to the university filed the lawsuit in 2019, after the Title IX office had cleared him.

The lawsuit argues that Schewe abused his professorship “to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior” with “vulnerable graduate students,” largely restating the accusations put forth in their initial Title IX complaints.

Elvis Gonzalez, a Chicago lawyer who is representing Schewe, didn’t respond to a call or email requesting comment on the professor’s termination. Schewe’s UIC faculty page had been taken down as of Thursday.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers described Schewe’s termination as “much too little, much too late,” in an email to The Chronicle.

“So far, UIC has relentlessly attempted to defend his actions and discredit the students,” the lawyers said. “UIC has demonstrated an absolute disregard for the safety of their students. UIC’s approach to our clients’ complaints has been shameful and this termination would not fix that.”

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