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Read our latest newsletter: February 2017.

MIT removes professor’s online lectures after harassment charge

MIT has removed the lectures of a retired faculty member from a popular online learning platform after determining that he had sexually harassed a woman on the Internet, the school’s News Office announced Monday.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology began investigating the matter after a learner on the platform MITx filed a complaint against Walter Lewin in October. According to the MIT News Office website, the alleged victim said the harassment began when she was a learner in one of Lewin’s online courses.

During the investigation, MIT also looked at additional interactions between Lewin and other online learners. According to the News Office, Lewin, 78, ended his teaching on campus in 2008 and last taught an online MITx course in 2013.

Lewin could not be reached for comment on Monday night. A spokesman for MIT also could not be reached.

When the investigation of Lewin began, MIT said it instructed him not to contact any students or online learners, current or former.

By indefinitely removing his online lectures, MIT hopes to prevent any further inappropriate behavior, the News Office said. The lectures were taken down from MITx and the broader education platform edX.

“Students place tremendous trust in their teachers. Deserving that trust is among our most fundamental obligations.” said L. Rafael Reif, MIT’s president, according to the News Office.

Reif hopes that students will continue to feel safe on and off campus. “We must take the greatest care that everyone who comes to us for knowledge and instruction, whether in classrooms or online, can count on MIT as a safe and respectful place to learn,” he said.

In addition, provost Martin Schmidt said, “Dr. Lewin had a long and distinguished career at MIT, and it is painful to learn of the behavior that necessitated this action. However, complaints of harassment must be met immediately and squarely in all cases.

“Today’s decision was made in consultation with faculty leadership both in the physics department and across MIT more broadly.”

As digital courses continue to grow in popularity, some health and safety advocates have raised red flags over the dangers posed online.

“Online communications have opened up a new vehicle for sexual harassers to target their victims with abusive behavior,” said Toni K. Troop, director of communications for Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts-based coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence.

Troop advised schools across the country to write clear policies on how to handle online harassment and educate students on inappropriate behavior.


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