Records Show Award-Nominated Professor Violated Sexual Misconduct Policy

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Records Show Award-Nominated Professor Violated Sexual Misconduct Policy




Kristina Vakhman, News Editor

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This article was updated with more information as it became available. At the time the original article was published, the information about the professor’s non-renewal was not provided to The Recorder in a Freedom of Information request to the university.

A now-former finalist for Central Connecticut’s Excellence in Teaching Awards made “unwelcome romantic and sexual advances” toward a female student, according to an investigative report by the university’s Office of Diversity and Equity from June of 2018.

The report, obtained by The Recorder through a Freedom of Information request filed with the Office of University Counsel, states that CCSU Mathematical Sciences Associate Professor Mihai Bailesteanu “subjected” a student in the department to “unwelcome romantic advances and inappropriate physical contact,” as well as “inappropriate questions about her sexual experiences,” from 2017 to 2018.

As of March 18 of this year, Bailesteanu was removed as a finalist after the award’s committee “recently obtained” information that made the members find “it necessary to revise the list” of nominees, according to an email to academic and administrative departments obtained by The Recorder.

The investigation itself was launched in response to a complaint filed by the student and includes eyewitness accounts from another professor in the math department backing the student’s claims.

Bailesteanu is currently barred from having contact with the student and still works in the math department as an associate professor.

In an email from March 18 of this year, CCSU President Dr. Zulma Toro wrote that the university issued “a notice of non-renewal” to Bailesteanu, but that the non-renewal was “overturned” by the Grievance Arbitration Committee, which is comprised of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Vice President for Human Resources Steven Weinberger and Gregg D. Adler, the CSU-AAUP’s president’s designee. 

In its ruling, which Dr. Toro released as a document in her email, the Grievance Arbitration Committee wrote that CCSU had “violated” its contract with the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors and “vacated” the non-reappointment letter issued to Bailesteanu last May, meaning he will continue to work in the math department.

Documents show Bailesteanu filed an appeal to the investigation’s findings, but that Dr. Toro upheld them. Dr. Toro also wrote in her email that the Grievance Arbitration Committee’s decision is “extremely frustrating” to her. She added in the email that future Excellence in Teaching Awards nominees would “undergo scrutiny,” or review, by the provost. 

Bailesteanu did not respond to The Recorder’s requests for comment. 

The advances allegedly began at an event in October of 2017. The student claims in the report that Bailesteanu repeatedly returned to her table at the event and made physical contact, and at one point asked her and her friends, who were all below the legal drinking age, if they were going to a bar afterward.

“He was just like sitting really close or like standing really close and touching me [on the shoulders and arms] and stuff,” the student, who asked to remain anonymous for personal safety, said in an interview with The Recorder. “I didn’t think anything of it then because he’s very close and personal with people.”

But the advances persisted, the student said. In December of 2017, while driving her home from a graduation dinner because she didn’t have a ride, the student alleges that Bailesteanu hugged and kissed her on the cheek. The student and Bailesteanu also stayed in the car for so long that her mother became concerned, according to the report.

The next day, the student said Bailesteanu insisted she go to lunch with him and two other math department faculty members despite her initially declining. Though she assumed she wouldn’t be alone with Bailesteanu, he ended up driving her to the restaurant and back to campus.

When together, the student said Bailesteanu turned the conversation in the car sexual, asking her if she felt “guilty about premarital sex” because her religion is Catholic and telling her he did not like that Catholicism is “really strict about sex.”

“Then he asked me like, ‘Do your parents think you’re a virgin? Are you a virgin? Do you think you can get birth control without your parents knowing?’ I felt weird because it was just us in that car,” the student said in the interview.

During that car ride, the student said in the interview that Bailesteanu also asked her about her experiences with being catcalled and whether the men doing it “think [she’s just gonna] go up to them and take off all [her] clothes and be like, ‘Fuck me, fuck me.’”

“He said it like eight times and he was like yelling it. That was probably when I was the most uncomfortable,” the student said.

He kissed her on the cheek again when dropping her off at CCSU after the lunch, the student added.

Throughout the course of the advances, Bailesteanu frequently invited the student either to his apartment or to go out, the report states. She said she declined all of the invitations except one time for lunch at his apartment during the 2017 winter break because she “felt rude to say ‘no’ because he’s a professor.” During this lunch, the student recalls him talking about his ex-girlfriend growing up in a strict household like her and being “sexually-repressed.”

In January of 2018, Bailesteanu allegedly kissed her on the forehead and wished her a “happy new year” once another math professor had stepped out of the office. According to the report, he never kissed her in front of others until a birthday dinner, where he “gave her a big hug and kissed her on the forehead.” When another professor made a comment about the hug, he hugged the student again, the report says.

Bailesteanu “confirmed” to interviewers that he hugged the student and kissed her on the cheek and forehead in the report.

That same month, he also invited the student to go to the opera with him through texts, obtained from the student by The Recorder, but the student refused, saying she would not go without her friend and that her friend was busy.

Also in January of 2018, while wearing nail polish that changes with the temperature, the student claims that Bailesteanu “blew on her hands, putting them partly in his mouth to see the color change” and, in a second incident in his office with the door closed, “grabbed her hand, and began playing with her fingers,” according to the report. The student pulled her hands away, it adds.

By that point, in late January, the student asked the friend in the opera conversation to ask Bailesteanu why he kept approaching her. Bailesteanu reportedly replied that he was “attracted to” the student, but acknowledged their age difference and professor-student relationship. When speaking with The Recorder, the student’s friend corroborated this and the student’s accounts of Bailesteanu’s advances.

“I really don’t think anything could change with his behavior. I think he didn’t think he did anything wrong,” the student told The Recorder.

In one of their final interactions in April of 2018, Bailesteanu approached the student to discuss the sexual misconduct findings against CCSU Theater Professor Joshua Perlstein reported by The Recorder. According to the student’s account in the Office of Diversity and Equity’s investigative report, Bailesteanu told her that Perlstein “felt that way and did those things” because he and his students were “very close” and “spent so much time together.”

The student was interviewed last May by then-Chief Diversity Officer Rosa Rodriguez and Chief Human Resources Officer Anna Suski-Lenczewski, as was Bailesteanu.

According to the investigation’s Outcome Notification Letter from June of 2018 obtained by The Recorder from the student, it was determined that Bailesteanu, when speaking with Rodriguez and Suski-Lenczewski, “[appeared] to have intentionally misled investigators” about whether he’d driven the student to the December of 2017 lunch “until confronted with eyewitness accounts” and was thus deemed less credible than the student.

One of the eyewitnesses was Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Dr. Rachel Schwell, who corroborated the student’s accounts to The Recorder and said she herself “[stands] by everything I said in the report.”

“It wasn’t hard to believe her. This is not someone who wants to draw attention to herself. When she told me, I definitely just had no doubt that what she was saying was true,” Schwell said in an interview with The Recorder.

Schwell added that she had personally “only seen Bailesteanu hug female students.” She also approached Bailesteanu as his friend at the time when the student told her some details about his behavior and said that she was “pretty shocked” that he “seemed to struggle with knowing what are appropriate conversation topics with students.”

“I think that he thinks that that’s his way of being friends with [students], I guess,” Schwell said.

Rodriguez subsequently found that Bailesteanu had violated the university’s “Nondiscrimination in Education and Employment” and “Sexual Misconduct” policies, she stated in the letter.

The letter was sent to Dr. Toro, Provost Dr. David Dauwalder and Suski-Lenczewski. At the same time, Perlstein was under an independent investigation and had been placed on administrative leave. Victims and their advocates criticized CCSU for mishandling the complaints against Perlstein for decades while Dr. Toro promised the university “will not tolerate sexual misconduct or abusive behavior of any kind,” The Recorder reported last April.

Bailesteanu appealed the findings, but Dr. Toro stated she was “upholding” them in a letter she wrote to him last June that is included in the report. The AAUP Complaint Review Panel for Diversity and Equity Investigations upheld the findings as well, according to a June of 2018 letter sent to Dr. Toro included in the report.

When the student learned that Bailesteanu was nominated as a finalist for the Excellence in Teaching Awards, it was a “complete shock” to her.

“I couldn’t believe that happened. But I kinda could believe it because, you know, Central. They don’t really have the best reputation with stuff like this. It was just so awful because it felt like I went through that whole thing to report him,” she said, adding that the Office of Human Resources told her they could not give her report to the Excellence in Teaching Committee. “Why did I report him? What good is that record if no one can see what he did?”

According to CCSU Director of Public Relations Janice Palmer and the Excellence in Teaching Awards Committee, Bailesteanu was nominated for the award by “students.”