Class removed after complaints about controversial professor

In 2017, the University found Gianluigi Veglia violated the University’s sexual harassment policy in two investigations.

Michelle Griffith

After multiple graduate students voiced their concerns over a professor’s past conduct, a University of Minnesota course was canceled only days before the fall semester began.

In 2017, tenured instructor Gianluigi Veglia violated the University’s sexual harassment policy as found in two University-conducted investigations, according to a notice of proposed discipline letter.

The Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics removed the course, called Introduction to Modern Structural Biology – Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, after it received multiple complaints late last month about Veglia teaching the course. 

In a 2017 report from the office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, female students in his lab alleged Veglia had sexually pursued and made comments toward them, commenting on their clothing and appearance. Veglia denied these allegations, among many others.

The deans of the College of Science and Engineering and the Medical School recommended Veglia be suspended from the BMBB department’s graduate program through the 2019-20 school year, but he is currently teaching a course in the chemistry department. Right now, Veglia is allowed to teach any course, should he be assigned, according to BMBB Department Head David Bernlohr.

The NMR class, which is only offered in the fall, has not been taught in over a year. Veglia is one of the few instructors who can teach the class because it requires a specific skill set, according to department staff.

Veglia’s assignment to teach the NMR course was brought to students’ attention when they tried to register for the class, said fourth-year graduate student and BMBB graduate program student representative Michael Lopresti. 

Bernlohr said it was “indicated” to students last year that Veglia would teach the class, this was the first time this year those in the program had heard Veglia was teaching a BMBB class, Lopresti said.  

Bernlohr also said department faculty were aware that Veglia was assigned to teach the class. When asked why the department did not let students know Veglia was going to be teaching in the BMBB department again, Bernlohr said, “We probably should have.”

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“I think we had communicated a year ago that he wasn’t going to be teaching last year and would likely teach this year. … We didn’t think it would be a surprise, but obviously that wasn’t something that all the students realized,” Bernlohr said.

The lack of communication about Veglia’s class assignment harms the already fragile relationship between the department and the students, said Kelly Wallin, a fifth-year BMBB graduate student. 

“There’s been no acknowledgement to the general graduate student body that this happened, it wasn’t supposed to happen … and someone is going to make sure it isn’t going to happen again,” Wallin said.

Mistrust grew between students and the BMBB department after Veglia’s conduct was made public through a City Pages article in 2018, Lopresti said. Veglia’s class assignment and the lack of communication to students just made the sense of mistrust increase, he said.

“To have us be randomly blindsided by stuff like this seriously undermines our ability to trust [the department] and have faith that things are actually going to change,” Wallin said.

Going forward, Bernlohr said the department will meet with students and the directors of graduate studies so students can plan effectively for their degree program, make arrangements and “be ready” for the NMR course.

“We’re trying to do the best we can so the students can feel comfortable in their classes and advance their degree programs … that’s one of our major goals,” Bernlohr said.

Correction: a previous version of this story misstated which entity recommended discipline against Gianluigi Veglia. The deans of the College of Science and Engineering and the Medical School recommended Veglia be suspended from the BMBB department’s graduate program through the 2019-20 school year.

Correction:  A previous version of this story misstated the role of faculty in approving Veglia’s teaching appointment. Not all faculty were involved in the decision-making process.  

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