Humphrey professor disciplined for sexual misconduct leaves UMN

In 2018, a University investigation found that James Ron violated school policy for sexually harassing a student. Ron’s resignation was effective July 1.

by Tiffany Bui

A Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor disciplined for sexual misconduct will not be returning to teach at the University of Minnesota.

James Ron, a human rights professor who was disciplined for sexual harassment, resigned in early July. Ron’s resignation comes after more than a year of student activists pushing the administration to be more proactive and transparent in addressing problematic power dynamics between professors and students.

Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg convened a series of public forums last fall with students to discuss two Humphrey professors, Ron and urban and regional planning professor Jason Cao, who were disciplined in Sept. 2019 for sexual harassment allegations. Ron was not teaching classes last spring semester, though he was still employed and “performing faculty duties.”

Bloomberg notified students, staff and faculty of Ron’s resignation via email in mid-July.

“Jim is an accomplished scholar. During his nine years of service to the School he has contributed substantially to the growth and development of our global policy teaching and research agenda. I wish Jim well in his future endeavors,” Bloomberg said in the email.

The dean declined to comment on Ron’s resignation, and the University did not offer a reason for his departure. A public records request to the University of Minnesota for Ron’s resignation letter returned no records. Ron declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Three complaints involving Ron have been filed with the University since Sept. 1, 2019, according to the University in response to a public records request. All cases have been closed. Citing data privacy law, the University did not disclose the nature of the complaints.

Katie Burke, a recent graduate of the University’s Master of Human Rights program who led Humphrey Students for Accountability, said the news of Ron’s resignation hit her “like a brick wall.” In the wake of the allegations against Ron and Cao, Burke and several other graduate students in Humphrey’s human rights master’s program formed the group to lobby the administration for more transparency and stronger policies against sexual misconduct.

While Burke said she was relieved to learn of Ron’s resignation, she took issue with Bloomberg’s schoolwide email announcement of his departure.

“To call him … ‘an accomplished scholar’ and [say] he’s contributed substantially to the school I think just makes a mockery of what it means to be a good professor and someone that cares about their students,” Burke said.

Though Humphrey Students for Accountability will continue to push Humphrey leadership to strengthen policies around sexual misconduct, the student group acknowledges that sexual harassment is not a problem confined to one school or university. Federal policy also sets a baseline for how universities must handle sexual misconduct cases.

The University has spent the summer revising its Title IX regulations, which govern sexual misconduct cases, including sexual harassment, after the U.S. Department of Education made major changes to the policy.

Among the policy changes is an addition that standardizes the standard of proof in cases of alleged sexual misconduct. While the previous Title IX policy required a higher standard of proof when a tenured professor was involved, therefore making it more difficult for alleged victims to prove a violation, that is no longer the case.

“Sexual misconduct is not a rarity that happens once every 20 years. It happens all the time, “Burke said. “And the only way to deal with that in a trauma informed way and to help students do that is to have policies that respond to it.”