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Rutgers investigates sexual assault allegations made against professor

Nabil Adam, vice chancellor for Research & Collaborations at Rutgers University—Newark, has been placed on administrative leave with pay following sexual assault and harassment allegations made by one of his graduate students. – Photo by Photo by | The Daily Targum

Rutgers is currently investigating allegations made against one of its faculty members by a graduate student that alleged he sexually harassed her. 

Nabil Adam, vice chancellor for Research & Collaborations at Rutgers University—Newark, has been placed on administrative leave with pay following an ongoing investigation that is further assessing claims that he sexually assaulted and harassed one of his graduate students during their time together, according to an article from NJ Advance Media

The student, who has asked to remain anonymous, claimed Adam, 75, first assaulted her in January 2016 — six months after she became his research assistant and he became her dissertation advisor, according to the article. 

NJ Advance Media reported that the student was engaged in an 18-month long relationship with Adam that sent her through a downward spiral where she attempted suicide by swallowing pills in July 2017 — she said she became dependent on the married professor’s attention and affection. 

In an interview with The Daily Targum, the student said she came to Rutgers during the summer of 2015, and it was then that she first started to work with Adam as his research assistant and enrolled in the University’s doctoral program. 

On Jan. 14, 2016, the student reported that while working with Adam in his office at the Center for Law and Justice, he allegedly started kissing her, putting his arms around her and feeling her back up and down in a sexualized manner, according to a recapitulation of the student’s experience working with Adam submitted to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) this January. 

“Professor Adam then started touching her inappropriately in between her legs and tried to pull her pants down. At that point, there seemed to be someone around in the building and Professor Adam realizes that the place was inappropriate, and both (the student) and him left thereafter. However, he then repeatedly asked her to go over to their Research Lab with him,” according to the report.  

The two then went to the lab at approximately 6:30 p.m. where the report stated that Adam coerced the student into unwanted sexual contact. 

OCR has since informed the student that as of Jan. 1 her case has been assigned a number, according to an email obtained by the Targum.

After the initial incident, the student said Adam was receptive to her request to be left alone. But a few days after, he asked that they meet at her place to discuss the situation, where the student said he then engaged in similar acts and started a recurring pattern of behavior that persisted throughout the following months.  

“I felt helpless, because I told him that if I want to go and complain, you’re in big trouble. He said, 'go, no one will believe you,'” she said. 

The student said she began to spend most of her days with Adam, sitting beside him for upward of 12 hours completing additional administrative work. Around this time, she began to develop an emotional attachment to Adam after spending so much time with him.

“In terms of my mental health, I was slowly declining, and I mentioned it to him and I even shared the emails with the University where I explicitly mention that I need medical help because I feel very bad and mentally I’m declining and I feel like harming myself,” she said. 

On July 2, 2017, the student was admitted to the hospital after she attempted suicide by swallowing pills. She said that the day before, she forwarded a chain of messages, which copied Adam into the conversation, that detailed her declining mental health to Jaideep Vaidya, the dean's research professor at Rutgers Business School. 

The student details her overbearing workload, Adam’s exploitation of her, his push to have her drop out of the program and her depressive state. 

Adam responds in the thread that he never asked, nor suggested, that she drop out of the Ph.D. program and that she is free to select whichever advisor she would like to assist her on her dissertation — reiterating that no one can force her to work with them, according to the email chain.  

Vaidya responded the following day and forwarded these initial sexual assault allegations to Lisa Grosskreutz, director of the Office of Employment Equity (OEE). 

This is the third time the student attempted suicide, according to the report sent to OCR in January. 

“She sent several emails to Professor Adam indicating her mental breakdown and desire to quit life. Professor Adam had never reported this to University Authorities or took any steps to ensure her safety. (The student's) mental health conditions declined and she attempted suicide thrice. On the first two occasions, Professor Adam was present with her after the attempt and took care of her. On the third occasion (July 2, 2017), (she) passed out in the streets and was taken to Clara Mass Medical Center by Ambulance. Before she attempted suicide (the) third time, she had disclosed her relationship with Professor Adam to his wife and son. She has also reported it to Professor Vaidya, who is the Ph.D. coordinator in her department,” according to the report. 

The day after leaving the hospital she said she had an interview scheduled with the OEE but decided to retract her initial allegations after she felt pressure from Adam, who threatened that if she continued to complain no other professors would believe her, she could face deportation and would not be able to find work in her field. 

Despite this, the University went forth with the investigation, given that the student mentioned Adam had been physically involved with her. At this time, she said she withheld evidence and was not willing to cooperate. 

“I had no way of getting out of it, and I mean this is like, whatever he wanted I had to do it. At one point, I said this is going on and on and then I spent so many hours with him. I started taking care of his work and then started to be concerned about him. That’s how it went, but in terms of the physical relationship it was honestly forceful, if he wants it, he wants it. If he wants it now, he wants it now,” she said. 

She filed an official a report on Nov. 28, 2017, with the OEE. Later that day, she received confirmation that Adam had been notified of the complaint in an email that copied him and Dean of Rutgers Business School and Rutgers—Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor. 

The student also gave a formal statement to the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD), which was forwarded to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, and provided pants stained with semen. 

She said that the University had the pants tested and received confirmation that there was semen on them. They have since been waiting to receive a DNA sample from Adam — it has been upward of two weeks and she has not received any update. 

Peter Englot, senior vice chancellor for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff at Rutgers—Newark, said as soon as the allegations were made an investigation was initiated and Adam was placed on administrative leave with pay as of Nov. 28, 2017, according to an email to the Targum. 

“A thorough investigation is being conducted as expeditiously as possible, which includes having turned over all relevant materials to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office,” Englot said. 

In a January 2018 email, Grosskreutz said that Rutgers Business School assured her that Adam would not teach in the upcoming semester and is on administrative leave following the resolution of the investigation, according to emails obtained by the Targum. 

“By way of this email, Dr. Adam has been notified of the complaint and advised not to contact (the student), and/or take any action against any witnesses, that might be perceived as retaliation. To do so would risk a violation of Section 3.H of the Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence,” according to the email. 

Two days later, the student received an email from Professor and Dean of Rutgers Business School Lei Lei who informed her that her complaints — which were also drafted in emails to Executive Vice Dean of the Rutgers Business School Yaw Mensah, Rutgers Senior Vice President and General Counsel John Hoffman and University President Robert L. Barchi — were immediately directed to the OEE for further investigation.

Lei added that Adam would no longer serve as the student’s advisor and that the University would help pair her with the appropriate advisor to assist her particular area of research. 

At this point, the student had been without an advisor since the submission of her complaint in November.

“Accordingly, we have determined that Professor Vijay Alturi and I will serve jointly as your advisors," according to the email.

Lei said that amid retracted allegations made by the students, the OEE launched a separate investigation looking into additional allegations the student filed. 

“You previously had raised allegations that you subsequently retracted and that did not encompass all of the allegations in your most recent complaint. As soon as you reinstituted your complaint, presenting additional allegations, OEE initiated a new investigation,” according to the email.

In an interview with NJ Advance Media, Bruce Atkins, Adam’s attorney from Hackensack, NJ, said that the student first made, and recanted, harassment allegations against Adam last summer. 

“My client vehemently denies all allegations and continues to fully cooperate and provide necessary documentation to the University for its investigation," Atkins said. 

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