More than 100 faculty members at Virginia’s Old Dominion University have signed a letter disavowing a university statement regarding allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against a well-known biographer, who was a visiting professor from 2010 to 2016.
Blake Bailey, whose much-anticipated biography of Philip Roth was pulled following complaints he was too indulgent of Roth’s behavior toward women, was accused in a recent article of harassing and assaulting four women.
In a June 10 article, The Virginian-Pilot quoted victims and witnesses who allege Bailey accosted a graduate student and visiting writer, groomed another graduate student, and sexually assaulted and threatened to rape a linguistics professor.
Old Dominion University hired law firm Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. to respond to the article, in a statement to the newspaper released last week.
The university statement, crafted by the law firm, concluded it had “no reason to believe” the allegations.
“No report of any assault, attempted assault, or any other kind of sexual harassment was ever made by any of the people who are now making accusations a decade later,” according to ODU’s statement.
More than 110 Old Dominion University faculty members have signed a letter supporting the women who spoke out in the article, criticizing the university’s statement.
“The lawyer who wrote the statement on behalf of ODU uses reprehensible language that engages in victim blaming and sexist tropes,” according to the faculty letter. “The statement went out of its way to discredit and even insult the women, using centuries-old tropes designed to silence women.”
“We, as faculty, students and staff, wish the public to know that the official statement released by ODU does not represent the beliefs of the community,” according to the June 13 statement in support of those who told their stories.
The faculty letter demanded ODU issue an apology to the women disparaged in the statement, fire the law firm and investigate Bailey’s six years at the university.
In a Monday email to faculty, university president John Broderick apologized to the women who were quoted in the article, and reflected on the tone of the school’s response.
“It appeared to many, including myself, that the victims were being blamed, and I apologize for that, too,” he said, adding he would establish a task force to “review all of our existing policies and practices for a safe and equitable workplace and to examine the ways we empower our faculty, administrators, staff and students in these matters.”
Broderick stressed the school’s desire to create a safe environment for women, and a safe way to report assault or harassment.
“This university stands firmly for the principle that no person should ever be subjected to abuse or harassment of any kind,” he said.