NIU gives former law dean $95K for off-campus research

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In exchange for not getting sued, Northern Illinois University agreed to pay $95,000 to Eric Dannenmaier, its former law school dean, who recently resigned after a campus Title IX investigation that found it was more likely than not he sexually harassed employees.

The resolution agreement (PDF) involves Dannenmaier taking an off-campus research assignment until Dec. 31, the Daily Chronicle of Dekalb, Illinois, reports. In addition to forgoing a lawsuit, both parties agreed that they would not criticize each other publicly.

Dannenmaier’s scholarship focuses on environmental democracy, according to the NIU website. His research assignment involves restoring ecosystems and governmental efficiency.

After being hired as NIU’s law school dean in June 2016, Dannenmaier took a voluntary leave of absence in February 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported. He resigned in June, and in a resignation letter (PDF) noted complaints alleging he created a “hostile work environment” but asserted that there were no allegations of “inappropriate touching” or “quid pro quo requests.”

Dannenmaier’s letter stated: “I will likely never understand how they could interpret any of my words or actions as creating a hostile work environment or what motivated the complaint months after the communications alleged.”

According to NIU’s Title IX investigation memo, which the Daily Chronicle posted July 15, Dannenmaier asked an employee if she had “engaged in sexual experimentation with females,” suggested that he was “good with [his] mouth” in a sexual way and asked her how often she had sex.

When the Title IX investigator asked Dannenmaier about the allegations, he reportedly said that he and the accuser “engaged in a mutual and sociable friendship,” the April 14 investigation memo states, and the informal discussions were “accepted and welcomed.”

“Dannenmaier also assert[ed] that your personality as ‘a strong young woman’ would have caused you to say something to him and/or take advantage of resources on campus to address the alleged behavior at the time of the occurrence,” the memo states.

Jennifer Murphy, Dannenmaier’s lawyer, told the Daily Chronicle that the investigation lacked due process. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX complaints, in a 2011 “dear colleague” letter (PDF) stated that schools must use a preponderance of evidence standard when making determinations about sexual harassment.

“NIU’s June 2017 final decision regarding the allegations is the only complete review of the record in context, and the publication of any documents prepared prior to that would be especially misleading,” Murphy wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Dannenmaier did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request. There was “chaos” in the law school admissions office when Dannenmaier arrived, he wrote in his resignation letter, and the campus had deferred maintenance issues and underutilized classroom and library space. His letter also noted a reduction in faculty because of recent retirements and budget constraints.

“In the early months of my tenure, we reversed these negative trends despite the budget cuts. The College of Law welcomed a new class in fall 2016 that was 23 percent larger than the prior year, its largest in over five years, with LSAT scores that held steady at the median and advanced modestly in the top quartile,” he wrote. “The last admissions report that I saw showed an increased in applications so far this season, and projected another solid admissions year with potential for an increased in LSAT median.”

The law school’s 509 report (PDF) for 2016 reports that it had a total of 252 students, and its 75th percentile LSAT score was 151. Its 2015 509 report (PDF) showed a total of 277 students, and its 75th percentile LSAT score was 150.

Dannenmaier’s resignation letter claims that during his tenure as dean he hired three new faculty members, increased donations of unrestricted funds and led a project to move one of the school’s legal clinics to more modern space. He also mentioned a plan to reduce alcohol consumption at student social gatherings, which some students reportedly did not like.

“I know that for some at the law school, I pushed too far too fast. I am aware of concerns expressed about how I managed these many changes within the first months of my arrival; claims that I moved ‘too quickly,’ was ‘too informal,’ gave ‘too much attention to admissions,’ didn’t follow ‘established hierarchies’ and was ‘too inclined to speak my mind,’ ” reads the letter, which doesn’t attribute the quoted language to a specific person or organization.

“I took steps to slow the pace, consult faculty and students more methodically and keep my door open to ideas and concerns from every quarter. I had believed that we were making progress,” Dannenmaier wrote.

Northern Illinois University disagrees with many of Dannenmaier’s characterizations of the law school, a spokesperson told the ABA Journal.

“Although constrained in our ability to respond to specific statements, the faculty and staff of the College of Law want to emphasize they are very proud of the continued success of our graduates on the bar exam and in securing legal employment,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Prior to coming to NIU as dean, Dannenmaier was a professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where he directed its Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Law Program. A Boston University School of Law graduate who also has an LLM from Columbia University and a master of studies from Oxford University, Dannenmaier also served as director of Tulane Law School’s Institute for Environmental Law and Policy. And from 1996 to 2000, he served as director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s environmental law program.

Mark W. Cordes, who teaches, property, constitutional and environmental law classes at NIU, is the law school’s interim dean, according to its website.

Updated at 2:38 p.m. to clarify that Dannenmaier resigned. Updated at 8:39 p.m. to add PDFs of Dannenmaier’s resignation agreement and letter.


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