External investigation finds ‘insufficient information’ for allegations against eight Dartmouth faculty and staff

The investigation, which followed Maha Hasan Alshawi’s weeks-long hunger strike last year, has been concluded.

by The Dartmouth Senior Staff | 8/13/21 5:05am

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

In an external investigation into former computer science Ph.D. student Maha Hasan Alshawi’s allegations of retaliation and discrimination against Title IX staff, computer science professors and Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies administrators, the final report has found “insufficient information” for any of the allegations. 

Released on July 29, the dense, 122-page report details Alshawi’s allegations of retaliation and, in one case, religious discrimination against eight Dartmouth employees: deputy Title IX coordinator Gary Sund, Title IX coordinator Kristi Clemens, computer science professor Prasad Jayanti, computer science professor Amit Chakrabarti, former director of institutional diversity and equity Antonio Ferrantino, then-associate dean for the sciences Daniel Rockmore, Office of Visa and Immigration Services associate director Keriann Ketcham and registrar and assistant dean at the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Gary Hutchins. The Dartmouth reviewed a copy of the full report provided by the Office of the Provost as well as a four-page executive summary. 

The report is the second of two produced by the institutional response unit at the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor. The first, released on April 30, found computer science professor Alberto Quattrini Li not responsible for any of the sexual harassment or retaliation allegations made by Alshawi. It drew on over 1,000 pages of interviews, email exchanges and other evidence. 

The July report is broken into eleven sections of varying length. Overall, it provides an overview of the allegations and of all eight respondents’ initial responses, the evidence collected, a 25-page timeline of events, additional detail on respondents’ responses and a 35-page discussion of the report’s findings. The two-sentence conclusion reads simply that the report found “insufficient information” that any of the respondents engaged in retaliation or discrimination on the basis of religion. 

The executive summary noted further that the report is based on over 3,000 pages of interviews and other evidence, and that based on the determination of insufficient information, the investigators found all eight respondents “not responsible” for the allegations. 

In response to a request for comment, Alshawi referred to a June 29 Facebook post in which she detailed concerns about her ability to respond to the report. In the post, she wrote that she was sent 2,700 pages of documents on June 26 and was given just five days to reply. After raising concerns and asking for thirty days to respond, she wrote, she was granted a 10-day extension. 

“This is an important procedural step in the investigative process and forcing me to respond in less time than is needed to read the entire document calls into question the fundamental fairness of the entire investigation,” she wrote at the time. 

The executive summary states that after submitting a response to the report on July 22, Alshawi objected to its public release. The investigators reviewed her preconditions for public release and found them to be “without merit.” 

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence declined to comment beyond the contents of the report. All eight respondents to the report did not respond to requests for comment, referred comment to Lawrence or could not be reached for comment. 

Deputy Title IX coordinator for response Gary Sund:

Alshawi made one report of retaliation from Sund. Alshawi met with Sund in February 2020 to report that Quattrini Li, Alshawi’s research advisor, touched his “private area” during their meetings together and entered Alshawi’s office without her permission. She alleged that Sund “did not properly investigate or evaluate” her reports against Quattrini Li, Jayanti and Chakrabarti. She added that Sund “intentionally misstated facts” that she provided during an initial assessment and falsely concluded that the alleged conduct would not qualify as a potential Title IX Policy violation. She also reported that Sund refused to provide her a written copy of the assessment. Alshawi alleged that such actions were in retaliation for her filing a Title IX complaint against Quattrini Li. 

Sund responded that he was only involved in addressing Alshawi’s report about Quattrini Li and not the reports about Jayanti or Chakrabarti. He stated that he accurately recorded the information Alshawi shared and did not provide Alshawi with a written copy of the assessment since no such documents are created under the College’s policies. He also stated that he reviewed the information Alshawi shared with definitions in the College’s Title IX Policy and determined that the reported facts against Quattrini Li did not qualify as a potential Title IX violation.

The investigation did not find that these allegations support a finding of retaliation, as there was insufficient evidence to support the claim, by a preponderance of evidence, that Sund failed to properly investigate Alshawi’s report. The report found that his actions were instead “consistent with his role.” The report also found that Sund was not involved in responding to Alshawi’s reports about Jayanti and Chakrabarti. 

Title IX coordinator Kristi Clemens: 

With regard to Title IX coordinator Kristi Clemens, Alshawi alleged that Clemens “did not properly investigate or evaluate” Alshawi’s allegations against Quattrini Li and two other professors, which she alleged constituted retaliation against her for her bringing allegations against Quattrini Li. Alshawi reported that Clemens did not look into her harassment claims until she raised it for a sixth time, improperly appointed Rockmore to investigate her claims about Li entering her office without permission, and incorrectly concluded that Li’s entrance was not a potential Title IX violation.

Clemens responded that she “promptly and accurately analyzed the facts [Alshawi] provided,” and that she answered Alshawi’s questions and provided Alshawi with copies of all of the reports. With regard to Li’s entrance into Maha’s office, she stated that according to the College’s Title IX policies, “the facts, as reported, did not qualify as a potential Title IX Policy violation.” 

The investigation found that Clemens properly investigated and evaluated Alshawi’s reports and that there was insufficient evidence to ​​support a finding of retaliation. 

Computer science professor Prasad Jayanti:

Alshawi was a teaching assistant for Jayanti’s COSC 31, “Algorithms”  class. Alshawi made three reports of retaliation and discrimination on the basis of religion against Jayanti. Alshawi alleged that Jayanti withheld solutions to problem sets from her, gave her a “low pass” grade for her TA mark and interfered with her ability to advance to COSC 231, “Advanced Algorithms.” She alleged that these actions were all in retaliation for her Title IX complaint against Quattrini Li, as well as discrimination on the basis of her religion.

Jayanti responded that he did not withhold solutions and that he sent the solutions to all TAs once he completed them. He said that he gave Alshawi a “low pass” — which is still acceptable for graduate credit — due to criteria in Dartmouth’s Graduate Student Handbook. Jayanti added that he did not interfere with Alshawi’s ability to advance to COSC 231, but instead “took extra steps to help.” Jayanti also said that religion was irrelevant to his actions. 

The investigation found insufficient information to support a finding that Jayanti intentionally withheld solutions from Alshawi. On one occasion, Jayanti did not send a set of solutions to any of his TAs in advance. The report did not find a connection between Jayanti giving Alshawi a low pass and her Title IX report against Quattrini Li, since Jayanti noted Alshawi’s failure to attend office hours. In regards to Alshawi’s claim that Jayanti interfered with her being able to take COSC 231, “Advanced Algorithms,” the investigation found that Jayanti “went beyond what was required of him.” For all three allegations, the investigation found that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that Jayanti engaged in retaliation or discriminiation on the basis of religion. 

Computer science professor Amit Chakrabarti:

Alshawi made four reports alleging retaliation against her by Chakrabarti, including disagreements over whether she needed a research advisor, whether Chakrabarti would serve as that advisor, whether her graduate fellowship would be affected by her “low pass” grade from Jayanti and a disagreement over a COSC 31, “Algorithms” problem set that Chakrabarti asked Alshawi to complete and discuss while the rest of the class was “permitted to pass it without being subjected to such treatment.” 

Chakrabarti responded that first-year PhD students do need to work with a research advisor, that he and Alshawi had only discussed “the possibility and suitability of his serving as a stopgap advisor,” that the information about her fellowship had come in the form of a letter from the computer science department as a whole that was also reviewed by Guarini Dean F. Jon Kull and that he had asked Alshawi to complete the problem set in order to evaluate her understanding of the class material.

The report finds that there is insufficient information to establish that Chakrabarti agreed to serve as Alshawi’s advisor and then did not do so, that Chakrabarti required Alshawi to identify an advisor when her peers were not required to do the same, that Chakrabarti misled Alshawi about the potential impact of her “low pass” or that Chakrabarti treated Alshawi unfairly by administering the problem set. Overall, the report finds insufficient evidence that Chakrabarti engaged in retaliation against Alshawi.

Former director of institutional diversity and equity Antonio Ferrantino:

Alshawi also made one report of retaliation against former director of institutional diversity and equity Antonio Ferrantino, claiming that Ferrantino did not address her report of retaliation against professor Deeparnab Chakrabarty. Ferrantino responded that Alshawi had in fact not made a complaint against Chakrabarty, and instead had mentioned Chakrabarti as one of the professors who had discriminated against her. The report finds insufficient evidence that Ferrantino intentionally failed to evaluate Alshawi’s reports, and finds that he did not engage in retaliation against Alshawi.

Then-associate dean for the sciences Daniel Rockmore:

Alshawi made two reports of retaliation against her by Rockmore, who was assigned to investigate Alshawi’s report of retaliation by Jayanti.

In the first report, Alshawi claimed that in his investigation Rockmore did not speak to her, listen to her, or investigate her evidence or “other offers or proof,” and that he only gathered information from Jayanti. Rockmore responded that he did reach out to Alshawi and gathered evidence about her Title IX complaint against Jayanti. He then reached out to Jayanti to speak to him about his response and issued a decision “concluding that Jayanti had not violated any professional obligations or College policies.” 

In the second report, Alshawi alleged that during the investigation of her complaint against Jayanti, Rockmore sent her an email which contained “false statements” and that when she replied to correct those statements, Rockmore did not respond and told her that the previous conclusion was “final.” The false information in question was regarding whether or not it was permissible for Quattrini Li and another student to enter her office. Rockmore responded that he “did not believe it was necessary to consult further with [Alshawi] after determining that the entry was permissible.” 

The report finds that Rockmore “properly investigated and evaluated [Alshawi]’s reports” in each case, and that therefore, he did not engage in retaliation against Alshawi.

Office of Visa and Immigration Services associate director Keriann Ketcham:

Alshawi made one report of retaliation against Ketcham. Alshawi reported that when she spoke with Ketcham about her student visa, taking time off from Dartmouth, and transferring to another school, Ketcham provided her with incorrect information that if she did take time off, she would need to leave the U.S within 15 days, and that when she took an approved leave, he contacted her and told her that she would need to do so. Alshawi also alleged that Ketcham did not provide her with the proper paperwork to transfer her international student paperwork to another school and did not respond in a timely fashion to her requests for meetings to discuss her visa and transfer options. 

Ketcham responded that she misunderstood Alshawi’s request for “leave” as a request for a “leave of absence,” which, legally, does trigger a student’s obligation to leave the country within fifteen days. In response to Alshawi’s claim that Ketcham did not respond in a timely fashion to her request from transfer to another school, Ketcham “provided a timeline of events supporting that she did not delay [Alshawi’s] transfer process.”

The report finds that Ketcham did not intentionally mislead Alshawi with regards to her visa and that her communications with Hutchins about the incident reflect “misunderstanding” rather than an “intentional decision to mislead” Alshawi. It finds that there is insufficient information to support that Ketcham engaged in retaliation against Alshawi.

Registrar and assistant dean at the Guarini School Gary Hutchins:

Alshawi made one report of retaliation against Hutchins, in which she claimed that Hutchins gave her “misleading, conflicting, or unclear advice” when she was referred to him for assistance with academic issues such as changing her advisor, and that Hutchins refused to help her identify a new advisor after she reported Quattrini Li had sexually harassed her. Hutchins provided emails showing that he had in fact assisted Alshawi with various academic issues, but that Alshawi had never asked him to help her find a new research advisor. The report finds insufficient information to support that Hutchins committed any adverse action towards Alshawi, and does not find that he engaged in any retaliation.

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