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article imageMIT pulls professor's online lectures due to harassment charge

By Megan Hamilton     Dec 10, 2014 in Internet
Cambridge - Walter Lewin, a much-beloved retired MIT physicist and professor whose energy-infused teaching style made him a hit on campus and on YouTube, sexually harassed a student who enrolled in an online course he taught, an MIT-led investigation has found.
The investigation was released yesterday, and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is removing Lewin's teaching material, which is hosted on MIT's online education platforms, BetaBoston reports. This includes material found on MITx, edX and OpenCourseware.
MIT reported that the decision stems from a probe conducted by the physics department into Lewin's conduct with at least one student who was enrolled in one of his online courses. The student registered a harassment complaint in October and also informed MIT about instances involving other women.
"Based on its investigation, MIT has determined that Lewin's behavior toward the complainant violated the Institute's policy on sexual harassment," MIT News reported in a statement. "Following broad consultation among faculty, MIT is indefinitely removing Lewin's online courses, in the interest of preventing any further inappropriate behavior."
"Students place tremendous trust in their teachers," MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in the statement. "Deserving that trust is among our most fundamental obligations. We must take the greatest care that everyone who comes to us for knowledge and instruction, whether in classrooms or online, can count on MIT as a safe and respectful place to learn."
The Boston Globe reports that while conducting the investigation, MIT also reviewed additional interactions between Lewin and other online students. Lewin, 78, stopped teaching on campus in 2008 and last taught an online MITx course in 2013.
MIT has also revoked his title as professor emeritus, Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 said, according to The Tech.
MIT's actions were "part of a process of a complete separation from Walter," Schmidt said, noting that these actions are "probably the extent of it" since Lewin is retired.
"Given Dr. Lewin's long career on our campus and contributions as an educator, taking this step is painful," Schmidt wrote to faculty. "However, based on my careful reviews of the findings of the investigation and my conversations with the Physics Department leadership, School Deans, and other faculty leaders, I believe that harassment occurred, that our response is appropriate, and that explaining this matter publicly is necessary."
Schmidt wouldn't comment as to whether MIT plans to investigate the professor's past at MIT. Lewin joined MIT in 1966 and it wasn't long before he was collecting awards for his undergraduate teaching, The Tech reported.
Thanks to OpenCourseWare and YouTube, Lewin had an audience of millions of people.
"Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube's greatest hits," The New York Times wrote, The Tech reported. "With his wiry, grayish-brown hair, his tortoiseshell glasses and his intensity, Professor Lewin is the iconic brilliant scientist ... he is at once larger than life and totally accessible."
BetaBoston reports that MIT didn't reveal the name of the student. It noted that one in six female undergraduates living on campus reported being assaulted at the institute, following an anonymous survey that was published within the last few months. Due to this, as well as a personal story published by a student in the spring, MIT announced it would make a concerted effort to address incidents and complaints of harassment.
Lewin retired in July, 2009. He last taught on campus in the spring of 2008, and he last taught an online MITx course in the fall of 2013, when the incident allegedly happened, MIT News reports.
Attempts to contact Lewin by The Boston Globe and The Tech were unsuccessful.
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