Over the course of the past six years, Dr. James Maas has been welcomed onto the Loomis Chaffee campus to speak to the student body on two separate occasions. The first time Dr. Maas spoke to the school, the administration was compelled enough by his words to push back Loomis’s morning start time in an attempt to provide students with a few extra winks. The second time Dr. Maas spoke to the school, the administration and students were shocked to discover that the former Cornell University professor was once accused of sexual harassment.
In 1994, four women who had worked in various capacities under Dr. Maas accused the popular professor of engaging in inappropriate hugs and kisses, as well as making sexually suggestive comments. On December 9th of 1994, a Cornell ethics committee made recommendations to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences that for five years Dr. Maas not be allowed to hire students as a nanny or babysitter, having any female students as advisees, travel with just one undergraduate student, or give gifts to students that cost more than $15. The committee, however, did not recommend that Dr. Maas be dismissed from his position at the University. Cornell’s statement explained that Dr. Mass was not found “to have engaged in the physically abusive behaviors often associated with the term ‘sexual harassment,’” but it also reiterated that “any conduct that constitutes sexual harassment is an affront to the entire Cornell community and will not be tolerated.” Professor David Lyons, the man in charge of holding all hearings on Dr. Maas’ case, is quoted in a New York Times article saying, “Sexual harassment has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.” Professor Lyons recommended that Dr Maas be removed from his position at Cornell University.
It must be stated that many people on Cornell’s campus came out in support of the Professor, including 34 students that wrote and signed an open letter which acted as a testament to Maas’ integrity and character. And according to a Baltimore Sun article published in 1996, the inappropriate behavior that Dr. Maas has been accused of was merely “hugs and occasional social kisses, most often in front of class or family.”
To this day, it remains unclear if Dr. Maas violated any state or federal laws with his behavior. Nonetheless, the student body and administration must ask whether or not they feel ethical in welcoming a man with such a checkered past onto the Island.
Mrs. Forrester, who is part of the team that brings convocation speakers to Loomis, said during an interview that she was “entirely unaware” of the accusations brought against Dr. Maas when she and her colleagues hired him to speak at last Tuesday’s convocation.
Speakers, as prominent individuals with much to say, should indeed be held to a high moral standard. Despite the roiling conversation surrounding the professor that has been stirred up in many classrooms since he spoke last week, Mr. Maas has never been convicted of any crime and was not even removed from his position at Cornell. However, there are some, like Professor Lyons, who believe that Dr. Maas should never have been allowed back onto Cornell’s campus. Nonetheless, Dr. Maas’ talk was educational and fit perfectly with the 2016-17 school theme, “Mind over Matter.” Head of School Sheila Culbert acknowledged the ambiguity surrounding the allegations and Cornell’s statement on the issue. “We asked him to talk because he is an expert on sleep,” she explained. “When he came about five years ago students responded so well to his message that he seemed to be a good fit for this year’s theme,” Dr. Culbert said.
Does Dr. Maas have a checkered past? Absolutely. But if he can continue to teach at a university as prestigious and respected as Cornell, then he should absolutely be welcomed back to the Island.