Compensation of Hebrew U. Student for Harassment Claim Met With Criticism on and Off Jerusalem Campus

Ben-Dayan had accused sociology Prof. Gideon Aran of improper conduct in engaging in intimate relations with her and then harassing her after the sexual relationship ended.

The agreement reached between Hebrew University and one of its students over alleged improper relations between the student and her professor attracted criticism on and off campus yesterday. According to the mediation agreement, reported for the first time in full in Haaretz yesterday, student Ortal Ben-Dayan was paid NIS 38,000 as compensation for "the disruption caused to her studies."

Ben-Dayan had accused sociology Prof. Gideon Aran of improper conduct in engaging in intimate relations with her and then harassing her after the sexual relationship ended.

Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said yesterday that the school condemns any behavior involving the harm and exploitation of authority.

"We are firm in our belief that such phenomena must be eliminated and that everything in our capacity should be done to ensure a proper, safe and respectable learning environment. The university will not tolerate any conduct of this nature," he said.

The mediation agreement, which was signed last summer, includes the university's official acknowledgment of the veracity of Ben-Dayan's allegations and acceptance of responsibility on Aran's part of the "contents of the plea agreement," in which he admitted to the offense of unbecoming conduct.

The deal also provided for the rescission of disciplinary proceedings against Aran.

Over the past several months, Aran has been on sabbatical at a university in the United States. He is expected to return to Hebrew University's sociology department in the fall. A source close to the case said: "From the university's standpoint, after the [signing] of the mediation agreement, Aran is as pure as the driven snow. He bears no stain, and there are also no formal [charges] against him."

Aran issued a statement through his lawyer saying: "The university's stance, rescinding the judgment against Dr. Aran and the conviction [in the disciplinary proceedings], in addition to the fact that the university chose to apologize to Dr. Aran for the unnecessary suffering caused him, all speaks for itself."

Ben-Sasson, in a statement that also made reference to a separate case involving allegations of sexual improprieties by Eyal Ben-Ari, another professor in the school's sociology department, said: "The university administration regrets both cases that occurred in the past in the sociology department which caused great mental anguish and suffering to the complainants, and hurt the department and the university."

He added that Hebrew University's regulations have been amended to bar faculty from engaging in any intimate contact with students as long as ties involving academic authority exist between them.

Tribunal says it was exploitation

In May of 2009, prior to the mediation proceedings, a university disciplinary tribunal issued an opinion stating: "The conduct to which the defendant [Aran] has admitted is unbecoming in the extreme, and when it is directed at a student, it is difficult to think of more serious conduct. The humiliation and harassment that characterize the defendant's ongoing conduct are intolerable in society in general, but their seriousness is much graver in the setting of an academic institution."

The opinion also noted that, beyond the violation itself, the instance constituted exploitation of Aran's status and authority as a teacher.

Orit Kamir, a legal scholar specializing in sexual harassment law, said the university's contention that relations between Ben-Dayan and Aran were consensual and therefore do not constitute sexual harassment is ill-founded in light of the university disciplinary tribunal's finding that Aran exploited his status and authority as a teacher.

"The issue is not whether there was consent, but rather whether it was given in the context of exploitation of a relationship of authority," she said. Kamir added that it was unreasonable that the disciplinary tribunal's ruling was substituted with mediation proceedings, which resulted in the withdrawal of sanctions against Aran.