Hebrew University Pays Student NIS 38,000 to Settle Harassment Claim

The payment to the student, Ortal Ben-Dayan, was characterized as compensation for "the disruption caused to her studies."

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has paid about NIS 38,000 to a student who complained that a professor in its sociology department, Gideon Aran, had intimate relations with her and subsequently harassed her. The payment was made under a mediation agreement that has not previously been made public.

The payment to the student, Ortal Ben-Dayan, was characterized as compensation for "the disruption caused to her studies." The agreement also acknowledged the truth of her complaint.

As part of the deal, disciplinary proceedings against Aran were dropped. The university said the agreement "serves the public interest."

The case, which is being reported in full for the first time here, involved a finding by the university's disciplinary tribunal that "conduct of the kind to which the defendant [Aran] has admitted ... constitutes exploitation of his authority and his status as a teacher." But the mediation agreement canceled this judgment, as well as the penalties the tribunal had imposed.

Last week, the tribunal found that another faculty member in the same department, Eyal Ben-Ari, had "intimate relations" with students he taught.

"Ultimately, the university dealt with both these cases only after they were disclosed in the media," Ben-Dayan said yesterday. "Now it is washing its hands clean, but justice was done because there was no other choice."

Ben-Dayan's case began about five years ago, when she complained that Aran had had intimate but consensual relations with her while she was taking a course with him during her bachelor's degree studies.

In May 2008, Ben-Dayan, who is Sephardi, posted comments on a website in which she said Aran had asserted that the level of university education had declined as more Sephardim came to campus, and she had taken exception to his remark.

Her anger, she continued, excited Aran - "and not only from a sociological research standpoint." She said they began to meet over coffee, "and then the romantic and sexual propositions started."

The posting attracted many comments, which led to disclosure of the separate allegations against Ben-Ari. Aran then sent Ben-Dayan an email in which warned that publicity of this nature could cause damage.

Dayan responded by asking that he have no further contact with her. She sent a copy of the email to the then-chairman of the sociology department, Zali Gurevitch, who did not respond. Ben-Dayan subsequently contacted Gurevitch again.

Gurevitch said he tried unsuccessfully to mediate between Ben-Dayan and Aran and protect all those involved. He also said the facts were unclear and he did not believe it was his job to file a complaint.

His successor as chairman, Gad Yair, did file complaints of "inappropriate relations between a lecturer and a student" with the university ombudsman. But in June 2008, the latter concluded that there was no evidence of the lecturer having abused his authority. Rather, this was a case of consensual relations that did not involve force or exploitation of status.

Therefore, it continued, the case did not involve sexual harassment, even though romantic relations between teacher and student are inappropriate.

Ben-Dayan said it was only after she got the Israel Women's Network involved that the university agreed to begin disciplinary proceedings, though it did not accept her claim that she had been harassed. Instead, it filed a complaint against Aran in February 2009 for "conduct unbecoming an academic employee."

Three months later, a plea bargain was reached in which Aran acknowledged that he had committed an infraction. The penalty was a written reprimand, a fine of one month's salary, disqualification from service on university committees for two years, and four years' probation.

But the university disciplinary tribunal took issue with the plea agreement, saying the facts that were not in dispute were sufficient basis for a finding of unbecoming conduct and that the penalty was too lenient. It therefore stiffened the penalty, and Aran appealed.

At that point, the case was referred to mediation, and in June 2010, the mediation agreement was signed.

The university told Haaretz that this decision was based on "the fact that this was a one-time infraction by a lecturer against whom complaints had not been filed in the past. The case involved consensual relations and the parties pursued a mediation procedure." The university did not release Aran's name.

Aran is currently on sabbatical in the United States. His lawyer, Ronel Fisher, said the university ombudsman had found the relations between the two were consensual and did not involve abuse of authority, but after Ben-Dayan created a stir, the university became frightened and took action against Aran. The judgment and punishment, he added, were ultimately rescinded after university lawyers found they were without foundation.