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Former MSU professor sexually harassed graduate students, report says

January 14, 2019

A former political science professor at Michigan State tried to offer his "academic guidance" in exchange for sexual favors from a graduate student, an MSU investigative report obtained by the Lansing State Journal finds. 

William Jacoby — who retired effective Jan. 1 — denies the Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, findings and is considering an appeal. The University of Michigan, where Jacoby also served as a lecturer, found him guilty of behavior that violated their sexual harassment policy Oct. 12. 

A former student told investigators when she asked Jacoby for assistance with her research, he responded by saying, "You can't expect me to do something for nothing, quid pro quo." She said it sounded like he was asking for a sexual favor.

As a lecturer at U-M in 2002, he asked MSU political science graduate student Rebecca Gill to consider having an affair with him. A witness heard what was going on and suggested she and Gill leave together. 

Because of this incident, Gill asked Jacoby not to be on her dissertation committee in 2005, and she ended up waiting until 2008 to submit it in order to avoid having him on her committee.

A graduate student at the University of South Carolina, Valerie Sulfaro, heard of Gill's story from her dissertation committee's chair. She had a similar experience, the Lansing State Journal reported. 

Sulfaro sought out Jacoby as a mentor. He asked if she would pursue a relationship with him, and because she was afraid of the repercussions rejecting him could have on her career, she did for two years.

After Sulfaro contacted MSU about Jacoby, MSU contacted Gill requesting an investigation. 

“This additional evidence shows a distinct pattern of behavior by Respondent,” wrote investigators from Kroll, the Lansing State Journal reported. “This evidence supports that he sexually propositions female graduate students in the Political Science field, particularly students who express interest in benefitting from his influence, guidance, and support within their education and career.”

MSU hired Kroll in 2018 for assistance in investigating sexual misconduct complaints. 

William Jacoby is no longer affiliated with MSU and stepped down as editor of the American Journal of Political Science in April 2018.

MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said while there was a finding after the OIE Investigation concluded early January, "any decisions regarding corrective action or sanctions for the respondent will not be made until the conclusion of the appeal process."

"Although he has retired, the university still considers this to be an on-going personnel matter," Guerrant wrote in an email. "Sexual harassment will not be tolerated at the university, and we continue to encourage anyone who has concerns or claims to come forward." 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 3:33 p.m. on Jan. 14 to include a comment from MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant.

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