SJSU Professor Accused of Sexually Harassing Students

A San Jose State instructor accused of sexually harassing a student has been placed on paid leave—five months after a campus probe into the allegations wrapped up.

Only after Bay Area News Group reporter Katy Murphy began asking questions about Professor Lewis Aptekar did the university force him to step down.

A female student said Aptekar, who chaired the school’s Department of Counselor Education, repeatedly talked about wanting to date her. During class, he allegedly asked whether she was single.

Lewis Aptekar

Lewis Aptekar. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Murphy obtained documents showing that the university’s investigation concluded that the professor’s remarks were inappropriate for the classroom. But rather than relieving him of his post, SJSU kept him on the job to advise graduate students studying to become school counselors.

Aptekar made $188,890 in salary and benefits last year, according to the Transparent California database of public employee salaries.

The Bay Area News Group found out that Aptekar had faced similar allegations in the not-so-distant past. In 2014, a campus official filed a sexual harassment claim against him on behalf of two other female students. Apparently, whoever reviewed the most recent complaint failed to factor in the prior investigation.

Aptekar’s attorney, Elisa Stewart, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sexual harassment on college campuses has stirred a national debate about how to deal with the problem. Students and faculty at colleges across the country have pointed to a lack of consequences for perpetrators and a lack of recourse for victims.

Locally, a number of sexual harassment scandals that came to light this past year at UC Berkeley invited intense scrutiny and exposed an institutional failure to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

At SJSU, it appears that a similar failure allowed a faculty member accused of sexual harassment by at least three students to go on with business as usual—until a local reporter began asking questions.

San Jose’s flagship public university recently welcomed a new president, Mary Papazian, who inherited some of the dysfunctions of her predecessors. In an email to students Tuesday night, she assured them that the school would re-examine the allegations against Aptekar with a mind to reform the campus investigative process.

“The actions alleged and related issues enumerated in news coverage are troubling,” she wrote in the letter. “We are looking into them, we will learn from them, and we will take appropriate systematic actions based on what we learn.”

Papazian urged students to report inappropriate behavior to the school’s Title IX office. She also told staffers to report suspected violations promptly, whether or no they happen on campus.

“Prompt reporting is essential to supporting victims of inappropriate conduct and protecting others from similar behavior,” she said.

Her entire email is pasted below.

Dear Campus Community,

Our students’ success depends in large part on our determination to build and sustain a learning environment that is safe, affirming and non-discriminatory. We are just as obliged to provide a safe, equitable working environment for every faculty and staff member.

 With these principles in mind--and in the wake of new reporting by the Mercury News of the sexual harassment of a student—I am writing to be sure we all are aware of our responsibilities and available resources. This is especially important in the early weeks of fall when, research tells us, students are at particular risk. 

As I said during the fall welcome address, each of us has a role to play in supporting student success. That includes encouraging students to report inappropriate behavior to our Title IX office, and reminding faculty and staff members and administrators of their duty promptly to report potential violations, whether they occur on or off campus.

Prompt reporting is essential to supporting victims of inappropriate conduct and protecting others from similar behavior.

We already are benefiting from the leadership and experience of our new chief diversity officer, Kathy Wong (Lau), who brings particular expertise in equity and diversity training. We are committed to building our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which Kathy leads.

Meanwhile, programs for students, faculty and staff members are being expanded and enriched on multiple fronts. You’ll hear more about them in coming weeks. 

The actions alleged and related issues enumerated in news coverage are troubling. We are looking into them, we will learn from them, and we will take appropriate systematic actions based on what we learn. And I’m confident that working collaboratively and creatively, we will be the welcoming, inclusive and supportive community to which we all aspire.

Mary Papazian

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

4 Comments

  1. I remember simpler times when these issues were solved with a slap across the face.

      • There is big money in sextual harrasment these days, thats why a slap isn’t the solution any more.

  2. If the only thing the man did was ask a student in a *counseling class* about her relationship status and then didn’t bother her again, this is complete rubbish and the teacher has a legitimate case against the university. By comparison, if a similar scenario was described to a human resources officer at a private company, that person would get laughed out of the office.