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In Unprecedented Move, The University Of Washington Just Fired A Professor For Sexual Harassment

Michael Katze, a tenured microbiology professor, has been fired more than a year after the University of Washington investigated him for sexual harassment and misuse of funds. "This is unprecedented," a school official said.

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Michael Katze, a tenured professor at the University of Washington whose research brought in millions of dollars to the school, was fired on August 1 after two investigations found he sexually harassed employees and misused university money.

His termination comes more than 18 months after the investigations ended. "It's over," said Victor Balta, UW's senior director for media relations. "The faculty disciplinary process has ended, and Dr. Katze has been terminated."

It's the first time the school has fired a tenured professor, Balta said. "This is unprecedented." (In 1948, three UW professors were fired for alleged Communist ties. But Balta called that a "historical footnote," and noted that they did not go through the formal termination process that Katze did.)

In January of 2016, a university investigation determined that Katze had violated the school's sexual harassment policies with two employees. A second investigation, conducted by the UW School of Medicine, concluded that Katze had misused university funds, including by asking an employee to do chores for him and solicit a prostitute.

As first reported by BuzzFeed News, the university investigation determined that Katze hired one of the employees on the implicit condition that she submit to his sexual demands. The investigation determined that Katze sexually harassed a second employee, whom he also asked to buy him drugs and email escorts.

Katze could not be reached by email, and did not answer a phone call from BuzzFeed News. During the 2015 investigation, he told the university investigator: "My job is to get grants. I am singularly focused on training scientists. This kind of shit is completely unimportant to me.”

Since February of 2016, a faculty adjudication panel had been weighing whether Katze's tenured professor position should be terminated. He had previously sued the university for violating his tenure rights by placing him on home assignment away from his laboratory during the investigation, but lost the case.

A UW statement sent to BuzzFeed News said that the panel "confirmed violations of University policies and executive orders, including conduct counter to the core values of our University."

After the panel reached its decision, the university's president, Ana Mari Cauce, approved it, but then Katze appealed, Balta said. Then it went back to Cauce, who stuck with the initial decision.

Over the past decade, the university had received at least seven complaints about Katze’s behavior, including that he watched porn on his university computer, screamed at and belittled his employees, retaliated against lab members who challenged him, and was frequently intoxicated in the lab.

The investigation, which interviewed 26 former and current members of Katze's research group and colleagues, determined that Katze also used racist and sexist slurs, sometimes referring to black people as "negroes," and describing women as "bitches," "fucking bitches," and "cunt."

Some people in the UW community are unhappy about how long it took for the school to deal with Katze's case, as well as its lack of transparency.

"As a woman in science, I feel like he should be an example," a UW employee, who wished to stay anonymous to protect her privacy, told BuzzFeed News. "What’s the UW doing to prevent this from happening again? How are we protecting women in science at our institution? And why the hell has this taken so long?"


UPDATE

This story has been updated with information about the professors fired for alleged communist ties in 1948.

Azeen Ghorayshi is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Her PGP Fingerprint is 9739 9DAE 607E A66A 3683 AC20 E34B D2A0 8899 74C4

Contact Azeen Ghorayshi at Azeen.Ghorayshi@buzzfeed.com.

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