Christian Ott, an astrophysics professor at the California Institute of Technology, has been placed on unpaid leave after complaints by two female graduate students that worked with him.
According to BuzzFeed News, Ott confessed to grad student Sarah Gossan that he had fired another grad student, Io Kleiser, from his lab after falling in love with her. Unsurprisingly, this violates all academic ethics policies, and is illegal under Title IX. The university learned about Ott's actions after Gossan reported it in a Title IX complaint. According to the university, the evidence against the professor was clear and compelling:
There was unambiguous gender-based harassment of both graduate students by the faculty member.
Interestingly, when Gossan filed the complaint, Kleiser did not know that she had been fired by Ott because of his feelings for her. She reported that while he was her graduate advisor, he put unreasonable pressure on her to work lengthy hours and constantly criticized her performance and dedication. This is troubling because it could have been an attempt by him to push her out, or to give himself excuses to fire her.
When Kleisser met with the Title IX coordinator about the case, she showed her 86 poems Ott had posted about her on his Tumblr page. So it sounds like his romantic feelings also crossed over into obsessed weirdo territory.
Ultimately, the professor will not be fired. In addition to his unpaid leave, his communications with students in his research group will have to be supervised, and he will be required to undergo training. He will return to campus after his leave with the same tenured position. Kleiser is transferring to UC Berkeley to continue her graduate work, and Gossan will finish her graduate degree at Caltech under a different advisor.
Both women are disappointed that Ott will keep his job, especially since they had years of their lives impacted while pursuing an extremely difficult and competitive graduate degree. An astrophysicist should be smart enough not to allow personal feelings to impact their working relationship with students. And if they choose to do it anyway, their career should explode like a dying star.