IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa has agreed to a $130,000 settlement with a former student who was pressured to let a troubled political science professor fondle her in exchange for a higher grade, her lawyer told The Associated Press Wednesday.
The settlement avoids a potentially embarrassing and painful trial over the university's handling of misconduct allegations against Arthur H. Miller, who committed suicide in 2008 after he was charged with trying to trade higher grades for sexual favors from the plaintiff and three other female students.
The plaintiff's attorney, Sara Riley, said Tuesday the settlement required her and her client not to disclose the terms, including the amount to be paid. But after AP reported on the deal Wednesday, Riley said a state lawyer dropped the confidentiality clause and she revealed the $130,000 payment for damages and attorneys' fees.
She said that amount was 130 times what the university's general counsel offered to settle the case in December 2009 – a $1,000 tuition refund, an amount her client found insulting. She may have been willing to settle at that point for $25,000, Riley said, but is now glad to have the case over.
"It sends a message to the university that there has to be accountability for failing to act on the conduct of professors. Most professors, the overwhelming majority, would never, ever do anything like this. But when somebody does, you can't turn a blind eye. And when you do, there's responsibility," Riley said. "Hopefully next time, if there's a professor who is doing something terribly wrong, it won't take county attorney's involvement to get the university to act."
University spokesman Tom Moore said the settlement was "acceptable to both sides" and declined further comment.
Miller had been one of the university's star political scientists after joining the faculty in 1985, founding the university's Heartland Poll and often speaking as an expert on politics and the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. He stepped down from his polling institute before it was closed in 2001 to return to teaching full-time.
Police said Miller asked four students in his public opinion class to show him their breasts during meetings in his office at the end of the spring 2008 semester, when they were negotiating final grades. The women were apparently targeted because they were graduating seniors planning to soon leave Iowa City.
The plaintiff, who has since moved to the Boston area, told police the 66-year-old Miller grabbed and sucked on her breast after telling her she would have to "do something" for him to get a higher grade, according to a criminal complaint.
After the May 8, 2008, encounter, he sent an email congratulating her on getting on "A+" in the class and offering to meet again to discuss how he could help her get into law school. The next day, her aunt contacted the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, which handles sexual harassment claims, to report the incident and the email.
Rather than take immediate action to protect students, the office set up a meeting with the plaintiff for May 12, she said in her lawsuit.
Miller sexually harassed two more students May 12, and a fourth the following day, according to criminal complaints. He told one student he'd give her an A if she let him fondle her breasts, and sent her an email after she complied trying to meet again and saying, "A lasting memory of a lovely Monet cannot be formed in 20 seconds." He told another that women often show their breasts for beads during Mardi Gras, and this was more important because "her grade was on the line." One student left his office after he asked her to take off her shirt.
A university investigation concluded that Miller engaged in egregious behavior and interfered with students' education, but the school did not immediately initiate disciplinary proceedings, the lawsuit said. After learning of her complaint, Miller gave the woman a B+ instead of the A+ he'd promised, it claimed. The woman received counseling from the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, and her lawsuit sought damages for medical expenses and emotional distress.
In August 2008, Miller was charged with four counts of accepting bribes and released on bail. A few days later, he fatally shot himself in a remote area of an Iowa City park. An attorney for Miller's estate, Steven Ballard, said he was informed of the settlement, which will allow the estate to close.
The lawsuit said the school failed to ensure the safety of students and knew Miller had "a propensity to engage in sexual harassment of female students" but continued to employ him. A second student was initially part of the case, but later dropped her legal claim after moving away from Iowa.
The Iowa attorney general's office negotiated the settlement for the university during mediation last week. Riley praised its lawyers for being respectful, saying they never tried to blame her client.