Walter H.G. Lewin’s debut as a massive open online course instructor was announced with some fanfare: “Afraid of physics?” a press release asked in January 2013. “Do you hate it? Walter Lewin will make you love physics whether you like it or not.”
That made his MOOCs a good fit for Faïza Harbi, 32, a private English tutor living in Montpellier, France. Harbi spoke openly to Inside Higher Ed but asked that her maiden name be used. She said she decided to take a physics course after struggling with the subject in high school. She was not familiar with the rock star professor, whose more than four decades at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, innovative and hugely popular video lectures and hundreds of scholarly articles had earned him international acclaim.
It would take almost a year before Harbi, with the help of MIT’s investigators, said she came to understand that Lewin’s interest in her was not motivated by empathy, and that their first conversations included inappropriate language. Shortly after contacting her, Harbi said, Lewin quickly moved their friendship into uncomfortable territory, and she was pushed to participate in online sexual role-playing and send naked pictures and videos of herself.