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Crime & Courts

Harassment complaints against NIU professor facing jail were abandoned

Records show some who aired grievances in '17 feared retaliation

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University officials received three separate complaints about professor Trude Jacobsen in 2017, with accusations ranging from sexual and online harassment to threatening behavior, records show.

University officials determined the complaints were unfounded, in part because those involved declined to pursue them, according to documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act. In some cases, those involved said they feared Jacobsen, a tenured professor in the university's Southeast Asian Studies program, would retaliate against them while they were overseas or on campus.

The Daily Chronicle contacted three people involved with the complaints. All of them said they stood by what they reported, but did not want to be identified or speak on the record for fear of retaliation.

Records show Jacobsen, a tenured professor at NIU since 2012, blamed at least some of the complaints on an ongoing legal dispute with her husband. Jacobsen does not have a listed phone number on the NIU website and did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.

Jacobsen, 44, of Sycamore, was convicted in December of aggravated driving under the influence. It was her third DUI conviction, court records show. She was sentenced to 30 days in the DeKalb County Jail, which she is to serve in June.

NIU spokeswoman Lisa Miner said Jacobsen's incarceration would not affect her current class schedule. Jacobsen is currently teaching six different research seminars in European, African, U.S., Latin American, Asian and general/comparative history, as well as a doctoral research and dissertation class, according to a class schedule provided to the Chronicle.

"Dr. Jacobsen continues to teach this semester, but is not scheduled to teach a class in June," Miner said in an email.

Complaints, withdrawals

The identities of the complainants were redacted in documents provided by NIU, however, the records show that NIU officials were told about Jacobsen's issues with DUI.

On June 22, 2017, an employee from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies made an affirmative action complaint.

"I have been threatened by Trude on numerous occasions if I do not do as she tells me to do," the complaint states. "She has threatened to kill him while living in Cambodia and she was out there. Trude has told me she would kill me if her boyfriend, Dr. Mark Schuller, found out about her second DUI. I currently feel unsafe in the working conditions I am dealing with."

"She has now moved into harassing graduate students," the document continues. "She had sex with a graduate student who was married, and when he was questioned about it, he denied it because Trude said she would tell his wife. Trude then in turn claimed I was the one having sex with the student, which is completely false because [redacted]."

A day later, the complainant changed their mind, writing an email to Sarah Garner, NIU's Title IX Officer.

"I can't follow through with the complaint I filed yesterday after our discussion today," it reads. "I do not want to be involved. I do not want my name involved. I will retract everything I said to you today."

"[Redacted] is where I plan on spending the rest of my life," it continues. "Trude has a lot of friends there and I do not want to live my life in fear after my career ends at NIU. [redacted] means too much to me than trying to file a complaint against Trude. I apologize for taking up your time, but I will not continue with this complaint process."

Title IX complaint

An NIU staff member filed a Title IX complaint based on what they had been told by a student Sept. 20, 2017, records show. The staff member is required under the Title IX Act to report possible sexual harassment to the university's Title IX office.

"Jacobsen made unwanted sexual advances toward history grad student [redacted]," the statement said. "He politely declined and Jacobsen then threatened to retaliate, threatening his academic standing and advancement through the program."

On Oct. 17, 2017, Jacobsen met with NIU Title IX investigator Michelle Johnson and Sarah Adamski, director of investigations at the university, and Jacobsen denied the allegations, records show.

"You stated you have gone to birthday celebrations, academic conferences, and dinner parties with students; however, you do so in an open and visible way," a memo Johnson sent to Jacobsen on Nov. 28, 2017 reads. "Additionally, you stated you believed this report was made as part of an on-going legal dispute with your husband."

The memo concluded there was not enough evidence to investigate any further.

"This decision is based upon the student's decision not to file a complaint, lack of evidence corroborating the report, description that the incident occurred nearly two years ago, and the statement you provided," the memo reads. "This matter is now considered closed."

Records show the complainant also did not wish to involve NIU police.

"The student in question wished to remain confidential and not proceed with a complaint and/or investigation into the matter," the memo states.

Affirmative action complaint: Facebook harassment

On June 19, 2017, records show a graduate art education student reported being harassed by Jacobsen on Facebook.

"A mutual Facebook friend of ours had made a posting about [former NIU President] Doug Baker resigning," the student states. "Trude Jacobsen made a snarky comment, and with great suspicion from students that she comes to class inebriated, and with the Google confirmation of her 3 DUIs, I made a snarky comment about wanting not just good people running NIU, but also good professors teaching at NIU."

The complaint states that Jacobsen then "launched an attack of slurs, and "sicked her lawyer" on the student.

"What I find harassing is that she is attacking me for being in 'kahoots' with her ex-husband in a custody battle. For some reason, she believed I posted her DUIs because I am working with her husband to build a custody case for their child. … I don't know why she believes this, but she is using that excuse to continue with the harassments."

NIU Title IX officer Sarah Garner on Sept. 13, 2017 declared the matter was closed because of inaction by complainant.

"[Redacted] stopped responding to my communications to set up a meeting," Garner's wrote. "[Redacted] was fearful of retaliation (which I explained the prohibition against) and did not [want] me to meet with Trude to discuss her interactions with [redacted] because of such fear."

Miner also responded, saying "the university sought additional information regarding the allegations but did not receive actionable information from a party directly involved who wanted the university to pursue the matter further."

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