Wesleyan Dean of Students fired for previous sexual misconduct case

On October 1, 2016 the Boston Globe published an article entitled, “Educators accused of sexual misconduct often find new posts.” The article exposed numerous private school faculty members that were involved in concealing sexual misconduct cases. The Boston Globe discovered 31 professors accused of sexual misconduct and assault, who went on to work at other schooling institutions untainted by their inappropriate criminal past. Unfortunately for Wesleyan University, the first faculty member written about in the article was Wesleyan’s former Associate Dean of Students, Scott Backer.

Wesleyan fired Scott Backer in June, hours after receiving information from the Boston Globe about the reason behind his dismissal from Vermont Academy. Backer was fired from Vermont Academy in 2007 after purportedly propositioning a 15-year-old female student over crude text messages. Only months later, Backer was hired by Wesleyan University as Assistant Dean of Students. In 2011 he was promoted to Associate Dean of Students.

Wesleyan failed to disclose the reason for Backer’s departure in June, but the day following the publication of the Boston Globe article, Dean Mike Whaley sent a school-wide email regarding the matter. Wesleyan University’s president, Michael Roth, wrote in a blog post that the university decided not to make the matter public until now, because there was no “compelling reason to do so.” After an investigation of Backer’s work at Wesleyan uncovered no evidence of inappropriate or unjust behavior, the university decided it was neither necessary nor appropriate to discuss the reason for Backer’s termination.

According to the student run blog, Wesleying, Whaley wrote that contact with the Boston Globe “was the first time that Wesleyan learned of this matter… No information was revealed in the background check. Had we been aware of this information, Mr. Backer never would have been hired.” Whaley also affirmed that Wesleyan had received three positive letters of recommendation from Vermont Academy in praise of Backer.

For students of Wesleyan, the most frightening aspects of Backer’s employment are Wesleyan’s lack of knowledge about one of their faculty member’s involvement in a criminal matter, and the power Backer held in handling cases presented to the Student Judicial Board. A Wesleying blog post writes, “So, Backer had already been at Wesleyan for three years when he was sued in 2010 by a former Vermont Academy student for the sexual misconduct which led to his firing from [the Vermont Academy] three years prior. Somehow, while still working at Wesleyan, he managed to attend settlement hearings in Boston until the case’s final court settlement in 2011, all while the Administration remained ignorant of their dean’s involvement in a sexual misconduct lawsuit.”

Even more disturbing for students was the realization that a sexual offender was in charge of overseeing cases of sexual misconduct and assault at Wesleyan for almost ten years. As Associate Dean of Students, Backer received sexual assault reports and served on an administrative panel that oversaw the judicial hearings that sexual assault reports and charges resulted in. Whaley’s email attempts to reduce student stress around Backer’s former role. “As you may be aware, in his position here at Wesleyan, Mr. Backer managed case flow for student conduct cases. He served on and frequently led hearing panels. Wesleyan has in place a system of checks and balances (other team members, panel members, and appeal rights) to ensure all cases are adjudicated fairly and properly. In an abundance of caution, we engaged Pepper Hamilton, a nationally renowned firm with expertise in campus discipline and Title IX issues to conduct a review of cases handled by Mr. Backer. The auditors completed their review and reported no concerning issues or impropriety,” it read.

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