The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has indefinitely removed online lectures by retired physics professor Walter Lewin after a student accused him of sexual harassment.
Lewin’s were removed lectures from MIT OpenCourseWare and online MITx courses from edX, the online learning platform co-founded by MIT, following a determination that Lewin sexually harassed a female student, who was not identified.
MIT’s action comes in response to a complaint it received in October from a woman, who is an online MITx learner, claiming online sexual harassment by Lewin. She provided information about Lewin’s interactions with her, which began when she was a learner in one of his MITx courses, as well as information about interactions between Lewin and other students.
According to a report by the Boston Globe
, as many as 10,000 people a day watched Lewin’s physics lectures. Lewin’s teaching style was considered “enlightening and rarely boring,” according to the report, which cited an instance in which Lewin demonstrated how a rocket takes off by riding a tricycle propelled by a fire extinguisher across a classroom.
An investigation was immediately launched, MIT officials said, and as a precaution Lewin was instructed not to contact any MIT students or online learners, either current or former.
The lecture removal is in the interest of preventing any further inappropriate behavior, the university said.
“Students place tremendous trust in their teachers. Deserving that trust is among our most fundamental obligations. We must take the greatest care that everyone who comes to us for knowledge and instruction, whether in classrooms or online, can count on MIT as a safe and respectful place to learn,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in an online statement.
At the time MIT received the complaint, Lewin was not teaching any courses, either on campus or interactively online. Lewin retired from MIT in July 2009 and last taught a course on campus in spring 2008. He last taught an online MITx course in fall 2013.
MIT Provost Martin Schmidt said it was “painful” to learn of Lewin’s behavior, considering his long and distinguished career at MIT.
“However, complaints of harassment must be met immediately and squarely in all cases. [Monday’s] decision was made in consultation with faculty leadership both in the physics department and across MIT more broadly.”