Peter Chen, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, has been put on administrative leave for pending criminal charges of sexual misconduct, according to a Thursday email from Alec Gallimore, dean of the College of Engineering, to CSE students. At an arraignment on Thursday, Chen was charged with criminal sexual conduct of the first degree with a victim under the age of 13 by the Ann Arbor 15th District Court. The offense is reported to have occured on April 1, 2017, and a probable cause conference hearing is scheduled for Feb. 4. Chen’s teaching duties and other duties on campus have been reassigned, Gallimore wrote.
Chen co-taught two classes in the Winter 2021 semester — EECS 482 and EECS 498. According to Gallimore, there is no indication the criminal charge is connected to his teaching or research at the University.
“Nonetheless, I realize this information will be shocking to many of you, and comes after several semesters of reports of climate-related issues in the CSE division,” Gallimore wrote.
Calling the “continued allegations” of misconduct by CSE faculty “troubling,” Gallimore wrote he plans to work with those in the CSE community — including CSE chair Michael Wellman — to confront the department’s climate and culture and create a positive environment for students and staff.
“Let me be clear – sexual misconduct is completely unacceptable in any form,” Gallimore wrote. “I encourage anyone who has any information about misconduct to report it. It is only when we are aware of issues that we can address them.”
The email comes as the CSE department reckons with other allegations of misconduct. Jason Mars, assistant professor of computer science and co-founder of tech startup Clinc, was accused of sexual misconduct and abusive behavior in February 2020. The announcement that Mars was one of the faculty members teaching a required computer science course for this winter semester sparked further outrage from students, leading to the University’s Central Student Government to recently call for his removal.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald confirmed that Chen was arraigned Wednesday and is currently on leave.
"Peter Chen was arraigned on a criminal charge Wednesday and immediately placed on administrative leave," Fitzgerald said. "The investigation is being handled by Ann Arbor Police."
In an email to The Michigan Daily, Mariell Lehman, Chen’s lawyer, said Chen denies the charges against him.
"On January 26, 2021 Mr. Chen was made aware of the criminal sexual conduct allegations that had been made against him,” Lehman wrote. “He completely denies the allegations and has cooperated fully with the Ann Arbor Police Department to assist them in their investigation. Mr. Chen is confident that the truth will prevail and that he will be exonerated fully. Mr. Chen thanks the numerous people who have reached out in support of him over the last few days.”
Engineering junior Iris Derry is a current student in Chen’s EECS 482 class and was formerly advised by him when she transferred to the University. Derry said she was stunned by the allegations against Chen because she knew him as a respectable and kind professor.
“I respected him a lot,” Derry said. “I was just so sad and very confused because, I’m sure everyone could tell you, (we) were not expecting this from Peter Chen. He is such a respectable man and was so nice and genuine. No one could see it coming.”
Chen has been a prominent member of the computer science community, having been voted Eta Kappa Nu EECS Professor of the Year by undergraduate and graduate students five times. He was also previously the interim CSE chair, assuming the position after Brian Noble stepped down in 2020. After serving for six months as CSE chair, Chen stepped down in July, citing “personal reasons” for his departure.
This story has been updated to include information from Chen's lawyer.
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at email@example.com.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.