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Update 12/24: A source’s name has been removed from this article due to fear of professional retaliation.
This story has also been updated to include information from an email sent by Michael Wellman, Chair of Computer Science & Engineering and information about a student petition.
Some University of Michigan students are unhappy with the appointment of Jason Mars, assistant professor of computer science, to teach EECS 370 for the winter 2021 semester. The course is required for all computer science and computer engineering majors.
Previously, Mars faced allegations of sexual misconduct and abusive behavior during his tenure as CEO of Clinc, an Ann Arbor artificial intelligence startup. A Feb. 13 article published in The Verge outlined claims of inappropriate behavior by the professor.
Later in February, an investigation by New York public relations firm MWWPR prompted Mars’s resignation from Clinc and found his behavior harmed Clinc’s success, though it also found the allegations of retaliation by Mars did not have merit. In an email to employees explaining his resignation at the time, Mars acknowledged he drank too much and failed to develop proper boundaries with employees.
An email template has been circulating among computer science students, calling for Mars to be removed from the course and for more communication from the University about the appointment. Students are asked to send the template to University President Mark Schlissel and Professor Westley Weimer, CSE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee chair.
“The University of Michigan claims to want to support women in technology, yet they are placing a known sexual harasser in a position of power over undergraduate students, in a course computer science majors are required to take in order to graduate,” the template reads.
Michael Wellman, chair of the computer science and engineering department, sent an email to all computer science and engineering faculty, staff and students Wednesday evening addressing concerns over Mars’s appointment.
“The College has learned that Jason Mars has engaged in conduct that the College of Engineering determined was contrary to its values and standards regarding the conduct of faculty,” the statement reads. “The behavior was unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the College. Appropriate preventive and corrective actions are being taken in response that will further the College’s goal of embracing and promoting a culture of inclusivity that is free from harassment and other forms of misconduct.”
On Dec. 26, a group of students launched a petition demanding that the University rescind Mars’ appointment as an EECS 370 professor. As of Dec. 29, the petition has garnered more than 400 signatures.
“We critique that the University is not supporting women and gender minorities in technology through placing him in the position of power over a large number of undergraduate students, graduate students, and instructor aids (IAs), with the knowledge of sexual misconduct,” the petition reads. “The University’s appointment of him did not consider the opinions of students, faculties, and the wider community.”
Despite acknowledging student concerns and Mars’s misconduct, Wellman confirmed in an email to The Michigan Daily that Mars will still be teaching EECS 370 in the winter. Wellman reiterated that the course will be fully remote and will hold entirely remote office hours.
“We will be communicating directly with students enrolled in EECS 370 in January, prior to the start of classes, about instructional arrangements for the course,” Wellman’s email reads.
As of an email to The Daily Tuesday, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed Mars’s appointment to teach the EECS 370. Fitzgerald stressed it is a wholly virtual course and that “the College of Engineering is taking all appropriate preventive and corrective actions related to earlier allegations of inappropriate behavior by Mars outside of the classroom.”
A computer science student, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of professional retaliation, said she could not believe the University would appoint Mars to teach again, virtually or otherwise.
“It’s the idea itself that he’s still teaching, especially a mandatory course, it almost feels like a taunt,” she said.
The Daily reached out to several other current computer science students, including those who made the email template, but all declined to comment.
In a statement to The Daily, Mars wrote he had not heard of the outrage prior to The Daily’s requests for comment.
“Given the sensational misinformation and false allegations spread in and by the press, however, I understand where the student concerns are coming from,” Mars wrote. “Students should know that I fully support the objectives of the University’s policies prohibiting sexual harassment and misconduct, and which promote professional and civil interaction between students, faculty, staff and visitors. I take these policies very seriously.”
Mars pointed to his fall 2020 course evaluations as evidence students should not be worried to take his course. Mars taught EECS 498 during the fall 2020 semester, for which he did not face backlash. EECS 498 is a senior-level elective course.
“The reality is that students should not be concerned about taking my classes,” Mars wrote. “My student evaluations from this term (EECS 498), for example, demonstrate how students who have actually taken my courses feel about me as an instructor … To the question, ‘Jason Mars treated students with respect(,)’ students gave me a median rating is (sic) 4.9/5. Students can expect the same level of excellence from me in the future.”
Mars provided screenshots of the Bluera results page, the University’s course evaluations system, to confirm his instructor rating.
The student said she is frustrated that the University did not discuss this appointment with students.
“You notice all this outrage from students making email templates, open letters, petitions, doing interviews,” she said. “That’s where you see that you didn’t even bother checking in with your students, the students who have had past experiences with teachers who have already been like this toward them… It felt like we were forgotten in this situation.”
In an email obtained by The Daily, Weimer wrote that he passed student concerns up to departmental leadership. In a statement to The Daily, Weimer wrote that the email was not an official stance and was meant to reassure and thank the students who wrote to him.
“I commend you for bravery,” Weimer wrote. “Some of you are alumni or friends at other schools, but most are current undergraduate majors. It takes courage to stand up and sign your name to such a request… At this point I can only reiterate that your petition has definitely been received, can only observe that the issue is being discussed at multiple administrative levels, and can only thank you for making your voices and concerns heard.”
Daily Staff Reporter Dominic Coletti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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