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Tenured Johns Hopkins professor resigns after school finds he violated sexual misconduct policy

A tenured professor of molecular biology and genetics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine resigned under pressure after the university found he violated university sexual misconduct policy.

The professor was identified as Dr. Sinisa Urban in an email, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, that was sent to the department earlier this month by Carol Greider, director of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.

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He also was named by Kyle Cavagnini, president of the graduate student association for the past academic year, and a source with knowledge of the situation. Cavagnini, a graduate student within the department of biological chemistry was involved in discussions between the university and students after a complaint was filed last fall against Urban.

Urban is one of two Hopkins professors who left after being investigated for sexual misconduct, joining Juan Obarrio, who was terminated after his tenure was revoked last week. In an internal letter obtained by The Sun, the university’s top officials said two professors were investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity and found to have been involved in conduct that violated university sexual misconduct policy.

Neither Urban nor Obarrio was named in that letter. A separate email, also obtained by The Sun, sent to the anthropology department identified Obarrio.

Urban did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday. His Facebook and Linkedin pages are not operating, and all references and contact information have been expunged from Johns Hopkins websites and directories.

The internal letter written by Hopkins officials, including Paul Rothman, the CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said that one of those professors who recently departed "was a full professor in the School of Medicine who resigned of his own accord following a recommendation of termination by the advisory board of the medical faculty, the dean of the School of Medicine, and the provost. The faculty member was found to have engaged in sexual harassment of a student, abusive and bullying behavior toward trainees, and other inappropriate behaviors.”

Cavagnini said the graduate student association helped the process by “having an ear or acting more as a go-between to get clarity on the investigation and disciplinary procedures.”

The second professor, Obarrio, was an anthropology professor who was fired by the Johns Hopkins University’s Board of Trustees after an investigation determined he violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Obarrio’s tenure was revoked and his faculty appointment terminated. Student activists have been calling for him to be fired after multiple people told university officials they witnessed an incident between him and a visiting graduate student in a Baltimore bar last year.

Urban was born in Croatia and earned a undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta and a doctorate from the University of Cambridge. He worked at the Harvard University Medical School before being recruited to Hopkins in 2006, according to information on a website describing his research.

In her email, Greider said Urban resigned just before the board of trustees was about to vote on a recommendation to terminate him.

In addition to violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy, Urban was found to have violated the school’s guidelines for conduct in teacher/learner relationships and the medical school’s Code of Professional Conduct for Faculty, Greider wrote.

She went on to say that “we all need to be mindful of how we treat each other in all working relationships. We are committed to helping to change the culture so that together we can help create a positive environment for our students, post-docs, faculty, and staff. ”

Greider’s letter also gave staff and students phone numbers and links to file a formal complaint to the university or to make an anonymous tip.

Cavagnini said Hopkins acted swiftly once the complaint had been filed in the fall. A determination was made by spring, a timetable he described as “unheard of in academia.”

“Hopkins has put significant personnel and financial resources into building up its infrastructure for harassment cases over the past few years,” he said, adding that student associations had given their input. “There is of course further work to do ... but I think they deserve credit on this one especially in context to what passes for common practice at other institutions.”

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Cavagnini said he hoped that recent steps taken by the National Institutes of Health and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine would help stem the incidents of sexual harassment.

The National Academies report, released in June 2018, said sexual harassment of women in academic sciences and medicine does damage to research integrity, limits careers and causes the loss of talent in the field. Institutions should take steps to prevent a culture of gender harassment, the report said. The National Institutes of Health has convened a work group to look at sexual harassment in science.

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