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Emerson Professor Found Dead Had Been Suspended For Sexual Harassment

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The Emerson professor and filmmaker who was found dead in a park this summer had been suspended without pay for the fall semester for sexual harassment, according to a statement the college sent to staff and also posted on its website Tuesday.

Robert Todd, a 54-year-old influential filmmaker who had served as the associate chair of the school’s Department of Visual and Media Arts, had been reported missing on Aug. 16. Emerson president Lee Pelton announced his death a couple of days later. Todd’s body was discovered at Franklin Park in Jamaica Plain. The cause of death has not been released.

In a rare statement of this nature, Pelton wrote to staff saying that he wished to clarify the spread of “misleading and false statements … with the sad patina of truth.”

Pelton wrote that after a months-long independent investigation that began in December 2017 when an Emerson staff member came forward with a complaint, “Professor Todd was found responsible for engaging in sexual harassment."

Emerson had notified Todd that he’d be suspended without pay for the fall 2018 semester, according to Pelton.

The college also required Todd to work with a professional coach to “help him understand the impact of his behaviors as well as to ensure that they would not occur in the future,” the statement read.

During the investigation, which was conducted by an outside investigator, Emerson received additional information about Todd that could have constituted a violation of the school’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. According to Pelton, Emerson interviewed those involved and found “insufficient evidence” to support the additional claims.

When Pelton announced Todd’s death in August, the president offered condolences to Todd's students, colleagues, family and wife — Tessa Day, a fellow artist, writer and a graduate student at Emerson.

In the most recent statement, Pelton said the college sought, in the immediate aftermath, to provide space and time to those mourning Todd’s death. He stressed the anomalous circumstances that led him to address rumors surrounding it.

"While the college typically does not release such information, these extraordinary circumstances, the very public nature of Professor Todd’s death, the promulgations of falsehoods, and the continuing circulation of rumors and speculations, compelled me to speak to you today in order to provide an accurate and true accounting."

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Maria Garcia Twitter Senior Editor, The ARTery
Maria Garcia is the senior editor of The ARTery, WBUR's Arts and Culture Team.

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