HANOVER — The former head of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at the center of a sexual assault and harassment lawsuit was distraught when Dartmouth College failed to clear his name, and wouldn’t let him go public with a defense, according to a story this week in the New York Times.
David Bucci was 50 when he took his own life in October, after Dartmouth settled the lawsuit involving three professors who allegedly harassed and assaulted several female students. Bucci was chair of the department when some of the women came forward in April 2017. According to the New York Times, Bucci was emotionally crushed when he was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
“I don’t know why he took his life that day, and I’ll never know,” his wife, Kate Bucci, told the New York Times. “But I know that he wouldn’t have gotten to that point had he not gone through that experience with this lawsuit.”
A phone message reaching out to Kate Bucci for comment was not returned.
David Bucci was named 31 times in the lawsuit for his alleged lack of action when he became aware that the three professors were harassing students. The lawsuit claimed that after Bucci received the initial grievance from a few of the female students, the college had been slow to protect the women from further abuse, and that Bucci had called a department meeting where he browbeat the women who were planning to sue, according to the New York Times report.
Contacted this week, Diana Lawrence, associate vice president for communications for the college, hailed David Bucci for his care and concern for the women when they contacted him about the alleged abuse.
“He had Dartmouth’s unqualified support for the principled and sensitive way he responded on behalf of the graduate students who sought him out to report concerns about the behavior of the three former faculty members,” Lawrence said. “The entire Dartmouth community mourns the tragic loss of a remarkable colleague, scholar, teacher, and mentor.”
However, colleagues told the New York Times that David Bucci wanted to speak out about the accusations in the lawsuit, but was restrained by the college as it fought the case in court.
According to the lawsuit, the three professors — Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen — “leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students,” the complaint said. They held lab meetings in bars and invited undergraduates to use cocaine as part of a demonstration of addiction.
Advancement was contingent on compliance, the plaintiffs said. Some students suffered emotional distress. One attempted suicide.
Bucci and other administrators were accused of not doing enough to protect the students, according to the lawsuit. Bucci’s colleague, Thalia Wheatley, told the New York Times that the accusations against them were unfair.
Much of the bad behavior took place after hours, off campus, and before Dr. Bucci became chairman. The signs of misconduct had been ambiguous, Wheatley said.
“Hanging out at Pine, the local bar, seemed a little weird, but I mean, God, we had no idea” about the pressure the women were under, Dr. Wheatley said in the article.
Kati Bucci told the New York Times that her husband had had what he called a “breakdown” about 20 years ago, but had been stable with medication and therapy. After the lawsuit was filed, he was having crying fits and waking up in the morning shaking with fear, she said.
In May, the plaintiffs added two more women, identified only as Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3, to the $70 million class action lawsuit, bringing the total number of named plaintiffs to nine. The new plaintiffs said that they had been coerced into sexual relationships with two of the professors — one with Whalen and the other with Kelley — who threatened them into remaining silent, according to the lawsuit.
Bucci, according to the new complaint, told Jane Doe 3 that he had always been aware of rumors about her relationship with Dr. Kelley. Students, alumni and faculty called for Dr. Bucci to be replaced. His emails reflect a sense of defeat, according to the New York Times.
“I’m done,” he wrote in an email to his sister-in-law, Sarah Hancur. “I honestly just don’t care what happens anymore.”
According to the New York Times, Dartmouth Faculty Dean Elizabeth Smith rose to Bucci’s defense. She sent an email to the faculty saying she had so much confidence in Bucci that she had extended his term to a fourth year, which was about to end.
Briefly, Bucci was elated, his wife said. But soon after, he was hospitalized for depression and treated with electroconvulsive therapy.
In August, the college settled the lawsuit for $14.4 million, including agreed on reforms for the school as part of the agreement. The settlement agreement from the college did not include any statement to clear Bucci, however, according to the New York Times.