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Two alums sue MSU for failing to act against late professor for sexual misconduct

Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

Jon and Cheryl Edwards filed suit against Michigan State University in federal court in late February.  

The lawsuit alleges a pattern of sexual misconduct by the late MSU history professor Harold Marcus more than 35 years ago when they were students at MSU.  

The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the pain and suffering they sustained because "of Marcus' misconduct, all of which was enabled by MSU."

Marcus was on the faculty of MSU from 1968 until his death in 2003. His scholarship focused on Ethiopian history and politics.

Jon Edwards was a Ph.D. candidate at MSU from 1975 to 1982, studying under Marcus. Cheryl was an undergraduate student at MSU from 1975 to 1980 and later an employee. 

The Edwards met at MSU, subsequently married, and are currently residents of New Jersey.

The lawsuit alleges that beginning in 1976 Marcus "sexually assaulted, abused, and molested Cheryl by engaging in nonconsensual sexual touching, assault, and harrassment."

According to the complaint,  during an office hour visit during Cheryl's junior year, Marcus closed his office door, groped and kissed her and exposed his genitals while pushing her against the wall. Despite her saying no and leaving, Marcus called her several times with requests to have sex.  

Marcus allegedly repeatedly boasted about his "sexual exploits, questioned Jon routinely about his sex life, and made lascivious comments regarding Cheryl and other women to Jon." Jon did not complain to any faculty members because of the power Marcus had over his life as his Ph.D. advisor.

"Marcus seemingly viewed MSU as his own sexual playground and did not care if the girls were old, young, black or white. Marcus pursued them all," states the complaint.

The complaint alleges that MSU was put on notice in 1987 of "predatory misconduct in the History Department" because of a lawsuit that was filed in November of that year in Ingham County Circuit Court by a female faculty member against Marcus and MSU. 

The Edwards claim since that time,  MSU knew about the many allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Marcus, but the university failed to appropriately investigate, remedy and respond to them.  They say because of MSU's lack of action, Marcus' misconduct  continued unchecked.

MSU could not be reached for comment.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.