Ex-professor accused of sexually exploiting students in suit

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URBANA, Ill. (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed against a former University of Illinois associate professor on Asian cultures accuses him of sexually and emotionally exploiting his Chinese students.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Urbana against Gary Xu seeks damages and unpaid wages on 10 allegations, including emotional distress, gender violence, involuntary servitude, forced labor and sex trafficking.

“We think that Gary Xu is a very dangerous man. Our goal is to prevent him from being able to harm other women and students,” plaintiff’s attorney Alison Wilkinson told The (Champaign) News-Gazette . “Our secondary goal is to invoke some systemic change at the University of Illinois and at other universities, where students can be taken advantage of by professors without any oversight to prevent that from happening.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a Chinese woman who was a 19-year-old sophomore in 2013 when Xu allegedly dated and abused her physically. Xu is also alleged to have taken advantage of a doctorate student who left the University of Kansas to study under Xu between 2012 and 2015.

Xu was head of Illinois’ East Asian Languages and Cultures department from 2012 to 2015. University officials said Xu was placed on paid administrative leave in January 2016 in response to allegations of physical and verbal abuse made by a former student. He resigned in August 2018, with the university paying him $10,000, according to a separation agreement. Xu has not been criminally charged.

Xu could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit. However, responding to a UI investigation into his conduct, Xu called the allegations “preposterous” and “full of speculations, imaginations, unfounded accusations, and false statements.” He also called university’s draft report “full of factual mistakes, logical inconsistencies and fallacies.”

The lawsuit does not name the University of Illinois, although it accuses the school of not doing enough to investigate Xu after it first received complaints in 2014. Wilkinson said they’re considering a separate lawsuit against the school.

University spokesman Chris Harris said school officials are aware of the lawsuit but can’t comment on its contents.

“Issues of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment threaten every aspect of our university missions, and they inflict personal and professional harm on members of our community,” Harris said in a statement. “The university investigates and takes appropriate action whenever conduct is reported that may jeopardize or impact the safety or security of our students or others.”

The lawsuit also alleges Xu threatened the life of a Connecticut Wesleyan University professor who in March 2018 publicized allegations of Xu’s misconduct on Chinese websites.

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