Former professor struck by train, faced harassment complaint
Frantz Merisier, the 34 year old former Seton Hall adjunct professor and graduate student who was fatally hit by a train in South Orange on April 14, was dismissed last semester after a student filed a sexual harassment complaint against him, according to his attorney Nathaniel Davis.
Davis said that when Merisier came to him a few days before his death, he seemed depressed, explaining that he had been falsely accused of sexual harassment and then dismissed by the University after a hearing was held. There were no criminal charges against him, Davis said.
Dr. Joan Guetti, associate senior provost, would not comment on the situation involving Merisier except to confirm that he had been an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences who taught French, as well as a graduate student in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
“It is not our policy to comment on personnel or student issues,” Guetti said in an e-mail.
However, a University administrator who did not want to be named but who is knowledgeable about the situation confirmed that Merisier had been dismissed because of a complaint made by a student.
According to Davis, the sexual harassment complaint came from a Seton Hall student Merisier had tutored who recorded the incident on an audiotape. Davis said he had reason to believe, based on what Merisier told him, that the student had doctored the tape before bringing it to University officials.
As a result, he said, Merisier “did not receive a fair and just hearing by the school.”
The student’s identity has not been disclosed.
Davis said he would have represented Merisier in a case charging the University with slander and libel, even though the professor did not have the finances to cover the costs of his representation. When the lawyer tried reaching out to Merisier a few days ago, he received no response and did not know the professor’s whereabouts until after learning of his death. The circumstances surrounding Merisier’s death have left the campus searching for answers.
Msgr. Dennis Mahon, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and the Arts, said he taught Merisier in his graduate Communication Research class for a brief time at the start of the spring semester last January.
“He was a mature, responsive student,” Mahon said.
Merisier was pursuing a dual master’s degree in the Department of Communication and at the School of Diplomacy, and was removed from class a few days into the semester, according to Mahon. Mahon said he received no explanation from the University as to why the student had been removed from his class. When Merisier asked him for a letter of recommendation for a Ph.D. program at Rutgers, Mahon said he complied. He said he was saddened by the news of Merisier’s death.
“Our hearts go out to his family and our prayers go out for him,” Mahon said.
Stephanie Powers, a junior diplomacy major, said she had taken a class on 18th Century French with Merisier last semester, but she said he left a few weeks before the semester ended and never returned.
Powers said Professor Mary Olsen took over the class, but no explanation was ever given as to why Merisier had left. Olsen did not respond to The Setonian’s request for comment.
On April 14, train traffic on the Morris/Essex Line from New York City was disrupted for a time after a man, later identified as Merisier, was struck by a westbound train at 5:20 p.m. Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for NJTransit, told nj.com that the investigation into Merisier’s death is continuing, but she said he had “positioned himself in front of the train” and “made no attempt to move” as it approached.
NJTransit Police would not confirm that Mesirier’s death was a suicide. Merisier lived in Irvington, N.J. with his wife and daughter, whose names are not yet known. Dean Michael Zavada said he occasionally had conversations with Merisier about Haiti, where he said Merisier was from.
Davis, the lawyer who was going to represent Merisier, said that he had offered to help Merisier’s wife and daughter in the future if they need assistance moving forward.
Lindsay Rittenhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.