U-M computer science faculty call on former Clinc CEO Jason Mars to take leave

Mars stepped down as CEO over claims of harassment by employees, clients, former students

Jason Mars speaks with his wife and co-founder Lingjia Tang at the company's former offices in Cahoots. (WDIV)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan’s Computer Science & Engineering faculty have called on associate professor and former Clinc CEO Jason Mars to take a leave of absence “immediately” following an explosive investigation published by The Verge detailing allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse against the co-founder.

Mars announced he was stepping down as CEO of the conversational AI startup in a company-wide email on Feb. 9, writing:

“Although the allegations against me are rife with embellishments and fabrications ... the truth is there were cases where I drank too much and partied with employees in a way that’s not becoming of a CEO.”

But according to The Verge, Mars’ behavior went far beyond convivial drinking with co-workers.

The tech publication interviewed 13 current and former employees as well as a former client of Clinc’s, who allege Mars had groped them, made lewd comments toward women and hired a sex worker in front of an employee while on a business trip.

Mars, who co-founded Clinc with wife Lingjia Tang, has denied the allegations. Following an internal company investigation, he decided to step down.

A message left with Clinc’s director of marketing for comment went unanswered.

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The U-M department’s call for Mars to take leave is the latest backlash from the allegations. In a statement on Feb. 14, the computer science department wrote:

The faculty of the Computer Science and Engineering division is shocked and outraged by the alleged behavior of our colleague Jason Mars in his role as CEO of Clinc, which was reported yesterday by The Verge. On behalf of the entire CSE community, we vehemently condemn the alleged conduct, which violates not only the high standards to which we hold ourselves at Michigan but basic tenets of human decency.

The Computer Science and Engineering faculty calls on Professor Mars to immediately take a leave of absence, until a full account of his behavior can be known.

Should students or anyone else have information that is relevant to the faculty’s understanding of Professor Mars’s conduct at Michigan, or any similar misconduct by others, we urge them to come forward. Avenues for reporting, including anonymously, are available at https://cse.engin.umich.edu/about/reporting-concerns-and-misconduct/.

Sharing such a close relationship with the university, Clinc often recruited talent from the school.

U-M’s School of Information released this statement on Feb. 14 suspending its recruiting relationship with the startup over Mars’ alleged behavior:

Clinc is a local firm with a recruiting relationship with UMSI. In his recent resignation letter, the Clinc CEO acknowledged poor judgment with respect to drinking and partying with employees and not setting proper boundaries for socializing outside the workplace. In light of this admission, our judgment is that Clinc does not meet UMSI’s expectations as a professional work environment.

Therefore, effective immediately, we are suspending any ongoing or planned recruiting activity involving Clinc and they will be removed from the iTrack system. We will periodically evaluate conditions at Clinc and if we become convinced that sufficient safeguards exist to ensure a professional work environment we will consider reopening our relationship with them. Specifically, UMSI is committed to working with employers and external partners who abide by Title IX federal law and therefore are required to provide experiences that are free from sex and gender discrimination.

From the outside, Clinc seemed like it was on the fast track to success when it announced a whopping $52 million series B round last May. At the time, it was the largest investment ever made in a conversational AI startup.

Aside from funding, Clinc has also enjoyed quick growth in employees. The startup used to be housed in downtown co-working space Cahoots but moved to Kerrytown when it outgrew its space. It is currently building out the former Kiwanis Club thrift store in Ann Arbor for its new headquarters.

Clinc’s clients include Barclays, USAA, Ford Motor Co. and more.

Watch: A4 Minutes Episode 5: Clinc co-founder Lingjia Tang

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.