The grad student at the center of the scandal that toppled the president of prestigious Rockefeller University confessed to kissing and canoodling the embattled academic, but denied they were lovers.
Si Qi Chen, 21, is speaking publicly for the first time about the scandal that drove her into hiding and ruined Brooklyn-born Arnold Levine’s career at the Upper East Side biomedical university.
“Dr. Levine was hugging and kissing me in the faculty club when we were both very intoxicated,” the pretty student told The Post. “I’m sure that had a lot to do with it – and someone took exception to it.”
Levine, the discoverer of a gene that plays a role in suppressing cancerous tumors, was a gifted administrator during his 3½ years at the helm of Rockefeller.
But when his Jan. 10 faculty-club high jinks were revealed to the university’s trustees, he admitted that his behavior was inappropriate and resigned his post. He remains on leave. An anonymous letter about the tomfoolery triggered the married 62-year-old academic’s demise – although he remains a tenured faculty member. Since his resignation in February, he has been on leave for “health reasons.”
Levine could not be reached for comment on the matter.
Chen said the whole affair has been exaggerated by a jealous former friend.
“Arnie was my adviser as part of my rotation, but the whole thing was blown way out of proportion,” she said. “It could have been dealt with discreetly.”
The MIT grad said she had gone to see Levine about professional matters when he asked, “Can I buy you a drink?” Chen agreed, and two others joined them at a table in the Caspary Hall lounge for a convivial drink, she said.“ Arnie asked me to stay, so I stayed and we had more drinks,” she said. “We were both getting tipsy by that time.”
As the alcohol flowed, Chen and Levine exchanged deep kisses and danced as shocked onlookers watched. Chen said the “innocent” kisses did not sit well with a now-former friend.
“He was upset and thought Dr. Levine was taking advantage of me. He confronted Arnie and started calling him names, then he stormed out,” Chen said, adding she believes the student fingered Levine. Chen had to speak to a counselor, and she quickly confessed what had happened – and that it was consensual.
But whispers at the school put much of the blame on the slim student, whose parents immigrated from Shanghai. Fellow students couldn’t believe Levine could be part of the lurid goings-on, she said. “Some of the female students talk behind my back, and senior students have come up to me and said this is a step backward for women in science,” she said sadly.