Thus Spake Zuska

Locking the Barn Door

You are a university president. You naturally wish to avoid scandal and negative publicity during your administration. The time to make it mandatory for all faculty and staff to undergo training in how to avoid sexual harassment is:

A: When you take office, or shortly thereafter.
B: After one of your professors is caught emailing female students a quid pro quo: A’s if they would expose their breasts and allow him to fondle them.

If you are University of Iowa president Sally Mason, you will, of course, pick option B.

If this is only the first time the esteemed Professor Miller has engaged in such shenanigans, I will eat his shoes rather than puke on them. I’m betting it’s not.

Meanwhile, over at the University of Missouri,

Two tenured faculty members at the University of Missouri at Kansas City have agreed to resign to avoid disciplinary action, one year after the university paid $1.1-million to settle a lawsuit alleging rampant sexual harassment by those professors.

In July 2007, the University of Missouri reached a settlement with two female employees who claimed the university had been unresponsive to their complaints about two professors, C. Keith Haddock and Walker S. Carlos Poston II (The Chronicle, July 27, 2007). The lawsuit, filed in 2006, alleged that the two faculty members created a “sexually hostile work environment” in the health-research laboratory they jointly supervised by making sexual advances, cracking explicit jokes, and groping female colleagues.

At the time of the lawsuit, Mr. Haddock and Mr. Poston, both professors of psychology, were removed from the lab and reassigned to the medical school at the Kansas City campus. A court deposition indicated the two were among the university’s top grant winners.

On Monday the two men agreed to resign their tenured faculty positions, effective September 30, rather than face tenure-revocation or dismissal proceedings. Under the terms of the deal, Mr. Haddock and Mr. Poston will be permitted to complete their academic and research obligations and will receive salaries until August 31, 2009, the end of their contract year. The two men have agreed not to seek future employment with the university.

Emphasis added by me. Do you suppose that has anything to do with why they get to keep collecting salaries for one whole year more, AND “complete their academic and research obligations”, after they’ve already cost the university a million dollars? This isn’t even a case of locking the barn door after the horse is out. It’s more like going over to the barn door and asking the horse not to continue shitting all over the barn, if you don’t mind, until you see fit to leave.

I really wonder what you have to do to get fired from a university.

I swear to christ, this blog must be grinding down my sense of outrage. Check out this post on a similar topic from two years ago. I just can’t muster up the same rhetorical level I used to, it seems. I can’t tell you how tired I am of writing about this shit. I can’t tell you how tired I am of getting to use my “sex offenders” blog category. I can’t tell you just how fucking tired I am that 36 years after Title IX, I am still writing about professors wanting to see their students’ boobies. Go to the store and buy a fucking tittie mag if you really need to see some boobies!

Of course, this is what the system counts on. It counts upon there being so much of this shit flung in our faces day after day after day that we stop trying to get at the source of the shit-slinging and just call it a good day when we keep the shit wiped out of our eyes for a few hours.

Alas, I am all too unfunnily reminded of this cartoon, which I used to keep taped over my desk during my graduate school days. (Ah, the eighties! It was fun to be a feminist then!)

i-b7d9a59287ea0ad761f84d4bcb448dad-IMG.jpg

The title is “The Feminist Enlightenment Takes Time” (artist is Wendy Hoile). Indeed. I doubt that poor washerwoman has made it much beyond that white dude’s eyeglass she was working on back in the eighties.

Feminist enlightenment. Some days I think I’d call “we’ll try not to grope you anymore because hard as it is for us to believe, it seems like you don’t like it” a major victory.

Comments

  1. #1 Becca
    August 14, 2008

    I think your cost-benefit from the university’s side is wrong as far as the harsh economics go. Over a career, an NIH funded investigator that is the best at the university might bring in several million dollars.
    Now, to the degree that everytime I (and I hope everyone else) hears “University of Missouri” and thinks “sexist pigs!”, it might cost them more over the long run. But then, there are probably some very nice people there who really don’t deserve to be associated with this stuff. It’s hard to know what a sufficiently targeted punishment would be.
    Similarly, if these profs have grad students that did not perpetuate this nonsense (or worse, female grad students who were unnnamed victims), then hurrying the professors out might leave those students (i.e. the ones carrying out the research programs) in the lurch.
    I don’t like this kind of shit at all, but I think the university president has a hard job, no mistake.

  2. #2 Tara C. Smith
    August 14, 2008

    One note on Mason–it’s already policy here that anyone in a supervisory position (research, teaching, etc.) is required to take such training; she’s just extended it to all faculty and staff. So theoretically, Miller should have already taken the training.

  3. #3 Carrie
    August 14, 2008

    Zuska – Locally a political appointee is getting a hand-slap for nearly the same action: http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008808130422 . It has irked me so much I’ve called my representative. But clearly I’m not one of the power brokers in this town providing the ‘overwhelming’ community support.

  4. #4 Peggy
    August 14, 2008

    Would sexual harassment avoidance training have made any difference in the University of Iowa case? I find it very difficult to believe that a professor wouldn’t know that offering to improve grades in return for sexual favors was not OK (to put it mildly).

    Also, I’m curious whether anyone has studied the behavior of individuals before and after such anti-sexual harassment courses. In my experience, the type of behavior the women describe in the Missouri case is as much about bullying as it is about “sex”. The fact that the women on the receiving end are made uncomfortable is part of the game. So what I’m wondering is if you make explicitly clear that sexual harassment in any form won’t be tolerated, whether the perpetrators shift to some other form of bullying.

  5. #5 PhysioProf
    August 14, 2008

    Over a career, an NIH funded investigator that is the best at the university might bring in several million dollars.

    You are off by orders of magnitude. I’m just a fucking punk, and I bring in just under $1 million per year. The best funded investigators can be bringing in from several to $10 million per year, adding up to many tens of millions over a career.

  6. #6 Zuska
    August 14, 2008

    Would sexual harassment training have made any difference? I don’t know. I do know that in the absence of clear, explicit, repeated messages from management that harassment will not be tolerated – followed up by meaningful AND timely action when harassment occurs – people who want to harass will, rightfully, believe that they can do so with impunity.

    It’s not just about having everyone show up once during their career lifetime for a class on sexual harassment so they can check that off on their “to do” list and be done with it forever. You have to create a climate, a culture, where it is known, made explicit, that harassment is not tolerated, respectful treatment of all is a community value, equity is a common goal. The would-be harassers need to be made to feel that they are outside the margins of polite society, not that they can operate as they wish and not have a care in the world. My feeling is that, sure, it’s a drag having to resign your tenure, but keeping your salary for another year while you wrap up your research program isn’t all that harsh a punishment. It will be interesting to see how quickly they land a position somewhere else. And whether, of course, they are able to continue getting federal grants funded. If they have no problem with those two things, then there really isn’t any community sanction for sexual harassment at all.

  7. #7 Kea
    August 14, 2008

    The eighties were both good and bad. There was no anti-feminist backlash back then, true, but we were so much more innocent that our activism was really pretty pathetic. Not that we had any way of doing better than the washerwoman at the time.

    What amazes me is that these bozos think women will put up with this sort of behaviour now. What are they thinking? Obviously, since women’s gullibility is genetic, they must be just as stupid as they were in the eighties, right? Fortunately, I never had such a low trick played on me, but that was because there were so few females in my field in those days that The Boys were probably still in shock about our existence.

  8. #8 Zuska
    August 14, 2008

    Sexual harassment and bullying are not the same thing. Sexual harassment might be thought of as a form of bullying, I suppose, but one can be bullied by a general jackass without being made to feel that there is something about one’s innate unalterable nature that is wrong and inferior. Sexual harassment is the form of bullying predicated on the assumption that you, the bullied person, are inferior by virtue of being female. Your particularness matters not a whit; it is your vagina that matters.

    Similarly one can’t shed one’s color to escape racial harassment, or one’s sexual orientation to escape homophobic harassment.

    I was bullied by a postdoc in graduate school in a non-sexually harassing manner. I didn’t like what he was doing, and I had to find ways to cope with it, but it didn’t make me feel like there was something wrong with me. It didn’t make me feel as if I had to defend the right of women to be involved in science. I have been sexually harassed, and the feeling is quite different. I think it is much easier to cope with “mere” bullying – although that in itself is quite a difficult thing to take. Sexual harassment is much more devastating, IMHO.

  9. #9 Zuska
    August 14, 2008

    Carrie, I love this from the article you cite:

    Carey said terminating the HTA head now is not in the best interest of the industry or the agency. “By way of analogy, I believe a firm slap on the wrist is far more appropriate than a beheading at this time,” he said.

    More written testimony came from former state deputy director of transportation Glenn Okimoto, who served under Johnson as director.

    “While I am not minimizing the seriousness of his actions, they do not rise to the level of termination,” Okimoto said.

    Yep, a slap on the wrist. And we all know how painful and effective that is. Sheesh. Good to know the porn purveyor can keep collecting his $240k/yr salary.

  10. #10 Kea
    August 14, 2008

    Yes, sexual harrassment is harder to deal with. But I’m old enough to remember the days when proposals of breast fondling were par for the course, and one didn’t even raise an eyebrow, just continued walking. Bullying, on the other hand, often involves physical or situational obstacles which one has to fight to overcome.

  11. #11 deang
    August 14, 2008

    Because I remember the anti-feminist backlash as starting in the 80s, I thought your comment about it being fun to be a feminist in the 80s was tongue in cheek. Did I misunderstand?

  12. #12 Kea
    August 15, 2008

    No, not tongue in cheek. I guess I was still pretty young then, and in another part of the world, so I remember it differently.

  13. #13 PhysioProf
    August 15, 2008

    You have to create a climate, a culture, where it is known, made explicit, that harassment is not tolerated, respectful treatment of all is a community value, equity is a common goal.

    One of the things that is key to this is for individual men to make it clear to individual women that they are ready and willing to call out other individual men on unacceptable behavior. In other words, men need to personalize their intolerance for sexual harrassment, and not solely consider it an institutional issue.

  14. #14 Zuska
    August 15, 2008

    About the 80s: not tongue in cheek. Back then theory was bright and shiny and new to me and seemed to offer some serious hope for transformation of scientific practice. I may be romanticizing my graduate school days but it seems to me the backlash against feminism is harsher and meaner now than it was then. Also we didn’t have scads of people walking around telling us all of feminism’s battles had been fought and won and now we could just be empowerful by dressing like whores. Back then we did our feminism walking uphill to school in the snow, BOTH WAYS!

    Maybe I’m just missing my graduate feminist reading group, which was the single best learning experience of my lifetime. Which speaks volumes about how unfriendly my formal engineering and scientific training was, that the discipline I pursued out of love, made me miserable, and the discipline I pursued to understand the source and meaning of that misery, gave me the intense pleasure I should rightfully have been reaping in the laboratory.

  15. #15 absinthe
    August 15, 2008


    I swear to christ, this blog must be grinding down my sense of outrage. Check out this post on a similar topic from two years ago. I just can’t muster up the same rhetorical level I used to, it seems. I can’t tell you how tired I am of writing about this shit. I can’t tell you how tired I am of getting to use my “sex offenders” blog category. I can’t tell you just how fucking tired I am that 36 years after Title IX, I am still writing about professors wanting to see their students’ boobies.

    Amen to that. I’ve taken an indefinite hiatus from blogging on such topics because I feel like I’ve come to sound like a broken record. Saying the same things over and over again about the seemingly never ending supply of new incidents of the same-old-same-old crap is officially wearing me out.

  16. #16 etbnc
    August 16, 2008

    “…it seems to me the backlash against feminism is harsher and meaner now…”

    Yes, and it seems to me harsh meanness becomes more prominent in public life when a certain other social/political movement establishes dominance in political life. Speaking of dominance, it seems to me dominance behaviors comprise a big part of that other social/political movement.

    That’s a hypothesis, of course. Data gathering continues … daily. Unfortunately.

  17. #17 Zuska
    August 20, 2008

    As an update, you can find here a follow up news item on the UMKC story. Professors Haddock and Poston defend their innocence, claiming they only resigned to avoid the stress of a lawsuit. Personally I’m not buying it but maybe you’ll be more convinced.

  18. #18 msphd
    August 20, 2008

    Funny to read this post today. Poison Ivy II was on tv last night. Talk about creepy professors. Yeesh.

    I like the cartoon, btw.

  19. #19 zay?flama
    August 27, 2008

    tion somewhere else. And whether, of course, they are able to continue getting federal grants funded. If they have no problem with those two things, then there really isn’t any community

  20. #20 Kar?nca Yumurtas? Ya??
    August 27, 2008

    what I’m wondering is if you make explicitly clear that sexual harassment in any form won’t be tolerated, whether the perpetrators shift to some other form of bullying.

  21. #21 diyet
    September 6, 2008

    What are they thinking? Obviously, since women’s gullibility is genetic, they must be just as stupid as they were in the eighties, right? Fortunately, I never had such a low trick played on me, but that was because there were so few females in my field in those days that The Boys were probably still in shock about our existence.

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