It’s certainly a tragedy when anyone takes their own life. I feel very sorry for the surviving family members and colleagues affected by the suicides of two U. of Iowa professors accused of sexual harassment who took their own lives last year.
And yet. I have little patience with this Chronicle of Higher Education article about them. You can file it under the category of “but he was such a really wonderful person! There’s just no way he could have done these things!” Or, alternatively, “Those TERRIBLE women RUINED the lives of these WONDERFUL men!”
In the case of Arthur H. Miller, we can say that we don’t know. Certainly the allegations against him – offering students A’s for letting him touch their breasts – were serious and even of a criminal nature. Even though
The university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity had found enough merit in the complaints that it planned to hold a formal hearing on the charges last August, says Mr. Loh, the provost.
and even though the campus police arrested him on a felony charge of soliciting sex for grades, we do not know the full and final story because Mr. Miller’s suicide preempted any hearing or trial that might have sought to establish the facts.
Mark O. Weiger’s case is slightly different. Mr. Weiger was the subject of a June 2007 sexual harassment complaint that, according to his colleagues, ended that fall in a finding that he had made inappropriate remarks. Mr. Weiger was found to have done at least some of what his accuser said he did. She also filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and she was given a right-to-sue letter. She was also not the first person to file a lawsuit against Mr. Weiger.
In 1994 a former graduate student filed a lawsuit that made accusations strikingly similar to Ms. Milligan’s. The suit was dropped before it went to trial.
I think we can conclude that in Mr. Weiger’s case there wasn’t just smoke; there was some fire there, too.
But even if, in both cases, we weren’t exactly sure, the article would still bother me. Because the tone it takes is one of bewilderment. How could such nice, nice men find themselves in such difficult circumstances? The implication is that if one has an outstanding reputation as a scholar, has a wife or partner who loves him, has colleagues who respect him, and friends who like him, why, then it’s just not possible to imagine that he could ever, ever, ever do something so nasty! Why in the world would those women be saying these things? It just doesn’t make sense!
The article doesn’t come out and call the women liars, because we are too PC for that. Instead, it focuses on a supposed “vendetta” that a female Iowa administrator had against Mr. Miller, and his crazy complaint that she concocted the sexual harassment charges. Yes, I can just see her rounding up several undergraduates and getting them to go testify that the professor offered them grades for a titty peep show. Makes much more sense. You know how those evil harridan women are when they get a little power.
Oh, and we also have the “nice woman”.
Vicki L. Hesli worked with Mr. Miller for 20 years. She is the only female full professor in the political-science department and has served as its director of graduate and undergraduate studies. She would have been an obvious point of contact for any female students who felt uncomfortable with Mr. Miller. But, she says, “I never heard a complaint of any kind.”
Well, that settles it, then. I mean, she had ovaries, so obviously she would have been someone that women felt comfortable talking to, because women are all the same. And especially if she was good friends with the person they wanted to complain about, I’m sure they’d have gone right to her.
Here’s some real irony for you. The guy the university found guilty of inappropriate comments?
Late last month, the music school held a memorial concert for Mr. Weiger, in part to coincide with what would have been his 50th birthday.
Ms. Milligan is still pursuing her lawsuit against the university and against Mr. Weiger’s estate. She says the university should have known about Mr. Weiger’s offensive behavior and stopped it. The attorney general of Iowa has filed a response on the university’s behalf, saying the institution handled her complaint appropriately.
And the Chronicle has written a nice, long article about both Mr. Weiger and Mr. Miller, extolling their virtues, telling us what wonderful guys they really were, leaving us to shake our heads and wonder how anyone could suspect them of anything.
Yeah, like that find upstanding Tracy McIntosh at Penn.
The fact is, you can’t pick sexual harassers out of a crowd. They don’t have a mark on their foreheads. They aren’t necessarily obviously vile creatures (though they are vile creatures.) They may be the neighbor next door, your colleague down the hall, the eminent scholar in your field. They wear the guise of respectability and it does us no good to go around saying “but he seems so nice! surely it can’t be him because he’s NICE!” Surely it can’t be him because they evidence says not. Not because he’s nice.