Thus Spake Zuska

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.

Meanwhile

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    February 24, 2009

    See also Samuel Kent, a federal judge in Texas who just the other day pleaded guilty to some pretty horrendous sexual abuse charges. The community was shocked, of course!

  2. #2 volcanista
    February 24, 2009

    arrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh adfjha dlfadlkfj

    ahem. I agree. Shame on Chronicle.

  3. #3 jay
    February 24, 2009

    our legal system has created a black/white victim/predator dichotomy without the ability to acknowledge the shades of grey on both sides. The definition of sexual harassment has become dangerously broad. When (even if true) finding that he had made inappropriate remarks becomes an offense to trigger suicide, one wonders what kind of a world we have created.

    Ms. Milligan is still pursuing her lawsuit against the university

    of course, we wouldn’t want the death of the defendant to interfere with that, now, would we.

  4. #4 volcanista
    February 24, 2009

    jay, that’s legalspeak. Getting that label does not mean he said things that were just mildly inappropriate by common parlance standards. It meant they were inappropriate in a harrassing manner. Harrassment can be verbal. It sure as hell counts.

    Justice is important, and not about revenge, so yeah, pursuing the case after his death can still be a reasonable step.

    Have you ever been sexually harrassed? Your comment makes me wonder.

  5. #5 volcanista
    February 24, 2009

    (makes me wonder if you could possibly understand what it’s like, that is.)

    I wanted to add that it’s not about what kind of a world we “have created.” It’s about the kind of a world we are in, where a victim can be so traumatized by how she was treated that this legal action made sense. And about the kind of world we would rather live in.

  6. #6 jc
    February 24, 2009

    Jay, “dangerously broad?” are you fucking kidding me? DANGEROUS FOR WHO?

    I’ve been sexually harrassed by a prof while I was a student. It took FIVE women coming forward for him to get fired. FIVE! I was the first to report. Women who report sex harrassment do it to PREVENT FUTURE WOMEN FROM BEING HURT!

  7. #7 The Ridger
    February 24, 2009

    But he was always so quiet! So polite!

  8. #8 Academic
    February 24, 2009

    I have to wonder the truth of the allegations in that the defendants would rather commit suicide than expose the true story behind the allegations. If they were innocent of serious wrongdoing, then standing trial ought to be a minor deal. Sexual offenders should not be afforded protections to hideout in academia.

  9. #9 The Ridger
    February 24, 2009

    And Jay? How many other professors are being protected? Wouldn’t want the death of one to license the others… or would we?

    Besides, the university is the defendant, not the dead guy.

  10. #10 Zuska
    February 24, 2009

    The Ridger makes an important point in response to Jay. The ongoing lawsuit is against the university, as well as Mr. Weiger’s estate. Against the university, the allegation is that they should have known about the harassment and taken steps to stop or prevent it. Universities can be liable to legal action when employees commit harassment, if they know about the harassing behavior and do nothing to stop it or to prevent its reoccurrence. This is a separate issue from any liability of the individual harasser. If the woman who was harassed is suing for damages, she is legally able to pursue her suit against Mr. Weiger’s estate even though he commited suicide. It is unfortunate for Mr. Weiger’s heirs that he has left them to deal with this situation. But just because he chose to kill himself, doesn’t mean that she should be denied her legal means of recourse.

  11. #11 Brandon
    February 24, 2009

    I agree with most of what you said. I don’t get this part, though.

    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.

    Meanwhile

    Ms. Milligan is still pursuing her lawsuit against the university and against Mr. Weiger’s estate.

    Are you saying that because Professor Weiger was convicted of sexual harrassment, his students honoring his memory is in poor taste? That every good quality he might have had just flew out of him like a popped balloon, and the people who knew him should just regard him as nothing more than a sleazebag? Please clarify.

  12. #12 humorix
    February 25, 2009

    Homo-Sapiens and chimpanzee are 99 % of common genome, the current man is 1 % of common genome with the magazine(review) Playboy. Why?

  13. #13 Joel
    February 25, 2009

    Are you saying that because Professor Weiger was convicted of sexual harrassment, his students honoring his memory is in poor taste? That every good quality he might have had just flew out of him like a popped balloon, and the people who knew him should just regard him as nothing more than a sleazebag?

    I live in the Iowa City area and judging from the comments on the local media’s websites when these stories broke, the criminals were the women these men harrassed. They were called liars, prostitutes, whores, etc… Not directly, given the policies of the forums, but the meanings were very clear.

    Zuska is right to point out the irony of honoring this dishonorable man. Weiger’s good qualities could not have flown out of him like a popped balloon, the few good qualities he may have had would only have uncerimoniously trickled out on to the floor.

    Mr. Weiger and Mr. Miller beign the cowards they were, took the easy way out and in the process intentionally laid the reponsibility for their deaths on their victims.

  14. #14 arvind
    February 25, 2009

    Brandon,
    It is not his students honoring him in an unofficial capacity for his work. It is the music school holding a memorial concert, which I think would count as official university endorsement. It is in poor taste. It underscores how lightly we as a society take harassment of women. And I think you need to take that observation from Zuska in conjunction with the frustration with the tone of the chronicle article that is the subject of the rest of her post.
    I have a feeling that if Weiger’s crime were not sexism, but some other -ism that we as a society have progressed enough to find abhorrent far more easily, I doubt if the university would’ve even allowed their name to be associated with celebrating his memory after he was found guilty. They would have distanced themselves, if not with true contrition, then at least as a matter of policy to avoid being branded insensitive to the -ism in question.

  15. #15 arvind
    February 25, 2009

    I wanted to qualify my sentence:

    “I doubt if the university would’ve even allowed their name to be associated with celebrating his memory after he was found guilty.”

    to say:

    “I doubt if the university would’ve even allowed their name to be associated with celebrating his memory after he was found guilty (at least so soon after his death, while the victim is still fighting her case).”

    Also Joel, thanks for the additional light. I am not surprised. We live in a society where male judges throw out (already severely under-reported) rape charges because they think the victim doesn’t “look like” she was just raped. The default assumption is either that the victim is lying or that she asked for it.

  16. #16 jc
    February 27, 2009

    This will burn your shorts, but also give 1.6 million small-happees.

    Female Neurosurgeon/Asst Prof at Harvard filed sex harrassment against Male Dept Chair.

    http://feministlawprofessors.com/?p=8618

    It’s just peachy that the Boston Globe features a picture and the qualifications of the asshole. I puke on his shoes.

  17. #17 Alecto
    March 2, 2009

    Can’t read the article, but oh, the irony that one of the men is named Arthur Miller. I wouldn’t be surprised if the term “witch-hunt” gets bandied about by his defenders.

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