To Whom It May Concern:
I read with interest the recent articles and
editorials (10/9/06) concerning a star assistant
professor of paleontology whose pattern of sexual
harassment, if the stories are accurate, was covered
up by the Washington University administration, to
preserve this institution's public image. If this
story is true, research trumps character, for those
now in power here.
When I was in graduate student government at Penn, a
resolution was proposed banning all student/faculty
romantic relationships of any kind, including those
between TAs and their students. I was one of the very
few graduate students who supported this policy
(proposed by the University supposedly for "legal"
reasons; in other words, intended to be selectively
enforced). I had a practical and ethical reason for
supporting this: the student/teacher relationship may
be quite devotional but should not be confused with
any other type of relationship. A prohibition may not
be enforceable but would provide clear expectations,
with no ambiguity.
I was surprised to learn that this University bans
only romantic relationships in which a faculty member
is in a position of authority over the student. This
may or may not be a wise and realistic policy.
However, the policy's reference to "the perception of
a romantic relationship" is vague and could be abused,
for personal or political reasons. An article in
Student Life ("University Policies Regulate
Student-Faculty Relationships," 10/9/06) exhorts us
all to report rumors of inappropriate conduct. This
could turn into a witch hunt, "the politics of
Sexual harassment is underreported, but also often
falsely reported. I remember reading a definition of
"sexual harassment" at the University of Montana.
Something seemed wrong with it. Someone wrote a letter
to the student newspaper, pointing out that this
definition did not mention sex (I checked and he was
right). "Sexual harassment" was defined as ordinary
harassment, or rather just being a bit of a jerk.
Obviously, such a vague policy could be used to harass
people we don't like, or who are in our way.
It is a dirty secret that University harassment
policies are themselves harassment tools. A blogger
commenting on the Student Life editorial,
"University's Silence on Sexual Misconduct
Unacceptable" (10/9/06), claims that he, an
award-winning staff member, was fired for telling the
truth about an assault case, and smeared with lies. He
claims that the Administration always sides with
faculty in these cases. The blogger requests alumni to
withhold their contributions until this pattern of
officially sanctioned abuse is rectified. I second
this. Harassment is a crime.
Why do we spend so much time trying to regulate
conduct that is never appropriate? "Do unto others as
you would have them do unto you." Let's tell the truth
and keep our promises to each other, and set a good
example. Richard Nixon said "It's the lie that will
get you." Let's combat lies with truth. That is the
Lecturer in Religious Studies
per veritatem vis