It has been a week since I wrote this piece about McGill's shame. It has gotten a heap of attention--2.5k hits--which is a lot for a Spew post. I have received emails, facebook messages, phone calls, etc from current and former McG students thanking me for outing RB (my "subtlety" in my original post was not that subtle) and/or citing other examples of sexual harassment. The questions I have received from two McG student newspapers suggests that the problem is pervasive.
My guess is that this is going to blow up a smidge this week as both student newspapers are working on stories on this, and this comes in the aftermath of other incidents over the past year or more.
Besides telling students to avoid RB, what can one do? I have been willing to talk to the McMedia to suggest that serial sexual harassment should be a firing offense. Tenure is to protect academic freedom, not to protect the pathologies of professors who prey upon students. What got me pissed off last weekend was the realization that nothing had changed.
The penalties--not being able to work with grad students and being forced to work in the main building instead of the more remote office (where one could prey without as many witnesses)--have evaporated. Whatever other punishment was too invisible to notice and apparently not to deter.
It comes down to this: how do institutions protect their students? Or is it rather how to protect their institutions rather than protecting the students? Brock University is undergoing a similar set of events: insisting on confidentiality may be good at protecting the school but sucks in terms of preventing students from being victimized. Unless the perpetrator can change his ways, how can students be protected? Either constantly monitor the prof (unworkable), out the prof (probably not sufficient), keep the prof away from students entirely, or fire the prof.
In the US, academic institutions have also been reluctant to investigate these situations. However, the existence of Title IX and the use of it by students and groups can force universities to take these issues seriously and worry more about the students and less about protecting university reputations.
I will provide updates as I learn more about McGill's reactions/policies.