Monday, March 21, 2016

McMess McDaily

The McGill Daily covered the sexual harassment at McGill story.  However, it did so more obliquely than I did by citing my being oblique and not mentioning my less than oblique references.  Indeed, the online story does not link to my post.  I guess many interested McG observers have already been to my post, given the number of hits it has received.

I have reactions to two other parts of the story:
  • the focus
  • the discussion of punishment
In terms of focus, the discussion in the piece focuses on prof-undergrad relationships although it eventually gets to the prof-grad student problem.  Two problems with this: a) the person in question harassed grad students and not undergrads (as far as I know) which made him safe to be the department's Director of Undergraduate Studies (?!) until his sabbatical; and b) "relationship" suggests a level of consent and friendliness that did not exist.  Coercion was this guy's game with threats a key part of his strategy.  While consensual relationships between prof and student are very problematic, as the article argues quite well, the offender here needs to be called out for not just seeking inappropriate relationships but using his position to bully students into giving in or dropping out.

Regarding the punishment, the article asserts that fired profs can go elsewhere and commit again.  Probably not.  This is not the Catholic Church in Spotlight where there are many jobs that the hierarchy can shuffle around.  In academia, a fired prof has a much lower chance of being hired by someone else (University Presidents are another matter entirely).  The market is brutal enough that someone who is fired for sexual harassment is just not going to be hired again.  Again, the primary responsibility of the university is to protect its students, so leaving a serial harasser in place is simply the wrong choice.  The problem is not that the guy can go elsewhere, but rather gaining the evidence that serial harassment has occurred and then the university having the willingness to do what is right.  The problem during my time at McGill was the latter.  The problem today, given what I have been told about the folks who are making the decisions now, is probably the former.  Either way, what the article gets very right is that the university's handling of the situation discourages students from filing grievances.

Oh, and the article does not name who was the provost at the time that the case was blown by the university.  He is no longer provost, but is still at McGill.


Anonymous said...

The reason for the focus on undergraduates is that, aside from the case you're familiar with, the other recent cases the article is concerned with but on which it can say much less have to do with professors who have had "relationships" with undergraduates which began with the appearance of consent. See for example the previous McGill Daily article Let's Talk About Teacher that the new article refers. Case in poli sci is exceptionally bad and deserves continued exposure, butthe other cases need to be talked about now because many people write them off as consenting relationships, and therefore the undergrads are afraid to come forward.

Steve Saideman said...

Understood. Thanks for elaborating!