Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Appalling, Not Shocking, Academic Edition

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a really moving and horrifying story of Jorge Dominguez's career of success and sexual harassment. Dominquez harassed and even assaulted women for decades, for his entire career, and kept getting promoted even as women filed complaints and even as he got minor slaps on the wrist.   Yes, it happened at Harvard so it is more newsworthy, but this is not at all shocking.  Why?  Because universities care more about their reputations than their students until forced to do otherwise.

The harasser I know best started doing what he did before I got to McGill, did it while I was there, and apparently has done it since.  Why?  Because the consequences have been minor.  Why should women risk much stress and further abuse by coming out and filing charges when they see that the consequences for the harasser range from non-existent to not much? 

We have seen some progress in the US because the federal government via Title IX has levied pretty significant threats against universities if they do not deal with the harassment people (mostly women) face. The new budget the Canadian government released yesterday threatens to cut federal funding (which is mostly research money since the universities are run/owned by the provinces) for those universities who do not make progress on combatting sexual harassment.

Of course, universities will say that they do and then continue to do everything behind closed doors.  Yes, it is a tricky legal problem, but until serial harassers are essentially taken out to the university public space (quad, centre, student union, whatever) and drawn and quartered (metaphorically), why should anyone believe them?  To be less dramatic and more direct, until serial harassers face very visible consequences (fired), why should students and governments believe assertions about combating sexual harassment?

Sure, some men will worry about false accusations, but we are not calling for all accused men to be thrown out--just the Jorge Dimenguezs and Rex Brynens--just those who have engaged in harassment repeatedly and will not stop.  The students are simply more important.

On the bright side, stories like the Chronicle's help women realize that they are not alone, that they did experience what they thought they experienced, and it had little to do with whatever they did and everything to do with the harasser.  After posting about Rex two years ago, I have gotten a number of emails from women who were glad I did, that they now know that they were not alone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The university environment is actually the ideal place for serial sexual harassers, because students leave after a few years and a new crop comes in. By the time a student musters the courage to file a complaint against a professor (which an take an inordinate amount of emotional and psychic energy at a time they are already vulnerable and shaken up), get all the paperwork done, and go forward, they are probably ready to graduate and leave. There’s no follow-up once they are gone.The profs know this so that’s why get know they can get away with it.