Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Victims and victimization at the University of Iowa

The University of Iowa student newspaper the Daily Iowan reported on the campus reaction on the suicide of Professor Weiger.  One of the more bizarre and insensitive reactions was by Karla Miller, director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program.

Karla Miller…declined to comment specifically about Weiger, but she said after such apparent suicides, it could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.

“It would be only natural to wonder why an individual would do this,” she said. “Unfortunately, what can happen is the response that some people make is to blame the victims, and that’s inappropriate.

“The victims are never to blame.”

A right-on response to this comment was by the False Rape Society blog; their letter to the editor of the Daily Iowan follows-

In your story, “Accused U. Iowa music professor victim of apparent suicide” (Nov. 13), you report on the tragic death of Professor Mark Weiger from an apparent suicide following an accusation of sexual harassment. One of the persons you interviewed properly noted that “sexual-harassment lawsuits frequently result from false accusations.”

However, you also quote Karla Miller, the director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program, who refused to speak about Prof. Weiger specifically but used the occasion of his tragic death to implicitly assume the guilt of every person accused of sexual harassment. Specifically, she said that the suicide of a person so accused “could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.” She makes sure to add that after such a suicide, “some people . . . blame the victims, and that’s inappropriate. The victims are never to blame.”

Did you get that? Before a single scrap of evidence is admitted at trial, the person who reported the sex offense is declared the “victim” who is “never” to blame for a tragedy such as Prof. Weiger’s suicide — the facts, the evidence, and due process itself be damned. While Ms. Miller’s comments were not directed specifically at Prof. Weiger, it is difficult to see how he could not be included in her rush to judgment that improperly assumes the guilt of every person accused of a sex offense.

The dankprofessor gets it.  The dankprofessor also gets the fact that the sexual harassment training ordered by UI in response to these so-called harassment suicide cases probably does not communicate anything about due process and presumption of innocence.  And if such material is included in their training, it apparently has had no effect on Karla Miller.  Unquestionably Miller is in need of some training, and it is in the areas of sensitivity and legal due process training.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, rape, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Suicide and sexual harassment at the University of Iowa

Inside Higher Education reports that University of Iowa music professor Mark Weiger has killed himself one week after he was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit.

A former student and teaching assistant’s lawsuit, filed in federal court against Weiger and the university, charged that he had a romantic relationship with another student, engaged in repeated classroom banter and touching of an inappropriate nature, and created a sexually hostile environment. According to the suit, the university conducted its own investigation of the situation last year, found Weiger had violated policies against sexual harassment, and then resolved the issue “informally.” He was found in his car, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, with the garage door at his home closed. Authorities said he left a note.

This was not the first suicide by a UI professor who had been accused of sexual harassment.  “This past August UI professor Arthur H. Miller “was arrested on bribery charges and accused of telling female students that he would give them higher grades if they let him fondle their breasts. In one case, he is alleged to have grabbed and sucked on a student’s breast and then sent her an e-mail telling her that she had earned an A+. He then shot himself in a local park”.

Michael W. O’Hara, president of the Faculty Senate at Iowa and a professor of psychology, called the two deaths “a horrible coincidence.” He added that “sometimes in the great big wide world, events converge that are totally coincidental yet you begin to wonder if there is a pattern, and my view is that this is like having our 500-year flood. It seems inexplicable but it happened.”

When Miller was arrested in August the university announced that all faculty members would undergo sexual harassment training.  Such appeared to be a rather draconian move by the university targeting all professors in the context of only one professor being involved in the Miller sexual harassment case.

What concerned and perplexed the dankprofessor occurred when the University of Iowa did not order mandatory suicide prevention training for all of the UI faculty after Miller’s suicide.  Now that another professor has committed suicide in the context of a sexual harassment charges, the University of Iowa administration remains silent as to the need of suicide prevention training for its faculty.

If the UI administration is truly concerned about the well being of its faculty and believes that sexual harassment training will diminish that problem for its faculty, I think it is fair to ask why the administration does not order suicide prevention training for its faculty which ideally would function to diminish a problem that is a much more lethal problem than sexual harassment

However the university did do something as a consequence of the Weiger suicide when “Sally Mason, president of the university, on Thursday issued a statement expressing condolences to Weiger’s family and friends, and letting people know of the availability of counseling services. She also urged people “to refrain from speculation about this event, but to support all who need assistance.”

But the dankprofessor must ask why would President Mason assume that faculty have the ability to determine which faculty are in need of assistance?  Advocates of mandatory sexual harassment training argue that those trained become skilled in determining when sexual harassment has occurred or is likely to occur and therefore the trained are more likely to report to the appropriate campus authorities the existence of sexual harassers and potential sexual harassers.

Obviously, there is a double standard here, and it is the dankprofessor’s opinion that the double standard is related to the fact that sexual harassment involves sex and and American universities are well known for being sexphobic and then, of course, there is the money issue.  Faculty mandated sexual harassment training functions to diminish the probability of sexual harassment lawsuits being successfully promulgated against universities, at least such is the belief of many university administrators.  

And, of course, such does not mean that sexual harassment training is effective in diminishing sexual harassment on campus.  The dankprofessor believes that almost all faculty and university administrators know this.  And almost all academics know this and go along with the myth that sexual harassment training functions to prevent or diminish sexual harassment on campus.  And when a faculty member refuses to go along with this charade, and attempts to undermine the notion that sexual harassment training is effective, he or she is threatened with sanctions, as in the case of UCI professor Alexander McPherson.

Unfortunately, most universities have become money making playgrounds for those associated with the sexual harassment industry, including sexual harassment chasing lawyers.  

For most universities in both good and bad economic times, universities are predominantly interested in saving money rather than in spending money to save faculty lives.

So the end result in most American universities is that faculty problems relating to matters such as suicide receive only incidental attention, e.g., condolences are sent to the family of the suicide victim.  And as far as sexual harassment is concerned, the response of sexual harassment training is a money draining charade.  The dankprofessor is suggesting that this is not simply his opinion, but is the opinion of 99.9% of those who are knowledgeable about said training.  Such of course excludes those people and organizations that profit from the sexual harassment industry.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, UC Irvine, University of Iowa | 1 Comment

   

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