Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

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 »

  1. I was accused of sexual harassment for defending my daughter being in the Vagina Monologs. Although harassment is a serious issue students can go overboard with their prudishness at times. In my case I suspect that a religious group & person who did not like me pushed the student to do this. The college never did investigate the false charge.

    Comment by I. Moon | February 16, 2009 | Reply


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