Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Rooting out the problem at the University of Iowa

I greatly appreciated the UI professor’s willingness to have his/her comments published anonymously
in the dankprofessor post- Shame and suicide at the University of Iowa.

The professor noted that the Weiger sexual harassment suit may have represented a situation of hostile environment sexual harassment.  The Inside Higher Ed article presented this case in the following manner-

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

The dankprofessor speculates that the suit against Mark Weiger evolved out of a consensual student professor relationship that ended up being framed as sexual harassment and most likely as hostile environment sexual harassment.   Such may have occurred in the context of sexual jealousy and rivalry as experienced by a spurned student.  Such escalation and conflation is more likely to occur in a culture where reputation is of paramount importance.  And according to the UI professor this represented the dominant culture at the University of Iowa.

Approximately one year ago on November 24, 2007 I published a post entitled  “Fear and Loathing at the University of Iowa” which was on the consensual relationships policy at UI.  A review of this policy demonstrates that UI did not simply ban these relationships, but viewed them in totally demeaning and dehumanizing terms.  A professor who was very sensitive concerning his public status and reputation could very well have been psychologically traumatized by having himself publicly presented as a sexual predator/harasser.

And if one takes the policy statements of UI seriously, ultimately there is little differentiation in terms of the seriousness of the charge of sexual harassment versus the seriousness of being charged with violation of the consensual relationship policy; in both instances the professor so charged de facto becomes a sexual predator.

UI President Sally Mason in a recent communication to students and faculty stated that now is not the time to speculate as to the causes of the recent campus suicides.  The dankprofessor holds that this is an example of the UI President engaging in avoidance and denial.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, shame, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Solving the sexual harassment problem via video

The following comment in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on the University of Iowa recent sexual harassment problems caught the dankprofessor’s attention. 

guyinic1 wrote:
It’s a sad day when faculty need to have any interactions with students videotaped but if that is what it takes, then so be it. And maybe departments should provide a conference room adjacent to the department offices so that everyone can see the interaction of the student and teacher. Again, this is so sad that a student can’t just stop by a teacher’s room and chat!
I also think that the policy needs to be very explicit not only with faculty but also students, telling them that if any sort of accusation is made, it will be investigated publically and since it is a public investigation, they will be named and will also be subject to laws regarding slander and liable if their allegations are false. College students who make allegations are not children, they are adults and I’m tired of them hiding behind the excuse of being intimidated by a person in authority. Too much is at stake here for both the accusors and the accused!

The dankprofessor admits that he has never given consideration to the possibility of having video cameras in  faculty offices and even in classrooms since classrooms are often the scene of hostile environment harassment. 

Such may represent an effective way of controlling/preventing sexual harassment events from occurring.  Of course, videotaping will not eliminate sexual harassment, but would likely lead to a decrease of these suits. 

No matter that there will no longer be privacy regarding student prof interactions.  Privacy rights and other rights become irrelevant if institutions are to have effective
control of students and professors.  And control becomes key as universities are gradually transformed into quasi police states.  If control mechanisms are not implemented we could end up with a complete abolition of university campuses which would be replaced, of course, by online education.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | higher education, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Shame and suicide at the University of Iowa

I have had communications from some UI faculty as to the situation of the recent faculty suicides in the context of sexual harassment charges.  I present below one of those communications and I do so without any name attached which is at the request of the writer.

I think that it can’t be dumb coincidence that the UI should have an epidemic of suicidal professors within a single semester. It defies plausibility. And on the rule that if one person asks a question, ten people have the same question, then presumably there are a lot more people in the same situation we simply don’t know about. So what about the University of Iowa in particular makes it epidemically miserable, when virtually all universities have comparable anti- harassment and anti-fraternization policies?

 

I have an hypothesis to which I think I can lend a certain amount of evidence and plausibility. It’s a perception that the UI (being an Upper Midwestern institution heavily servicing angst-ridden Germanic populations) is more of a shame culture than a guilt culture, although of course we have formal “guilt culture” institutional mechanisms of social control such as policies, procedures, investigations, and sanctions. People here will be influenced much more by self-policing (shame, fear of social stigma, etc.) long before they will be influenced by fear of formal reprisals, and will tend to police their actions to a greater extent than any policy actually stipulates – for instance, if it’s wrong to harass, then we will interpret it as wrong to talk about sex at all; or, if it is wrong to go out on a date, we will ban conversations in coffee shops; etc. and so forth. The result will be a culture in which almost any informal interaction (even of the innocent sort) between students and faculty will be so massively stigmatized that it is unlikely that any such interactions can occur without all parties (both concerned and unconcerned) believing they are inappropriate, and pro-actively signaling avoidance and/or disapproval.

 

I think I can lend plausibility to this. If you look at the first comment on the “Inside Higher Ed” article, you will see that it came from a student of the University of Iowa probably circa the 80s (it references a certain Professor Forell, who was head of the department of religious studies). It shows that a certain complex of attitudes about fraternization – a sense of its obvious impropriety combined with smug self-satisfaction about this prudery – was an element of the culture long predating the institution of formal mechanisms of social control. (And is it a coincidence that the UI has the first formal mechanism of this kind ever imposed in US higher education? No – what you appear to have is a perfect storm of Upper Midwestern shame culture/repression of sexuality combined with the elements you have everywhere else too, like fear of sexual harassment lawsuits and the usual neo-feminist academic Puritanism). The difference is that we have the usual academic Puritanism, but in the context of a shame culture. When do the people involved kill themselves? When they are outed – exposed to massive social shame – before any institutional finding of wrong-doing has actually been made. No one is afraid of what the institution may do to them formally, at least not to the extent of suicide. They are afraid of social stigma.

 

And the Weiger situation is doubly bad. If you look at the Inside Higher Ed article’s summary of the lawsuit, apparently a major part of the aggrieved student’s strategy to show hostile environment sexual harassment is that some sexual banter happened and that there was a consensual relationship between Weiger (who was single) and a student. It is not clear that the student is claiming actual, personal harassment, as opposed to having to endure an environment where fraternization could occur. Surely these aren’t the same thing.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, shame, suicide, Uncategorized, University of Iowa | 1 Comment

   

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