Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Saving lives at the University of Iowa

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a major story today on the suicides of two University of Iowa professors who were charged with sexual harassment and then committed suicide.  The two cases were unrelated to each other.  Both professors committed suicide days after the sexual harassment charges became public.  Professor Mark Weiger committed suicide three months after the suicide of Professor Arthur Miller.

The CHE reported that after Professor Miller was banished from his classroom by the University that UI President, Sally Mason

“issued a statement saying she would not tolerate the kind of conduct Mr. Miller had been accused of. She also said the case had prompted her to make sexual-harassment -awareness training mandatory for all professors. And while she said that “every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” she then went on to “applaud the courage of the student victims in coming forward” to charge Mr. Miller.

President Mason declined to answer questions about her statement, but Ms. (Dean) Maxson defends it, saying the president had to take a tough stand because Mr. Miller had been “accused of a very serious infraction of behavioral and legal rules.” To the professor, his wife, and some of his colleagues, however, it felt like the president was pronouncing him guilty before he had even had a chance to defend himself.

Of course, in the dankprofessor’s opinion, President Sally Mason was pronouncing Professor Miller guilty. She not only suspended him from the classroom, but ordered that all faculty go thru sexual harassment training as well as applauding the courage of student victims coming forward.

Maybe Mason should have drawn on some of her own courage to publicly call for the adherence of to the principle of the presumption of innocence.  But such was not the case.  And three months later when Professor Weiger’s situation became public, Weiger knew what to expect and obviously could not deal with this kind of public degradation.

What boggles the mind of the dankprofessor is that President Mason instead of calling for mandating suicide prevention training after these two suicides, she mandates sexual harassment training.  Certainly this gives insight into the values of the President.   Sexual harassment trumps suicide in her hierarchy of values.  The lethality of suicide simply is not as weighty as the effects of being sexually harassed.

In the CHE article, the UI administration stated that UI stays neutral in these sorts of cases.  I guess neutrality means giving short shrift to having any sort of reaching out to the charged professors that would help them psychologically get thru these travails.  I guess this would be considered to be coddling the sexual predator professor.  Of course, one does not coddle the guilty, only the innocent.  And it is obvious that the UI administration did not honor the presumption of innocence.

Helping those who are held to be victimized is expected.  The UI is not neutral in such matters, they  attempt to psychologically help the student victim but not the professor who they de facto treat as an offender.

For example, in December the Daily Iowan reported on the programs that were being implemented at the UI to help student victims of sexual misconduct-

To establish one point of contact for victims, the UI hired Monique DiCarlo from the Women’s Resource Action Center to act as the school’s coordinator for sexual-misconduct response.

Each school would also establish new victim-advocate positions. DiCarlo will assign a victim-advocate to each sexual-assault report.

“Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim,” said Cathlene Argento, a Women’s Resource and Action Center volunteer. “It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

The mother of the alleged UI sexual-assault victim complained in a letter to UI President Sally Mason that she felt there were too few UI officials looking out for her daughter.

Parrott said the UI will now strongly encourage victims to take their sexual-assault allegations to the police as well as the UI.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great if faculty and others so charged be able to “…form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”  And if such a policy had been applied to the charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

February 16, 2009 - Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization

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