Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Bernard-Henri Levy on Polanski.

Bernard-Henri Levy had a powerful and emotive essay on the Huffington Post.  In the dankprofessor’s opinion  he gets to the core of the matter re those who are condemning Polanski when he concludes his essay on the following note,

Because it is shameful, finally, that we can’t, when we talk about his life, evoke his childhood in the ghetto, the death of his mother in Auschwitz, the murder of his young spouse, eviscerated along with the young child she was carrying, without the prayers of the new popular justice crying, “Blackmail!': even for the most abominable serial killer, the prevailing “culture of excuse” jumps to scrutinize the difficult childhood , the broken family, the traumas — but Roman Polanski would be the only person in the world under judicial jurisdiction not to have the right to any kind of attenuating circumstance…

It is the entirety of the affair, in truth, that is shameful.

It is the debate that is nauseating and from which we must abstain.

I hardly know Roman Polanski. But I know that all those who, from close and from afar, join in this lynching will soon wake up, horrified by what they have done, ashamed.

Bravo to Bernard-Henri Levy whose call is really to view the life of Polanski in holistic terms.  Almost all avoid or deny that  the murder of his mother, the the murder of his wife and about to be baby have any relevance to Polanski’s life after these terrible tragedies.  It is so much easier not to look at the horrors that Polanski went thru.  To deny that one’s past has anything to do with one’s present is surreal.

As for Levy’s final line that those who “join in this lynching will soon wake up, horrified by what they have done, ashamed.”  Such is unlikely.  To experience the horror they must become open to Polanski’s horrors; the risk of doing so is that they would then have to deal with their feeling of guilt.  Such would end up making them more similar to Polanski who has felt survivor guilt throughout much of his life.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | rape, Roman Polanski, sex, sexual politics, shame | 6 Comments

Shame on the University of Iowa

The Daily Iowan, the student newspaper of the University of Iowa, reported on Monday that new policy recommendations relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment have been unveiled by all three University of Iowa campuses and have been forwarded to the Board of Regents for their consideration at tomorrow’s meeting of the Board.

UI representative Steve Parrott said there are key elements to the UI’s new policy that will change the way officials handle all cases.

The elements that peaked the dankprofessor’s attention follow.

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.

Now the dankprofessor is not adverse to universities developing resources for alleged victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.  But given that there have been two recent suicides at the University of Iowa by faculty members charged with sexual harassment, one would hope that there would be some consideration given to the well being and rights of those charged with sexual offenses on campus.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great that 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 charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

The fact that the UI ignored these recent events in the promulgation of these policies is indicative of an utter callousness of the UI administration.  Maybe the callousness is part and parcel of an avoidance and denial syndrome by the UI administration. Or might it represent a revenge mentality that has been prevalent among too many campus feminists in the area of sexual harassment. 

Of course, in the larger society and criminal justice system, it is the desire for revenge particularly at in the context of a police state mentality that has led to the implementation of due process which puts restraints on police and civilians seeking quick “justice”.  Due process protections are not put forth to facilitate efficient police work; due process reflects barriers which police should have to handle with care.

At the University of Iowa, and I expect many others Americans universities, the response to due process concerns reflects a feeling that universities may end up coddling male sex offenders, and rather the coddling should be directed toward their student victims (always the victims not the alleged victims).  But in the dankprofessor’s opinion these policies may help to save the lives of accused faculty.  If  this is considered to be coddling, the dankprofessor believes that such is a necessary coddling.

Shame on the University of Iowa administration for its callousness and avoidance and denial.

December 10, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, shame, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

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

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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