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Posts Tagged ‘The Huffington Post’

Much has been written about the controversy surrounding Patti Adler’s Deviance course at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to the extent that the story moved beyond academic circles to more general outlets like the Huffington Post. I followed the story as it moved through numerous channels, from Boulder’s Daily Camera to Inside Higher Ed to Slate. Other than the facts that Adler was a tenured professor and fellow sociologist, one of the most interesting things to me was the University’s reported statement comparing Adler’s lecture on prostitution to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. As Inside Higher Ed reported,

Adler said that she was told by Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that a former teaching assistant had raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained. Adler said that participation was entirely voluntary and not part of anyone’s grade.

She said that Leigh told her that there was “too much risk” in having such a lecture in the “post-Penn State environment,” alluding to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

A recent article about CU-Boulder’s Philosophy Department by Rebecca Shuman at Slate suggests that the real reason for Leigh’s concern may have been much closer than Pennsylvania.

The article begins:

On Friday, the University of Colorado–Boulder released a scathing report from an independent investigating team about sexual misconduct in one of its top humanities programs, the department of philosophy

The damning 15-page report is the result of extensive on-site interviews with administration, faculty, staff, and students, undertaken by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women. The committee concluded that despite its enviable academics, CU’s department “maintains an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior.”

In addition to the 15 official complaints filed with CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment since 2007, the report details a near-universal witnessing of “harassment and inappropriate sexualized professional behavior” at alcohol-soaked extracurricular activities. Further, a large portion of the faculty either were “not knowledgeable about the harms of sexual harassment,” or were “not sufficiently familiar” with university policy, state law, or federal law.

Last year CU-Boulder also faced claims that it failed to properly report sexual assaults, though it was recently found to have “met legal requirements.”

Although I am not a journalist and I have done nothing other than read news stories regarding these events, it seems likely that CU-Boulder is currently hyper-aware of anything that could be perceived as sexual harassment, even if no actual complaints have been filed. If this is the case, it is telling that the university responded to accusations of women being harassed and assaulted by attempting to force out a female professor who had been accused of nothing. (This scenario is reminiscent of the time Justin Bieber was suspected of egging his neighbor’s house and police arrested his black friend for drug possession.)

I have no doubt that CU-Boulder’s administrators responded in what they thought was the best way to what they perceived as yet another possible gender-related scandal. During faculty meetings at my own institution I have often heard administrators express fear of potential lawsuits. The problem with these statements is that none of the people who make them have any sort of legal experience, so they act on what they think the law might say, changing the language of many faculty and staff policies based on the fact that they have seen a few episodes of “Law and Order.” In Adler’s case, administrators at CU-Boulder brought a lot of negative attention upon themselves, not to mention the potential for a lawsuit from Adler (who has been reinstated), by doing something that was likely intended to avoid negative attention and lawsuits.

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