When Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim broke details of the Walter Lewin affair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he moved institutions into unprecedented territory in the battle to cope with sexual misconduct on campus. But his article accomplished more than that -- it also serves as a reminder that after decades of vacillating institutional, public and media interest in sexual abuse by collegians, solutions to the equally disturbing and more complex problem of professorial misconduct still elude institutions.
The increase in student demonstrations over assault is not surprising. As much as we would like to believe the campus environment has undergone substantial change since the 1970s, sexual harassment and violence have remained serious challenges, and student anger over mishandling of complaints should come as no shock.
A new generation has had enough of institutional indifference and manipulation and, like characters in the classic film Network, they have decided to send a message: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
But dealing with the power imbalance inherent in student-professor sexual experiences can be even more challenging, as the Inside Higher Ed article demonstrates in depicting the struggle and courage students need to cope before moving on to closure.
Straumsheim recounts the story of Faïza Harbi, 32-year-old MOOC student, who exposed online sexual misconduct by internationally renowned MIT physics professor Lewin. After a year of investigation and corroboration of Harbi’s charges by several other women, the university severed relations with Lewin, revoked his emeritus status and removed his courses from OpenCourseWare. (He never responded to Inside Higher Ed's questions about the case.)
Nevertheless, its announcement of severe reprimands for the already retired 79-year-old have to date been accompanied by only the vaguest details of Lewin’s offensive behaviors. An explanation for that silence and details of further investigation into Lewin’s past behavior may be yet to come, but it was Harbi, a former sex abuse victim, who agreed to reveal them when she reached out to Inside Higher Ed.
Like witnesses whose identities she protected, Harbi told of being manipulated into sexual role-playing, providing Lewin with naked pictures and videos, and his use of sexually explicit language. Reminded of previous abuse, she said she began self-mutilating until a psychiatrist encouraged her to come forward. She said she did so out of fear the case would be forgotten.
Unfortunately, despite the new legal ground and institutional challenge it may -- and should open -- Harbi might be right. History is abundant with stories of sexual harassment and abuse that more often than not never reach the public arena, and the extraordinary few that do are usually forgotten.
There is, for example, the century-old case of William Slocum, president of Colorado College in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I first learned about the clergyman turned academic a few years ago when The Great Plains Quarterly asked me to review an article by Converse College’s historian, Joe P. Dunn.
“Scandal on the Plains: William F. Slocum, Edward S. Parsons, and the Colorado College Controversies” recounts the powerful Slocum’s career, which, among other feats, included saving Colorado College from extinction. It describes in depth his harassment of numerous women during his long reign at the institution; one described, in the Victorian terminology of the time, being pressed against a wall and having Slocum “emphasize the pressure at the portion of his body and mine most calculated to arouse and satisfy physical passion.”
Trustees had successfully contained rumors of other alleged presidential misconduct until the harassment case became public and two of victims refused to recant their stories. Even so, Slocum retired quietly, while Edward Parsons, the dean who led the charge against the president, was subsequently forced out for what Dunn described as his “unpardonable sin in the board’s eyes (which) was that he had aired the institution’s dirty laundry in public.”
Parsons rescued his career and went on to become president of Marietta College but has long been forgotten by history. Slocum, on the other hand, is, with little to no mention of his offensive past, extolled as a pioneer in American education history.
Whether Walter Lewin’s intellectual and pedagogical brilliance will grant him a similar rescue from disgrace remains to be seen. But MIT’s legal vulnerability and the nationwide response to professorial misconduct on technology have become serious issues.
To its credit, the university did take a rare but courageous step when it conducted its 2014 Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault survey of 10,831 of its students. The 35 percent response rate was not overwhelming since only a portion of the student body was sampled and the majority of replies replicated national statistics. Nevertheless, it was an attempt at examining a reality most institutions choose to avoid. But the focus was on student harassment by other students -- not by faculty members like Lewin.
There’s no doubt that the public is now hearing much more than before about students who are sexually assaulted by fellow students. But when professors are accused, not so much.
The reasons are numerous. College educators enjoy enormous independence and freedom. Unlike schoolteachers, they have little to no supervision and multiple means of access to students. Most work in environments where personal eccentricity is tolerated and where too much interest in colleagues’ behaviors is regarded as inappropriate.
Insofar as institutions themselves are concerned, the unstated and perhaps unconscious view at many is that ignoring the issue is preferable to any action that might create discord and resistance from faculty members or students. As long as a proper cookie-cutter policy and some form of faux training exit, the safest course is to hope for the best and wait to respond until the worst occurs.
The problem is the worst is eventually bound to occur in one form or another. It happened at the University of Idaho after Katy Benoit broke off dating psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante, who shot her eleven times and then committed suicide. The university's then-president Duane Nellis, told reporters the institution had responded “immediately and decisively to protect Katy and to remove Bustamante.”
Perhaps not immediately enough, since records show Benoit had filed a complaint against Bustamante earlier and others had previously objected to his “erratic” classroom behavior and talk of shooting students. In an anonymous hotline call, one alleged he had coerced students into having sex orgies.
Benoit’s family eventually won an undisclosed settlement from the university. (For some reason, the amounts of institutional settlements are often or usually unrevealed.) Nevertheless, according to Nellis, the university suffered irrevocably as a result of her death. In a statement that was undoubtedly little consolation to her family, he said, "Since Katy's death, every person associated with the university has grappled with this tragedy. We're not over it. We'll never be over it.”
In the shadowy world of possible employee misconduct, online training courses are popular methods institutions use to defend themselves against charges they failed to comply with federal law requiring education about the problem. They work as public relations strategies and are preferable to training done by human beings, because they are easy to schedule and eliminate undesirable discussion and debate. People can’t argue with computers, so harmony persists on campus.
In addition to ignoring problems until they become too serious to dismiss, another explanation for silence about professorial misconduct is the assumption that it’s easier to assume “kids will be kids,” and that trying to determine whether a drunken student actually said no to her equally inebriated partner is less difficult than risking a lawsuit by a guilty but contentious and gifted or popular professor.
For some, sexual misconduct might even seem the result of students’ own demands: they asked for the right to be treated like adults, for the demise of in loco parentis -- they have what they wanted, let them live with the outcomes. (Unless, of course, the student really did say no and is destined to live with the aftermath for the rest of her life.)
Clearly there are those like Harbi, Benoit and Ziegler who “consent” to behaviors and relationships that are seemingly inexplicable. Undoubtedly, the power discrepancy between professors and students is the basis for their decisions. But consent never occurs in a vacuum. Beyond the power dynamic, there are a million reasons we can never know what drives people to entangle themselves in hazardous circumstances.
One tactic institutions may use to silence students who complain about so-called “consenting” relationships is to convince them they are adults who made choices for themselves. Paul R. Abramson argues in Romance in the Ivory Tower that choice is inherent in amorous relations and professors have a Constitutional right to sex with students. This approach attempts to turns the power disparity argument on its head. Instead of the professor misusing his power to threaten or manipulate the student, she becomes the agent of control.
The only difficulty is that while academe promotes itself as a bastion of knowledge, it cannot place students in control of “consenting” relationships without disregarding evidence emanating from its own laboratories. A wealth of research has by now long demonstrated that postadolescent poor decision making and risk taking occur because the adult brain is not fully formed until at least the midtwenties. The professor is the adult. The student is not.
When the “student consented” defense doesn’t work, some institutions defend their silence on professorial misbehavior behavior by assuming that the emotions of the young are malleable, that a 19-year-old will forget being used and eventually discarded by an authority figure. Considering the high rates of depression and attempted suicides among young women, that can be a perilous assumption. And the reality is that few, if any, targets -- male or female -- ever forget.
In her New York Magazine article “The Silent Treatment,” Naomi Wolf writes of her encounter with famed professor Harold Bloom, “Once you have been sexually encroached upon by a professor, your faith in your work corrodes. If the administration knew and did nothing -- because the teacher was valuable to them -- they had made a conscious calculation about his and our respective futures: It was okay to do nothing because I -- and other young women who could be expected to remain silent -- would never be worth what someone like Bloom was worth."
Like Harbi, she discovered that "keeping bad secrets hurts.... I have obviously survived. This is the argument often made against accusers in sexual-harassment cases: Look, no big deal, you’re fine. My career was fine; my soul was not fine.... Not one of the women [who have contacted me] had an outcome that was not worse for her than silence.”
Wolf also exposed one of best-kept institutional secrets in dealing with harassing or predatory professors. If faculty members are “valuable,” colleges and universities find ways to placate or discourage complainants so that reality becomes rumor and is forgotten over time, especially since students are merely transient residents on campus.
Findings of Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault (2014), an ongoing research project by University of Illinois Professor Kate Clancy and colleagues, did, however, offer valuable new information. Surveying 142 men and 516 women, researchers found that 64 percent of respondents reported having been sexually harassed and more than 20 percent described being victims of sexual assault when participating in scientific fieldwork.
But this research was unique in that not only was it the first to assess the experiences of trainees in science fieldwork but that it found the vast majority of harassers and predators were “researchers who were superior to [trainees] in rank -- either more-established scientists working on the same sites, or leaders of the research.”
This is the type of information most colleges haven't sought out. The impact it could have on decision making by administrators and perpetrators is substantial, but for female students who are the primary targets of the unwanted behaviors, it serves as a mechanism to discourage their pursuing careers in the sciences.
When all is said and done, though, the fundamental motivation for institutional secrecy over sexual misconduct is probably not prejudice against women. It is, rather, fear. Beneath the indecision and inertia lie two fundamental concerns: anxiety about “having dirty laundry aired in public” and about loss of funding when scandal occurs.
Colleges and universities find themselves in unenviable positions when there is not clear and convincing evidence of sexual misconduct by employees. They then bear responsibility for protecting the rights of both student complainants and accused faculty members, as well as for guarding their own ivory tower images and economic well-being.
But while these are understandable concerns, they do not supersede higher education’s moral and legal responsibilities to students. Arguments over the efficacy of Yes Means Yes policies and the fairness of the federal government’s preponderance of evidence standard may never be totally resolved, but one reality is obvious: too many institutions do not take sexual misconduct by employee perpetrators seriously.
To their credit, many colleges and universities have chosen to say “enough” and to confront the complexities of dealing with sexual misconduct by employees. For instance, once considered impossible to enforce, prohibition policies on amorous relationships between faculty and students are increasing on campuses across the country.
But now the Walter Lewin/MOOC affair has added a layer of complexity to the challenge of professorial misconduct. In the race to extend educational opportunities and/or increase income, colleges and universities have been left totally unprepared for the professional and legal challenges that lie ahead.
One thing is certain. In cases like Lewin’s, silence will not so easily work. The evidence will always be accessible, and there will always be some enterprising reporter willing to take the story farther than institutions’ obligatory statements of regret.
And maybe, just maybe, the profession will recognize that Naomi Wolf was telling the truth when she wrote that her “soul was not fine” after a brief encounter with a lecherous professor and that, of the women who contacted her in response to her story, “not one... had an outcome that was not worse for her than silence.”
The American Anthropological Association has issued a statement on climate change and the need for broad study of its impact. The statement -- consistent with the scientific consensus -- states that climate change is a "present reality" and will have a growing and profound impact on humanity. The statement further says that climate change is likely to intensify "underlying problems" related to economic inequality, and says that the impact of climate change "will fall unevenly."
Given these aspects of the climate change, the association calls for the involvement of many types of scholars in studying the issues. "Focusing solely on reducing carbon emissions will not be sufficient to address climate change — that approach will not address the systemic causes. Climate change is rooted in social institutions and cultural habits. Real solutions will require knowledge and insight from the social sciences and humanities, not only from the natural sciences. Climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem," the statement says.
The statement reflects the work of a task force of the association.
I hate my hair. Really. It refuses to behave. I try brushing it into submission, but it refuses, springing out from its confinement in hair band and bobby pins. I hate my roommate more. Why is she sick? Now I have to go interview Dr. Christian Black for the school paper and I am too nervous and scared of him to even begin to make sense.
Everyone knows about Dr. Black. He is the youngest Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard, graduating at 24 with distinction. Now at 29 he’s at the top of his game, an endowed professor teaching social theory here at Anonymous U. And he’s rich, too. They say he has his own private helicopter pad on the top of his penthouse apartment.
Who am I to interview him? Sure my name, Anastasia Irons, makes me sound like a princess, but I’m just the daughter of a lumberjack and a secretary. It’s crazy that I even got into AnonU and even crazier that I majored in Social Theory.
I mean, Social Theory is for intellectuals. People who have time to sit around and think deeply about the sort of post-Marxian reimaging of capital done by the likes of Pierre Bourdieu. I’m just a poor girl from the backwoods who works at the local hardware store and is too skinny to be anything but a guy’s best friend.
Speaking of best friends, mine is José, who is poor, too. And not white. That’s not important, but I’m not going to marry him, even though he’d like to marry me and our fathers are best friends. But as Bourdieu says, class classifies and it classifies the classifier and my racial and social capital just hasn’t given me a “taste” (in the Bourdieuean sense) for a poor Latino. I’m going to marry a prince, someone rich and white who will sweep me off my feet.
Just kidding. Of course a modern-day girl like me doesn’t believe in fairy tales. I’ve read my Eva Illouz. I know that “love hurts” and the trope of modern romance is irony.
Oh shoot, I’m late. I have to be at Mr. Black’s office in five minutes.
I arrive, panting, a flush on my face. Mr. Black’s secretary, a perfectly dressed blond with well-behaved hair, ushers me into his waiting room and asks if I would like some water or a paper towel to wipe the perspiration off my face. I want to disappear. Why did I sprint across campus?
“Ms. Irons? Come in,” says a voice as smooth and velvety as a panther. I look up to see the most beautiful man I have ever encountered. His eyes blacker than black. His hair a golden brown swept back from his brow. And his lips, oh, those kissable lips, full and red and pulled into something between a sneer and a smile.
I walk across the room, trying not to tremble in his gaze. I move past him and electricity circulates between our bodies.
And then I trip, flat onto my face.
Mr. Black reaches out his arms, trying to break my fall, and our bodies are pressed together. It is more than I can take. I let out a gasp.
Mr. Black’s apartment is everything cold and sleek and modern. It is bereft of clutter. White walls, abstract paintings, utilitarian light fixtures more suitable to a theater than a home.
I sit on the white leather couch, nervously chewing my lip and looking up at him.
“Ms. Irons,” he says, “if we are going to go any further with this relationship there is something I need you to sign.”
He hands me a contract.
I look at it.
The submissive will only touch the sacred objects when instructed to do so.
The submissive will refer to the dominant as Dr., Sir, Professor, or Herr Doktor at all times.
The submissive will stay thin, pale and trembling at all times, awaiting the dominant’s touch in order to truly understand her desires.
There was more.
“This is sexist!” I throw the contact on the ground, petulantly, like a small child.
“Careful, Ms. Irons. If you act like a child, you might get treated like one,” he says, a sharp edge to his otherwise sexy voice.
“What does that mean?” I ask, a tingle running along my spine.
“If you sign, I’ll explain everything,” he purrs.
I sign. What choice did I have?
I’m kneeling on the floor before him. I have never felt more afraid and more excited.
“So,” he asks, “what do you think of my secret?”
His secret, his secret room, his read room of pain(ful) abstract thought.
“Can I touch it?” I ask, stretching out my fingers toward what lies between his hands.
Ouch, that hurt.
“No, you cannot touch my 1939 German edition of Norbert Elias’s The Civilizing Process,” he snarls.
Suddenly my arms are pinned over my head. He snaps the handcuffs shut and takes the key and puts it into the pocket of his faded jeans. Oh, the beauty of his body, the loose jeans, his eight-pack abs, his alabaster skin.
“You have no idea how valuable this is. Without this book, Foucault would never have written Discipline and Punish!” he says as he rubs a 1975 original edition of Surveiller et punir over my quivering body.
“Please, Herr Doktor. Professor. Sir?” I moan, unable to contain my desire to get my hands on all the beautiful books around me, the Zizek, the Butler, the Derrida. Oh, the Derrida.
The next morning as I walk across campus, what should be the walk of shame transforms into something that makes me glow from the inside out. Oh, the read room of pain(ful) abstract thought. My beautiful lover’s dirty little secret. And now my dirty little secret, too. I can’t wait to go back.
Laurie Essig is associate professor of sociology and gender, sexuality and feminist studies at Middlebury College.
Sami Al-Arian, who was fired as a tenured professor by the University of South Florida in 2003, was deported last week from the United States to Turkey. Al-Arian was fired after he was indicted on federal charges of helping a terrorist group. In 2005, a jury cleared him of some charges and deadlocked on others -- convicting him of nothing. He has continued to deny doing anything illegal, but in 2006 he accepted a plea agreement under which he served jail time and agreed to be deported after that. The university said after the 2005 jury decision that it would not take him back as a professor. Many faculty groups over the years criticized the way the university handled the case -- especially for suspending him, prior to his indictment, after comments he made were viewed by Florida politicians as supporting terrorism. The university said that his presence on campus could lead to disruption or safety issues.
Jonathan Turley, who in the past was part of Al-Arian's legal team, posted on his blog a statement in which he said the case "raised troubling due process, academic freedom and free speech issues."
Turley's blog also features a statement from Al-Arian in which he said in part: "Today, freedom of expression has become a defining feature in the struggle to realize our humanity and liberty. The forces of intolerance, hegemony and exclusionary politics tend to favor the stifling of free speech and the suppression of dissent. But nothing is more dangerous than when such suppression is perpetrated and sanctioned by government."
According to academic libraries, there’s a just-over-the-horizon golden age in which “you always have whatever scholarship you need access to, at any time and wherever you are.” This quote comes from my library’s “welcome” page, but it could as easily come from many American university libraries.
Having e-books supersede and replace physical books is essential to the vision. Accordingly, libraries have made great advances in digitizing their paper book collections and making them available online through Google Books, HathiTrust and other digitized collections. These superb collections make the vision seem possible, enticing and even closer than we might imagine. Many university libraries have taken another step toward its realization by instituting policies that either prefer or require new book acquisitions to be in digital rather than paper format, when available.
But there is a fundamental difference between digitized versions of physical books and born-digital books. While the former move us closer to the “anyone, anytime, anywhere” future, the economics of the latter are pushing us in the opposite direction, toward a future in which access to digitally published titles is restricted and provisional.
This difference becomes apparent when we consider interlibrary loan. I regularly explain to patrons that they cannot use an e-book licensed by another University of California campus and that their best option is to request a paper copy by interlibrary loan. In one recent case a patron wanted a book that had been published only online and only as part of a package. Since subscribers to the package were prohibited from sharing any of its contents via interlibrary loan, there were only two options for the patron: either she had to read it while physically situated at a subscribing library, or my library would have had to pay many thousands of dollars to license the package.
To understand what is happening, it is first necessary to understand that digitizing projects like Google Books and HathiTrust are possible because libraries own the physical books they contain and because they choose to exercise the option to make them available in this fashion. The key point is ownership. Acquisition of a physical book brings with it a consistent and well understood set of rights and restrictions that have been clearly defined and relatively stable for more than a century.
Collectively we refer to these rights as conferring ownership. The principle that the sale of a book extinguished the right of the seller to control the subsequent disposition of a book was established by the United States Supreme Court back in 1908 in Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus and reaffirmed only last year in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Known as the first-sale doctrine, this principle underpins fundamental practices of a research library. It means that libraries can do pretty much what they wish with their books as long as those actions do not violate copyright (or other) law -- such venerable library practices as lending books to whomever they choose and for however long they wish, sharing them through interlibrary loan and selling or giving them away derive from the first-sale doctrine.
First-sale doctrine also provides the legal basis for such innovative practices as digitizing books; if the digitized books are in the public domain, then libraries can make them freely available, as they do with the full-view titles in HathiTrust. Copyright law and court decisions also permit digitization of in-copyright books for such transformative uses as full-text searching (you can find out if a term is used in a book, and how often, even if you can’t see it online) and data mining of digitized collections to discover patterns of thought and word use. One of the most exciting uses of digitized in-copyright titles is to provide print-impaired readers with full-text, screen-readable access to a body of literature orders of magnitude greater than previously available.
Born-digital e-books are very different animals than digitized e-books, even though they may appear similar on the screen. Where digitized e-books are owned by libraries, born-digital e-books are almost always only licensed from either the publisher or a third-party vendor, not purchased outright. The distinction between owning and licensing means, among other things, that the digital file is located on the seller’s server and not on one owned or controlled by the library. Additionally, the bundle of rights associated with ownership of a physical book is not transferred intact when a library merely pays for access.
E-book licenses vary widely. At one end are subscription packages with low per-title prices and few rights; a library’s patrons can access a subscription title only as long as it pays an annual subscription fee, effectively renting the books like you rent a car. Libraries’ ability to share titles acquired this way is extremely limited.
At the other end are licenses that ensure the library’s access to the title “in perpetuity,” for a one-time fee, permitting the library to engage in many of the practices associated with owned books. Most limited perpetual access e-books licensed by libraries (in contrast with inexpensive personal copies) generally cost about the same as a physical book, but add on rights and users and prices quickly escalate by three and five times. (The per-title cost drops if book packages are licensed, but bulk acquisition has problems of its own, and in my opinion should be avoided.)
I am aware of a single major vendor that permits the purchase of an e-book allowing a library to download and maintain a copy of the title on its own hardware, but the rights that accompany a title purchased this way are still far more limited than those associated with a purchased book. For example, it would be a violation of the purchase agreement to send one of these books out on interlibrary loan; only a single chapter can be shared per request.
In addition, the fact that titles are licensed enables the owner to engage in practices that libraries traditionally reject. Foremost among them is gathering data about readers. For libraries, protection of reader privacy is a core value, and they routinely break the connection between borrower and book as soon as the book has been returned.
Vendors, on the other hand, can monitor and record individual patrons’ book choices. They can even assert control over readers’ behavior. Once, when I was skimming an e-book, a “Browse Warning!” appeared, asserting that I was either illegally copying pages or “navigating the book in an inappropriate manner.” Were I to continue my inappropriate navigation, the vendor warned, it might not only cut me off from this book, but from all its books. I never skimmed one of the vendor’s titles again.
Finally, there is a separate problem associated with the practice of licensing, not purchasing e-books. The perpetual access model assumes that the publisher or vendor of the title is a stable, financially secure corporation that possesses the expertise to write -- or at least vet -- complex legal instruments and has invested in whatever backup mechanisms are needed to provide satisfactory assurances of access, perpetual or otherwise. However, there are ever-increasing numbers and varieties of small, individual and ephemeral publishing outlets that lack the resources to meet library standards. Consequently libraries are simply unable to acquire the e-books produced by a growing segment of the publishing industry.
For all these reasons, born-digital e-books pose significant challenges to libraries’ abilities to operate effectively, protect their patrons and meet their needs, and acquire the books they need at a reasonable cost. If libraries are to continue to provide the unique services they offer, if they are to realize the “anyone, anytime, anywhere” vision, and if they are to support the future use of their holdings in ways we cannot yet imagine, they need to own, not merely license books. And e-book ownership needs to be more closely equivalent to ownership of a physical book than is currently the case.
In short, we need to renegotiate the way libraries operate in the e-book marketplace so that they can fulfill their unique and irreplaceable functions while also ensuring that publishers and authors receive their due. It will be expensive, if we can ever get there. Books will cost more and libraries will have to develop the infrastructure needed to host, preserve and deliver the books they acquire. Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch. We have some existing, if imperfect, purchase models on which to build. It will take time, and the golden age may be farther off and not as perfect as we had hoped. In the meantime, libraries should ease off on their preference for licensing e-books instead of buying physical ones.
Daniel Goldstein is an arts, humanities and social sciences librarian at the University of California at Davis.
Students at Queen's University, in Canada, are demanding that the institution do something about an instructor who is teaching scientifically repudiated views that vaccines harm children, The Globe and Mailreported. Students have shared PowerPoint presentations and other course materials from the instructor, who teaches health. Students have complained in the past, but the issue is attracting more attention now because of the measles outbreak in the United States. Queen's officials said they are investigating the situation. The instructor, Melody Torcolacci, did not return an e-mail message from Inside Higher Ed seeking comment. The Globe and Mail reported that Torcolacci is a former shot-put national champion in Canada and former head coach of the Queen’s track and field program.