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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Schwyzergate and Questions It Raises
January 15, 2012 - 4:59pm

I have been following with morbid fascination the recent online controversy surrounding Hugo Schwyzer, who teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College.

Feministe offers the most comprehensive overview of the issues that I have found. The short version is: an interview with Schwyzer was posted on the site. A number of commenters objected to it, for a variety of reasons; a number of others defended it. Then commenters began linking to posts on Schwyzer's own blog in which he disclosed (seemingly without full awareness of the enormity of what he was revealing) a past in that included sleeping with students (while he held the position he occupies now) and an attempt to kill both himself and ex-girlfriend, for which he escaped charges because the police assumed it was a mutual suicide pact, and he didn't enlighten them. Then all hell broke loose.

I try not to use this blog (or any forum) to take potshots at people I dislike. But I need to say what I'm going to say next for the rest of this post to make sense.

I have been alienated by Schwyzer's writing and online persona since I first read him, about five years ago. I find his writing facile, derivative and self-aggrandizing. On his blog, he dismisses the experiences of women, particularly women of color, in favor of his supposed superior theoretical understanding of gender studies. Because I try to avoid his work, I was unaware of his history of sexual predation and destructiveness, but I can't claim to be shocked by it.

So I'm not sure I trust my immediate, gut agreement with those who believe that such an individual should not be in a position of authority over vulnerable young women (and men, too, one assumes, though women are obvious potential victims). The fact that he has "reformed," the argument goes (he committed his most heinous crimes before he sobered up and found God) doesn't wipe out his past. He never atoned for his acts, and didn't reveal the attempt against his ex until he had ascertained from an attorney that he could not be prosecuted at this point. Continuing to let him teach is disrespectful to his victims and puts other young people at emotional, if not physical, risk.

I feel this is true, and yet I distrust my reaction. It is so easy to call for the heads of those who repulse us. If he is not in legal trouble for what he has done (and he isn't), would it be right to call for his dismissal? After all, Henry Kissinger was allowed to be chancellor of William and Mary. Does Schwyzer's tenured status enter the question? If he should engage in predatory behavior again, should the university be held liable for continuing to employ a known predator?

What do you think?

(This doesn't even begin to address the question of men's role in teaching women's history and other courses that center women's experience, which I will try to tackle in a later post.)


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