I think we learned yesterday—or at least I did—that sexual harassment of women, including physical harassment like groping, is far more prevalent than assumed. We clearly need to do something about the issue, which means that men themselves must also recognize its prevalence. So besides admiration for the brave women who reported what happened to them, often using their real names, I was also heartened by all the good men who supported those women. As always, the readers here are a great bunch
But I also have to report overreaction, in which accusations of sexual harassment have gone overboard. This has happened on several college campuses, and, as reason.com reports, there’s a particularly silly incident in New York (my emphasis):
A professor at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College was ordered to make changes to his syllabus because it amounted to sexual harassment.
The professor, David Seidemann has refused to comply, and for good reason.
According to Seidemann, a university administrator expressed three grievances about the syllabus. First, and most quizzically, the grading portion of the syllabus suggests sexual harassment. It reads, “Class deportment, effort etc……. 10% (applied only to select students when appropriate).”
That’s it. That’s sexual harassment, Seidemann’s department chair claimed.
Why? No one explained it to him. I gather that the “effort, etc…” was taken the wrong way: a completely unreasonable person could presume Seidemann was suggesting that sexual favors would boost the grades of “select students.”
. . . Seidemann told [the reporter] in an email that his department chair said “the 10% section could be construed as a prelude to sexual harassment,” and had to be changed at once.
This order apparently came from the Director of Diversity Investigations and Title IX Enforcement. In the course of Seidemann’s interactions with the director, he realized something quite stunning: there was no record of anyone actually complaining about the syllabus. The university had apparently launched this investigation on its own.
Seidemann was also initially in trouble for writing in his syllabus, “This classroom is an ‘unsafe space’ for those uncomfortable with viewpoints with which they may disagree: all constitutionally protected speech is welcome.” But the director eventually conceded this was fine.
Apparently the troubles were compounded by Seidemann using triangles instead of quotations marks around terms like “unsafe space”.
This is how far it’s gone in some places, and part of the problem is that the Title IX guidelines are confusing and even a bit draconian. If you look at the link in the previous sentence, you’ll find the story of a male student expelled from the University of Colorado at Pueblo because someone reported that his girlfriend had a hickey on her neck. That was reported as rape, and even the girlfriend’s testimony that the relationship was purely consensual couldn’t prevent the expulsion. That’s the kind of evidence that Title IX takes as sufficient cause for punishment. I predicted, and it’s now happening, that colleges will now incur a spate of lawsuits because of this kind of bizarre and unfair punishment. And that, too, is the story of David Seidemann and his “selective grading.” (To be sure, I wouldn’t have applied that standard to “select students”, but maybe Seidemann meant that students who misbehaved would be penalized.”