Academic Misogyny: Enabling at High Levels

Among the regrettable contributions of my institution to a national conversation about sex and gender in the workplace are two recent WTF??  black eyes. Last fall we learned of a Nobel-Prize-short-list astronomer trashing his career, and his female students’, while his colleagues enabled him over a decade.

I ended that post with

The chancellor and provost are working on “different and better options for discipline of faculty.” OK, but if they aren’t also working in different and better ways to acculturate, teach, and guide faculty (yes, and randy frat boys), they will leave a lot of value on the table and set us up for the next humiliating and tragic episode.

Well, dang: it’s not even spring break, and here it is, moved up the the decanal level!  Last summer, this wound up in the lap of the provost, who decided the dean’s future career prospects were his main concern, and a ten percent, one-year pay cut plus instructions to get counseling and write an apology letter to the victim would be just the thing, all unfolding in secrecy. I don’t know whether I’m more appalled by the actual disciplinary decision  or the radiant incompetence of a senior campus administrator believing he was going to keep this out of the press after the Marcy episode, in a world of social media.

The noise on campus now comprises demands for Provost Steele to resign. I am not generally in favor of firing people when they make a mistake, but this is now a pattern of malpractice by Steele; one could cynically say, as Talleyrand might have but actually didn’t, “it’s worse than a crime; it is a blunder”.  His initial decision might as well be an open letter to women on campus telling them “if powerful people around here mistreat you, we will protect them and punish you if you complain”.  Alarmingly, the chancellor doesn’t seem to understand how damaging having Steele hanging around his neck is, and they issued a pathetically mealy-mouthed joint statement that “the initial decision not to remove the dean from his position is the subject of legitimate criticism”, being framed as we speak to hang in the Museum of Rhetorical Weaseling next to “mistakes were made”. Things are not looking up.

I’m not sure Choudhry needs to resign his faculty position (he has resigned as dean), but his (so far) apparently lack of contrition may be a sign that he just shouldn’t have a job where he has to interact with women. Firing a tenured professor is a really big deal with all sorts of procedural protections involving the whole faculty and many steps and checks. That’s probably a good thing, but the astronomy faculty and students effectively fired Marcy by publicly saying they didn’t want to have him around any more. The law school already has a war criminal (John Yoo) on its faculty, whose colleagues are apparently fine with that despite Botero’s Abu Ghreib paintings hanging in the dean’s office suite, so maybe they have some work to do in the courage and collegiality department.  How are they actually treating Choudhry in corridors and common rooms?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O’Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.