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) apparent 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?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

18 thoughts on “Academic misogyny: enabling at high levels”

  1. Well. Primatology. More and more I see I should have studied it somewhere along the way. It's way relevant.

    Imo, Boalt has also made mistakes in the other direction. I didn't think Dwyer got due process back when his horrible scandal hit the news. And what I learned from that whole mess is, nice bright line rules are really a very good idea. All colleges and grad schools should just have a rule that says, don't date any student in your department or school. It's simple, you can't get into gray areas. (Getting s-faced with students is probably also not smart… ) Don't do it. If you fall "deeply in love," fine…. but one of you has to transfer. Dwyer was a truly excellent educator. A standout. A star. Someone who didn't just phone in his teaching. And there was no rule at the time, they were both adults. As for what actually happened, I don't know or care, and I don't feel a need to blame either of them. (Facts were very murky.) Point is, I don't think he was treated fairly… by a place *chock full* of excellent lawyers. Being a lawyer doesn't mean what one might think it should.

    Interesting question – I wonder if they have a rule by now. You know who else doesn't have a rule? The LA City Council!!! Yes, believe it or not, you are allowed to "sleep with" your direct reports. Up until very recently, and in fact, maybe you *still can.* Uneffingbelievable. Primates. That's all we are. Why do we keep forgetting?

    Of course such a rule wouldn't have prevented this current thing. I agree with you about firings – they should be done carefully. And I haven't thought much about what should happen during the investigation – who should have to stay home and so forth. That's tricky. I agree though, the sanction was ridiculous.

    But then again, I don't for the life of me understand how the ex-head of deportation got the top UC job. How the bleep did that happen? Makes we wonder about the whole she-bang. Hello, what state are we in?

    1. Yes, there is a rule, though only a few years old. It's pretty flat-footed: no romantic engagement with anyone you supervise (subordinates and students) or are likely to supervise (eg, students likely to turn up in your course next year). Not sure about senior faculty and juniors on whose promotion committee you might wind up in the future.

      1. Rules on this issue are generally less restrictive in academia than in the private sector, which always astounds me. In my department in grad school (only a few years ago), a junior faculty member was sleeping with a grad student (not her student, but still, manager-level employee relationships with junior-level employees in the same division are often banned in other organizations even when they aren't direct-reports) and ended up basically stalking the student after he ended it. For this, she was quietly reprimanded, but not dismissed, nor was that ever even considered despite the fact that she was pre-tenure, and the student (you know, the victim) had his office moved to another building. And this in a "liberal" social science department. How this can remain such a blind spot in academia in 2016, I don't know

        1. Oh good, I'm glad to hear there's a rule. I just think they are helpful especially in the early stages of something, when one is more free to make good decisions. The case I was talking about unfortunately involved alcohol and "spontaneity," so in that case a rule might not have helped. Or, perhaps it would have. I am just sorry that such a nice big bouncing baby got thrown out with the bath water, and I'm sorry that people got hurt. We need better prevention.

          And I think academics like to think they are "too smart" to need rules. Dumb! We need that checklist guy, I think.

  2. The dean of the law school makes almost $500 annually and law professors make $250K? I don't know which is more shocking: how well these people pay themselves or their tolerance for creeps and war criminals. Or maybe the one explains or is complementary with the other. I don't know.

    1. Tenure. Remember there is no ethical standard for academia. It's not like being a member of the bar.

      (Well, except for lying and plagiarism and I suppose, theft.)

  3. I don't think Choudhry needs to be fired – but he does need to sign on to requirements heavily constricting and controlling how he interacts with female students and staff, with the violation of those conditions being immediate termination. We don't know if he's a Marcy yet (Marcy blatantly broke any and all promises to stop harassing female students – that's why he resigned, and if he hadn't he should have been fired).

  4. To answer your question, I ordinarily see Choudhry in the corridors most days at Boalt, but I haven't seen him at all throughout this past week. Perhaps a strategic withdrawal made sense to him.

    But on your other point, what makes you think Yoo's colleagues are fine with him being here? I actually take great comfort in the combined effect from the Botero paintings and some of the faculty's scholarship (e.g.,… that forcefully rejects everything Yoo stands for. Those "procedural protections" to which you refer as "probably a good thing" in your previous sentence are specifically designed to leave intact the faculty's disapproval and his job.

    Back to Choudhry, and your analogy to the Marcy case: internally, we've been receiving forceful denunciations from student groups and higher-ups—presumably with more to follow once the faculty has held its town hall on Monday—which make it abundantly apparent that while Boalt's leader failed here, our own community's admirable response is one based on support, inclusivity and healing. Remove Steele from the process of selecting a new Dean, and Boalt might actually be able to recover.

    1. Nonetheless, John Yoo remains ensconced at Berkeley where he continues to paid with my tax dollars (and evidently quite handsomely, too). Neither does he seems to be shunned by his fellow law professors. I suspect that if all those really smart faculty members really were as deeply troubled by his presence as they claim they could find a way to be rid of him. Certainly he does not seem to be an outcast. So I think Michael's point is extremely valid

      1. Although I'm happy to be corrected, I believe that unlike much of campus, Boalt professors are being paid by (my) extortionate tuition money much more than—if at all—from your tax dollars.

        I'd consider it about as authoritative a shunning as it gets to have 1. a senior Boalt professor write an article denouncing everything Yoo stands for, and calling him out by name while doing it; that 2. is reviewed and edited by Boalt students; and 3. is published in Boalt's flagship journal. A pronouncement as serious as that doesn't require renewal; it stands until it's been rebutted. Which the article I've cited hasn't. I really don't know what being an outcast in a scholarly community would look like if not that.

        I don't want Yoo here, and the faculty members with whom I've raised the question all have agreed. But, maybe this is what tenure is designed to safeguard. So I'll stick with what I said in my previous comment. Yoo's continued presence illustrates the strength of the "procedural protections" Mike lauds in his original post, much less than it can be said to act as an indictment of Yoo's colleagues.

        1. On a perhaps tangential subject… since you're there right now, what percentage of tenured faculty are women these days? From underrepresented groups, etc? Just if you get a chance.

  5. Thanks, Johann
    What makes me think 'Yoo's colleagues are fine' etc. is just that he's still there, and I think, especially given the example of Marcy, that's dispositive. I certainly don't think all of you are OK with it.
    The article you cited is almost a decade old, and anyway, it would not have been OK to retain Marcy if astronomy had many, or even mostly, faculty who did not abuse women students (which it probably did).

    1. The last sentence doesn't nullify my not rare inability to parse nested negatives.

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