The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter just arrived on my computer and I was taken aback by the following blurb:
Notoriety Yields to Tragedy in Iowa Sexual-Harassment Cases
Arthur H. Miller, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa, was an internationally recognized expert on public-opinion polling. His colleague Mark O. Weiger was a celebrated oboist with an affinity for raunchy puns. When the professors were accused, separately, of sexually harassing students, each envisioned his career derailed, his reputation sullied. And in the span of three months, each took his own life.
The Chronicle does go to just about every US university, and to lots of sub-units within universities; it’s also read outside the States. So it seems to me worth raising some genuine questions about this blurb in the newsletter, and the report more generally. Let me also note that as far as the reports I’ve read go, none of the allegations has been ratified by the university. The point here, moreover, is certainly not to add to anyone’s miseryover this particular and awful situation. Rather, the concern is solely with the report and its possible effects on the politics of harassment in universities.
As the unfortunate contrast between “notorious” and “tragedy” suggests,** the report appears to be written by someone clueless about the politics of sexual harassment charges; given the author’s extensive coverage of gender in the Chronicle, I assume the impression is misleading. Nonetheless, it is there. Thus the following:
Vicki L. Hesli worked with Mr. Miller for 20 years. She is the only female full professor in the political-science department and has served as its director of graduate and undergraduate studies. She would have been an obvious point of contact for any female students who felt uncomfortable with Mr. Miller. But, she says, “I never heard a complaint of any kind.”
In fact, Ms. Hesli says Mr. Miller helped jump-start her own career in the male-dominated field of political science, introducing her to important players and including her in research projects. “I probably would not be where I am in the profession were it not for him,” she says.
Unfortunately, no one with a grain of sense would go to the one senior woman in the department who was a protege of the alleged harasser. Equally sadly, the report can provide evidence for why alleging sexual harassment can provoke wide-spread hostility against the complainer, even from those quite remote from the facts.
The author claims, “The image of Mr. Miller squeezing students’ breasts and rewarding them with A’s was a stark contrast to the well-traveled, cultured man who enjoyed fine wine and good cooking, and whose teaching had been honored by the university with a photo in the library.” Sorry, but cultured tastes in food and wine, along with legitimate power, does not necessarily make one a good person or an honorable professor. How could you cover academia and think otherwise?!?
**The more specific “Alleged crimes eclipsed by ….” might have set a different sense of the burden of proof.