Tony Judt is a respected historian who has quite fearlessly taken up some controversial causes. He is now very ill, paralyzed from the neck down with ALS. Not the sort of person one wants to attack, but I suppose it is condescending to refrain. So here goes.
Judt has an article in the NY Review of Books, part of which is repeated on the journal’s blog. It gives one a different (from ours) perspective on sexual harassment, one from a senior scholar (born in 1948, first degree from Cambridge in 1969), and currently a director of an institute at NYU.
It’s title is, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” Consider that a warning:
On how he acquired his third wife:
In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. … Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to [a play].
….To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing.
His views on current decorum:
Our successors—liberated from old-style constraints—have imposed new restrictions upon themselves. Since the 1970s, Americans assiduously avoid anything that might smack of harassment, even at the risk of forgoing promising friendships and the joys of flirtation. Like men of an earlier decade—though for very different reasons—they are preternaturally wary of missteps. I find this depressing. The Puritans had a sound theological basis for restricting their desires and those of others. But today’s conformists have no such story to tell.
His example of comic relief (yes, truly, he so describes it):
When I was Humanities dean at NYU, a promising young professor was accused of improper advances by a graduate student in his department. He had apparently followed her into a supply closet and declared his feelings. Confronted, the professor confessed all, begging me not to tell his wife. My sympathies were divided: the young man had behaved foolishly, but there was no question of intimidation nor had he offered to trade grades for favors. All the same, he was censured. Indeed, his career was ruined—the department later denied him tenure because no women would take his courses. Meanwhile, his “victim” was offered the usual counseling.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
It is well to know that if you get cornered in a supply closet and go to the chair or dean rather than the official office this is the sort of attitude you may encounter. Don’t think that even if you are a professor, this is going to help your career at all.
I’ve quoted a sizable part of the piece on the blog, but there is more. And there’s some discussion of this on the blog with a lot of good points being made, along with others supporting him.