Don’t flirt with your students. Ever. Under any circumstances. It is gross and inappropriate, and leads to nothing but trouble. The story of Stephanie Jenkins and her mentor is a prime example.
She and Swem were dropped off by plane in “one of the most remote field locations of arctic Alaska,” according to court documents. One trip in June 2011 lasted 17 days. A second the following month lasted two weeks.
Jenkins’ job was to assist Swem in creating a database on the peregrine falcon population.
During two field trips to Alaska, Jenkins said Swem made “pervasive sex jokes,” told sexually explicit stories and photographed her clothed buttocks.
“He asked me numerous times to be in a relationship with me,” she said.
Swem’s attorney, Thomas Hayes of Milwaukee, declined to comment this week. In court documents, Swem acknowledged making numerous remarks, including the comments about kissing her, but said he continued because of “ambiguous signals he had received from her statements and conduct.”
Swem claimed in court documents that Jenkins laughed at his sex jokes; she said that she laughed because she did not want to offend a man who had influence over her career.
According to court documents, Swem justified his continued romantic approaches, despite her statements she was not interested, because at one point Jenkins told him something to the effect that if Swem were 25 years younger, she would have been “all over him.” Her lawyer, Joe Larson, said her remark was “an attempt at humor” to deflect Swem’s advances and she regretted she said it.
Yes, it was an obvious effort to shut this pushy man down without also shutting down her career. The operative part of that ‘joke’ was “if he were 25 years younger” — she’s not interested in him because of his age — not that she’d be “all over him”. It’s a particularly clueless man who reads that as an “ambiguous signal”.
Now look at the result of those annoying innuendos from Swem. The University of Minnesota is being sued. Swem’s reputation is deservedly tattered — what woman would want to work with him? And worst of all, Stephanie Jenkins’ career in academia is over. She abandoned the Ph.D. program and left the university, all because her mentor was an asshole and the institution was not adequately diligent in supporting her rather than the skeevy guy leading the research.
This is not acceptable.
Look at yourself, faculty. You are old, from a completely different generation. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, how ruggedly handsome or beautifully mature you are. They are young. They have little in common with you. You have responsibilities and obligations to them. You have power that is unethical to exploit. It doesn’t matter if you find them attractive. It doesn’t matter that you’ve persuaded yourself that they must be attracted to your awesomely rich experience.
This should not be so difficult to understand.