Are high-ranking professors selected for cluelessness?

This is getting really old. It’s another case of sexual harassment of students by senior faculty, this time at UC Berkeley. Herr Doktor Professor Blake Wentworth seems to have a thing for obsessing over his undergraduates and making life hell for them.

Read this for an extraordinary example of a total lack of self-awareness. He promises to honor student-professor boundaries while calling her “honey” and “honey bear”.

Hemenway tried to minimize contact with Wentworth after a meeting on 17 February 2015 that she said was particularly upsetting. According to the complaint, the professor repeatedly called her “honey” and “honey bear” and put his hands on hers while complimenting her and staring intensely into her eyes.

He also allegedly suggested that he wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with her as soon as she graduated.

“I will always honor professor-student boundaries,” he said, according to the complaint. “Once you graduate, that’s an entirely different scenario. I look forward to the day when you graduate. … But until then, just know that I will never come onto you or make you feel uncomfortable. Got that, honey?”

That’s quite an inducement to graduate he’s given Ms Hemenway, isn’t it?

Wentworth is still at Berkeley, while Hemenway is considering leaving her field altogether.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I recall a then associate professor telling me you know when you reach middle-age, when you stop looking at the coeds, and starting looking at their mothers. Evidently Wentworth never matured….

  2. antigone10 says

    I was four years in and the upcoming freshmen already started to look like babies to me.

    But the fact of the matter was, even when I worked with someone I found attractive, I never called them “honey” or “sweetie” or “darling” or “love”*. Because that is rude and unprofessional, and I would have been beyond shocked had one of my professors done that to me. Even in aviation- which is a terrible field for women**- I did not once get called any sort of diminutive nonsense name.

    *Slight exception for group projects with people I was friends with. Even then, unlikely to happen during work proper.

    **I got *trumpet noise* SUBTLE SEXISM! I got things like Professor asks a question, I answer, professor ignores me, calls on some other guy in the class, he repeats the same words I just said five seconds ago, guy gets praised. I got “In my experience, women are safer pilots but guys are better at handling emergencies” or “women know the material better, but are worse when it comes to the practical exam” or “The numbers say that men get into accidents 9 times out of 10, but you better be careful flying with women, because they are the ones who will report you going against regulations 9 times out of 10”. Fun times.

  3. robro says

    There have been quite a few at UC Berkeley. Seems like a systemic problem and that school admin bears some responsibility for some many cases.

  4. Bernard Bumner says

    I don’t accept that this is in any sense cluelessness. This is predatory. This is grooming.

    The mention of boundaries is just a somewhat subtle attempt to warn the student that they shouldn’t speak about what happened if they don’t reciprocate. It is an “our little secret” ploy.

    Had the student reciprocated, willingly or because of the power dynamic, I don’t think boundaries would have mattered one jot to Wentworth. Clearly not, given that he was already dancing all over them.

  5. Gorogh, Lounging Peacromancer says

    It’s pretty tempting to just refer to the last occurrence of this pattern (which was when, like two weeks ago?) instead of mustering any more outrage. Sad enough. The fact remains that it is thoroughly despicable (and supremely creepy), and here’s for hoping that not only that Wentworth guy will feel painful consequences, but potential systemic enablers as well.

    As an aside, I don’t think it’s fair to blame people for their attractions, or to spin it as a character flaw (to have “never matured” @1, or implying superiority by reporting that freshmen start “looking like babies” for you @2). No offence if I misunderstood you two. Anyway, I think it’s fine to be attracted to whomever. That doesn’t say anything about appropriateness, or how you deal with that attraction.

  6. Gorogh, Lounging Peacromancer says

    Incidentally, this does in fact seem like old news (end of March?), more evidence that plenty of people must be jaded by now…

  7. says

    PZ: This is getting really old.

    You’re right, this is older than sand. And it’s not a problem that’s limited to education, although this setting seems to provide a rich hunting ground for these assholes.

    I do “get it”, as I get older the beauty of youth only increases. But not in any sexual way, to quote Tommy Tiernan it would probably be like having sex with a salmon.

  8. A. Noyd says

    Wow. This festering pee-hole’s gaslighting game is so strong, we should encase his feet in cement and set him to illuminate a Victorian-esque alleyway somewhere.

  9. says

    As an aside, I don’t think it’s fair to blame people for their attractions,

    It’s pretty easy: If an attraction is inappropriate it stays inside your head and nobody will think any worse of you.
    Also, if your particular pattern of attraction is “young, inexperienced and vulnerable” then there’s definitely something wrong.

  10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    That doesn’t say anything about appropriateness, or how you deal with that attraction.

    Wentworth blatantly committed sexual harassment and should be fired/suspended. He was both immature (lacking impulse control) and amoral to do so.

  11. redwood says

    @2 antigone10
    Sorry if this is off topic, but antigone10’s story reminded me of a woman I met several years ago who gave up being a pilot because of all the various kinds of harassment she got, not to mention a lack of available work because it was given to more “trusted” males (she became an ESL teacher). She had one “good” story that even she got a chuckle out of. Whenever she was flying, the other pilots (all men, natch) decided that the “cockpit” needed a different name. They ended up calling it the “box office.”

  12. leerudolph says

    NerdofRedhead@1: “Evidently Wentworth never matured….”

    Despite “high-ranking” in the title of the post, Wentworth is only an assistant professor (albeit at a high-ranked university), who got his Ph.D. (University of Chicago—another place that’s been in the harassment news!) only in 2011 (B.A. 1995 from Dartmouth, yet another); he may have done a fair bit of fieldwork in Sri Lanka, or maybe he has had previous assistant professorships and/or post-docs) in the 16 years between his degrees.

    I would be willing to bet that he won’t be a “high-ranking professor” anytime soon.

  13. leerudolph says

    Oh, dear me. I should have kept on reading his Berkeley web page.

    Currrently, he is at work on a book that studies the genre of ulā, one of the most popular poetic models of the Tamil literary genre. The ulā, which depicts the procession of male gods and heroes from the vantage point of women who become overwhelmed with desire as they watch the hero pass by in parade, stands as perhaps the most forceful articulation of the ancient Indian trope that laminates political power onto gendered sexuality. Why, for the ulā‘s poetic narrative, must political power be beautiful?

    And how much more beautiful must professorial power be! He had, surely, every reason to believe that his (appropriately laminated, I mean gendered) students would become overwhelmed with desire as they watched him, godlike and heroic, pass by his mighty podium!! WHY DID IT ALL GO WRONG???

  14. anbheal says

    @4 Bernard Bumner — spot on! Cluelessness has nothing to do with it. Initially I pictured a wizened old fool, but then stopped to calculate, well, typically public universities are pretty strict about putting their professors out to pasture at age 65, so at most he could be 64, 9 years older than me. And in places like Boston and NYC and SF this shit has been unacceptable for thirty years. Sexual harassment is not a novel phrase. So I began calculating a bit more, and thinking, okay, if he was 33 years old in 1985, it is absolutely impossible that he was not aware that it was becoming increasingly intolerable to refer to co-workers as babe or toots or honey….THIRTY YEARS AGO. Guys like Harold Bloom and James Watson were jerks, but they brought up the tail end of when that shit was par for the course….they were dentured hip-replaced dinosaurs by the end of the 80s.

    And then I saw the comment saying he graduated in 1995. He’s only 42!!! He’s known this was unacceptable since he was in junior high. And he’s in a very progressive and sophisticated and liberal corner of society, not a Seventh Day Adventist school in Tuscaloosa. He knows EXACTLY what he’s doing. He’s a predatory sociopath who, like Pharma-Bro, has such an outsized ego that he believes he can get away with being a shitstain.

    And sadly, Berkeley seems to agree with him.

  15. says

    Professor Doktor, not the other way around. But why the German? Even if the person in question were German, it wouldn’t serve any purpose.