It seems pretty bad already


So I’m not pleased to see a report on sexual harassment by faculty titled Worse Than It Seems. It summarizes the results of a survey of harassment in academia, and takes an objective, outsider’s look at the problem.

A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty” seeks to cut through the noise with data, analyzing nearly 300 faculty-student harassment cases for commonalities. The study, which focused on complaints by graduate students, led to two major findings: most faculty harassers are accused of physical, not verbal, harassment, and more than half of cases — 53 percent — involve alleged serial harassers.

Data “confirm that faculty harassment of students is more widespread than many may appreciate” says the study, forthcoming in Utah Law Review. Perhaps most importantly, it says, a “disturbingly high proportion of available cases indicate evidence of higher-severity sexual harassment that includes unwelcome physical contact and/or a pattern of serial sexual harassment of multiple victims by the same faculty member.”

In other words, data challenge what the study calls “stereotypes” about sexual harassment, including that the current reporting environment has compromised faculty members’ academic freedom.

That last bit is also surprising: treating students and colleagues with respect compromises academic freedom? Who claims that? It’s a new one to me, although given the stupidity of so many arguments from affronted men, I guess I should expect it.

It’s also eye-opening to get the perspective from the inside, close-up: read about Gina Baucom’s informal query about “what’s the crappiest thing you’ve heard said about a woman academic?” It’s horrifying.

The worst thing I’ve personally and directly heard? She’s an Asian girl, they’re always so good with their hands followed by a snigger and a leer. And my decision that I wasn’t going to work with that guy. That was in my first year as a grad student, so I got disillusioned early.

Comments

  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    The worst case I saw was also in my first year in grad school. A PhD student was basically harassed out of the program by one skeevy prof. Yeah, disillusioned. And utterly powerless. I’ll never forget the fucker’s name.

  2. Siobhan says

    It’s compromised the academic freedom of the student. The only reason that shouldn’t matter to a university administration is if it doesn’t care about the–

    oh.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Though the crucial information is already there in your quotes, PZ, I want to call out some specific wording for attention because I think it helps explain some portion of men’s widespread disbelief in the frequency and/or seriousness of sexual harassment.

    The condensed version? When one faculty member is harassing women graduate students repeatedly over time – new students every year as the graduate student roster is refreshed – that one faculty member can look like an individual, not institutional, problem to the other faculty. But with the nature of sexual harassment and the inevitability that some departments will have many more men graduate students than women, a shockingly high percentage of those women graduate students will be affected by the harassment.

    Requoting PZ:

    Data “confirm that faculty harassment of students is more widespread than many may appreciate” says the study, forthcoming in Utah Law Review. Perhaps most importantly, it says, a “disturbingly high proportion of available cases indicate evidence of higher-severity sexual harassment that includes unwelcome physical contact and/or a pattern of serial sexual harassment of multiple victims by the same faculty member.”

    The main point that I want to make here is that the first bolded portion, about harassment being more widespread than many may appreciate? This doesn’t necessarily mean that harassers are more widespread than many may appreciate. It means what it says, that the harassment is more widespread than appreciated – at the very least for women, and very possibly for men and others.

    Notice that “available cases indicate… a pattern of … multiple victims by the same faculty member.” This is entirely consistent with what we know about another form of sexualized aggression, rape.

    From the blog Yes means Yes, and the now-famous post, Meet the Predators:

    120 men admitted to raping to attempting to rape. This is actually a relatively slim proportion of the survey population — just over 6% — and might be an underreport, though for part of the sample, the survey team did interviews to confirm … and found the responses consistent. But the more interesting part of the findings were how those rapists and their offenses broke down.

    Of the 120 rapists in the sample, 44 reported only one assault. The remaining 76 were repeat offenders. These 76 men, 63% of the rapists, committed 439 rapes or attempted rapes, an average of 5.8 each (median of 3…). Just 4% of the men surveyed committed over 400 attempted or completed rapes.

    Remember, of course, that “[t]heir sample was 1882 college students, ranging in age from 18 to 71 with a median age of 26.5”.

    Sexual harassment is more common than rape. We don’t know the prevalence of SH from these numbers, but if proportions were similar, you’d find that 1 in 25 faculty were serially harassing students. it would be easy for quite a number of faculty to consider that 25th faculty member an aberration.

    Yet in a system of higher education where not every thesis adviser can be UCB’s Karen Chin, the majority-men, majority straight faculty and minority-women graduate student body creates a situation where a high fraction of women graduate students who remain in a school for a length of time will be harassed.*1 It’s also likely that some of those women students will be warning other women students about the threat of harassment, leading to graduate students to conclude that they have fewer opportunities and fewer honest mentors. It might even be the case that some of those women make the choice to avoid sexual harassment by avoiding an expert in a topic that was important to choosing the school in the first place.

    So you have educational opportunities curtailed for many women and a substantial number of women directly harassed, while men among the faculty consider the 1-in-25 to be isolated cases.

    But think on this: the concept of R(naught) is a measure of population replacement rates. If each PhD Professor graduated 1 new PhD over a career, we would see replacement for professors, but no surplus PhDs. In fact, we’re seeing much more than that in some fields. Nonetheless, the graduation rate of PhDs is less than outsiders might think. In US biosciences programs, the current R(naught) of 6+ is considered a serious problem. Certain areas of study (like Philosophy) have much lower values, in part because there is little possibility of employment in one’s degree field except as a professor for those disciplines. For fields without biosciences’ current problem, you might find a value flirting with 1.0, but lets take the more likely case of 2. If half of those are women and half of professors are women, you find each professor graduating one new woman PhD. If sexual orientation helps drive victim selection for harassers (and there are reasons to believe it does) and the sexual orientation distribution is consistent across gender for professors, you’ll see about 1-in-50 students is a woman who should be supervised by a serial harasser*1 and thus particularly vulnerable to harassment and particularly likely to be harassed. BUT, this represents only 4% of graduating women PhDs. Our serial harasser has to make up for lost time by victimizing students earlier in their graduate careers – as master’s students, perhaps – and/or when advised by another professor but in regular contact with the harasser.

    In departments where all the faculty are men, we see about 8% of graduating women PhDs are particularly vulnerable to harassment. This might already seem bad, but from there things can get much, much worse.

    In a field where only 1 in 3 graduating PhDs are women, the 2 in 50 students at particular risk is 2 in 17 women students, or 12%. In a field where only 1 in 5 graduating PhDs are women, the 2 in 50 students becomes 2 in 10 women.

    Now take into account the fact that the research we’re using as the basis for our speculation shows that most offenders are repeat offenders, and that median victims for admitted rapists was 3. In a field where the professoriate is dominated by men and graduating PhDs are only 20% women, if all entering graduate students stayed to earn a PhD, then you’re talking about 6 in 10 women – 60%.

    That percentage lowers when we realize that some harassed women will drop out of a program and other harassed women will be harassed by more than one separate harasser. And yet, remember also that while the median for serial harassers was 3, the mean was 5.8: there will be some programs with some predatory professors where it is simply not possible to avoid some level of harassment.

    I’m not sure how we would be able to put solid numbers to the number of women (or men or other people) harassed in graduate programs in any one country, but I do want to stress that even if the number of predatory professors is relatively low, the serial nature of sexual predation still suggests that the number of victims is high and the percentage of victims in programs dominated by men professors is likely to be horrifying, if ever we could adequately quantify it.

    The idea that this is a behavior primarily perpetrated by a relative few is not at all inconsistent with the idea that this is an institutional one, at program, university, and field-of-study levels.

  4. says

    That last bit is also surprising: treating students and colleagues with respect compromises academic freedom? Who claims that? It’s a new one to me, although given the stupidity of so many arguments from affronted men, I guess I should expect it.

    It sounds familiar to me…I may have heard it in regards to business in general. As I recall, the argument goes something like, “Men will have to be so cautious about anything they say being construed as harassment that they won’t be able to say things that need to be said.” The argument I recall is about verbal harassment, which fits in with how this study would challenge such a claim if much of the harassment is non-verbal.

  5. iknklast says

    treating students and colleagues with respect compromises academic freedom? Who claims that?

    David Mamet. Even wrote a play about it.

  6. Raucous Indignation says

    I keep hearing that men “don’t believe” this is happening. That is a lie. Most men know, as in actually know through first or second hand accounts, that this is happening. Men freely admit to the most appalling behaviour to other men. They “didn’t know” is the reflexive lie they tell to cover their asses. Because what sort of monster would do nothing when a colleague told them about all the action they get off the students after he gets them drunk?

  7. antigone10 says

    “Men will have to be so cautious about anything they say being construed as harassment that they won’t be able to say things that need to be said.”

    All of the mirthless laughter in the world. How many people reconsider words when they’re talking to their boss? Their customers? We have to change our words all the time when we are dealing with people- this just makes it sound like guys don’t ever worry now about not harassing women.

  8. Raucous Indignation says

    @7 antigone10, that’s preposterous! I never watch what I say. I run around all day every day as if I have a combination of frontal release and disinhibition syndromes.

  9. Zeppelin says

    I’m a guy, and I’m still regularly grateful to be in a field with a strong female majority student body, at an institute with a majority female faculty. Despite the fact that, by extension, this means our work is typically less valued and poorly funded and paid. “Masculine” posturing is, at most, eye-rollingly tolerated here.
    I’ve been the only man in a class of 15-20 people on occasion, and amazingly enough I’ve never suffered discrimination for being male or been spuriously accused of sexual harrassment in my 8+ years there.

  10. klatu says

    @3 Crip Dyke
    As always, you provide a very detailed and thorough analysis of the actual numbers. Thank you.

  11. Bill Buckner says

    I keep hearing that men “don’t believe” this is happening. That is a lie. Most men know, as in actually know through first or second hand accounts, that this is happening. Men freely admit to the most appalling behaviour to other men.

    That us un-nuanced unsubstantiated bullshit. How is it that you know that most men know this is happening and lie about it?

    I am not disputing that harassment is widespread. I am disputing that you know–you actually know–that most of us (male profs) are aware and participate, actively or passively, in what would amount to a massive cover up of hrassment. You’re making shit up to fit your world view. Or do you have actual data?

    By the way since you are indicting “most men” are you including our host? Don’t the odds, according to your astute numerical analysis, suggest that he too likely knows about instances of sexual harassment that he is at best ignoring?

    I fucking hate when people make stupid generalizations.

  12. iknklast says

    Zeppelin – I also work in an area where we have a majority female student body and a majority female faculty (actually, until they get the new hire in, and possibly after, we are now an ALL female faculty). Our students are predominantly nursing students. And they are as submissive and beat down as if they were the only female in an all male student body. Oh, not 100% like that; only about 98%. The occasional female with confidence who manages to look straight out you without apology, who will willingly speak up in class, even when there are males present, and who knows that she is able to do what is needed. The rest are so cowed by a lifetime of being surrounded by a society that tells them they are no good that they now act the part.

Leave a Reply