Consider that your extra-sensory perception is not as accurate as you think it is


Just yesterday, I completed my universities training on sexual discrimination and harassment. One of things they did was have little skits illustrating the phenomena we have to watch out for. One of them was about an attractive young woman being followed around in her work by a helpful but over-eager male colleague, who touched her in the small of the back while leading her to a different room. It was so quaint. I agree that he was being overly familiar, but yeesh — there are plenty of stronger examples in real life. Perhaps the next time they could act out these little dramas from the life of University of Michigan computer science professor Walter Lasecki. He’s been investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) andthe Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Here are a few examples of his behavior:

In the final report released by OIE, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily, Jane alleged that Lasecki encouraged her to drink throughout the meal, at one point asking the waiter to make her a “double.” She also alleged that he briefly placed his hand on her thigh.

Later that night, Jane said Lasecki helped her return to her apartment. He then touched her sexually, she wrote in her OIE statement. The OIE report notes that Jane said she “did not give any nonverbal cues to indicate that she was interested nor uninterested in physical contact.”

A second non-University graduate student — who will be referred to as Rachel in this article — attended four conferences that Lasecki also attended between 2017 and 2019. She alleged that he touched her sexually at all four conferences. In her statement to OIE, which was obtained by The Daily, Rachel described the pervasiveness of Lasecki’s alleged harassment.

“When [Respondent] is around me when he is drinking, he is consistently physically affectionate with me,” Rachel wrote. “I can’t count the number of times he’s touched me in intimate and inappropriate ways. I’m anxious at events that he will come up to me and start touching me — it bothers me so much that I’ve started scanning the room at poster sessions, receptions, and parties to watch where he’s at.”

A third non-University graduate student wrote in her statement to OIE, also obtained by The Daily, that she experienced similar harassment at an industry conference in 2016. In this article, she will be referred to as Alex. Alex alleged that Lasecki groped her while she was talking to a group of people.

“His behavior was overly familiar, touching me at first in small ways as we were talking to other people,” Alex wrote. “At some point, he leaned closer to me and essentially reached his hand between my legs. I was uncomfortable the whole time, but I distinctly remember knowing he was faculty and well-regarded, and so thinking I should be flattered. At the point where he groped my crotch, though, I knew that was past a line.”

At least there’s no evidence that he touched their backs! Then he’d be out of work, for sure. He still seems to happily employed by the University of Michigan, though. The ACM found that he had violated its Policy Against Harassment, banned him from ACM events for at least five years (that’s all they could do, since he’s not employed by ACM). Strangely, Michigans Office of Institutional Equity concluded that he had not violated any university policies and let him off scot-free. That’s interesting, because I would think getting students drunk and fondling and groping them would be actionable behavior. But no! No sanctions against the gropey professor!

So how did he get off? It may be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Also, a lot of those foxes seemed to have taken residence in the henhous.

In January 2020, Provost Martin Philbert — who previously oversaw OIE — was placed on leave and later resigned after multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him were reported to the University. The allegations were later investigated and corroborated by law firm WilmerHale. Another WilmerHale investigation released earlier this month found hundreds of credible allegations of sexual abuse against former University doctor Robert Anderson over a 37-year period. The Anderson report concluded that the allegations represent a “devastating pattern” of abuse that was known to University officials.

Everyone noticed. A letter was sent to the university president saying they had no confidence in the university administration.

Lisecki is denying everything, although he does use a second excuse.

Lily wrote that Lasecki touched under her shirt later that night and that she repeatedly attempted to stop his advances. Despite these attempts, the harassment continued, she claims. She remembered how Lasecki tried to justify his behavior.

“Oh, sorry, from the way you were angling your body towards me during our meeting before, I figured you wanted me to,” she alleged that he replied.

Watch out, ladies, now “angling your body” at a particular angle is apparently considered consent. I don’t know what angle that is, unfortunately. Maybe women have been begging me for sex and I’ve just been oblivious. Alternatively, maybe Walter Lisecki’s mind-reading abilities don’t work.

What also comes to mind is Geoff Marcy, another academic whose career took a nosedive when he was found to have been inappropriately touching his students. He also had an interesting excuse:

“My engaging and empathic style could surely be misinterpreted, which is my fault for poor communication,” he said. “I would never intentionally hurt anyone nor cause distress.”

His empathy must have been on the fritz when all those women were saying “no” and trying to get away from Dr Handsey. Marcy lost his job and his career, and has now been expelled from the National Academy of Sciences.

Unlike Marcy, though, Lasecki has not been censured in any way, and is scheduled to be teaching undergrads in the fall. Now that is disturbing.

Comments

  1. IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot says

    See, this is why we need to finalize and teach body language in schools. People need better awareness, both of what other people are saying and what they themselves are saying.
    For instance any professor touching a student sexually without invitation is saying “I’m a ■■■■ing asshole”

    The other alternative would require people to be more explicit in communications. So instead of “have a double” it would be “sex?”
    I doubt that would catch on since that would require these “manly men” to deal appropriately with rejection and take “No” for these questions with the same grace they would some one refusing a cup of tea. At least as long as it’s implicit they can always convince themselves that their overtures were not understood, instead of unwanted (and maybe they should be more explicit next time).

  2. Rob Curtis says

    I think the angle to lean for consent is 69°.

    Coincidentally, that should be the number of years those men should be jailed for.

  3. PaulBC says

    It makes sense to use a fairly innocuous example (small of back) as a baseline with the understanding that you should be staying clear of anything that could be perceived as unwanted sexual contact. It’s also context dependent. I assume a gymnastics, swim, or dance instructor may find touch to be the only really effective way to get a point across, but most white collar work is not physical and touch should be limited to handshakes if that. Honestly, I think people are way too quick with hugs, and that’s also fraught with gender bias.

    One thing I appreciated about a training video (for some reason it seems more recent than Google but I don’t know where else it could have been) was the scenario of a women asking her male coworker if he’d like a friendly back rub. While I don’t know how often that’s reported as harassment (or rises to that level in any reasonable sense) it is inappropriate physical contact. Can we just act grown up and treat each other as professionals? Set those expectations, and the incidents of obvious, blatant harassment won’t be in question, because even likely harmless forms of contact will be deemed inappropriate.

  4. anxionnat says

    To my personal knowledge this has been going on for 50 years. At my undergrad university, in my department, there was a well-regarded faculty member that showed films during class time every 2 weeks or so. Mostly, they contained footage that he’d shot himself out in the field. I remember taking his upper division class. He’d intersperse his footage with film clips taken from porn movies–which he was reputed to have ordered from Denmark. (I think they were illegal at the time in the US.) This porn was accompanied by his inappropriate comments about the (few) women undergrads in the class. The year I took his class, 1972, one of his packages from Denmark was intercepted by postal authorities here in the US. Nothing happened to him, though it was a felony to order such material from abroad. He was, of course, a well-respected professor, an expert in his field…and who cared what some girls (who shouldn’t be taking classes in that department in the first place) were saying?

  5. dean56 says

    “It makes sense to use a fairly innocuous example (small of back) as a baseline with the understanding that you should be staying clear of anything that could be perceived as unwanted sexual contact.”

    It might be a good baseline IF, after the contact was reported, serious investigations with serious consequences would result. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

    “Strangely, Michigans Office of Institutional Equity concluded that he had not violated any university policies…”

    UofM took “Bo” Schembechler’s athletic department views of “win, give complete devotion, no need to take responsibility” to heart in several areas while he was there, and it seems much of that philosophy remains.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Maybe I’m shy but I would never touch a woman at the small of her back or touch her in any way unless we had an actual mutually acknowledged relationship.

    I used to be OK with handshakes but not for the past year. Touchy feely with someone who is just an acquaintance or coworker or stranger on the street is well, beyond my level of comfort.

  7. Chaos Engineer says

    The angle you need to stand at to avoid harassment is the abominable non-Euclidean angle that’s alluded to in some of Lovecraft’s works. Sorry that I can’t post the exact value, but it can’t be represented using your human numbers.

    Any other angle can be interpreted as a come-on by people who are looking for things to interpret as come-ons.

  8. PaulBC says

    Chaos Engineer@8 Nonsense. Non-Euclidean geometry is unnecessary. You simply draw three mutually perpendicular lines, draw a fourth one perpendicular to all three of those, and lean in that direction. The author you want to follow here is Heinlein, not Lovecraft.

    True, you run the risk of falling out of observable space, but you’ll never get anywhere if you are too timid to take any chances.

  9. chrislawson says

    Lovecraft’s used of “non-Euclidian” as a psychotogenic marker of our deeply inchoate universe is pretty funny because anyone who has peeled an apple is familar with non-Euclidean operations and nobody seems to have been driven mad by it.

  10. PaulBC says

    chrislawson@11 No sillier than The Colour out of Space (1927). i mean bands of the spectrum are either visible or not. They aren’t mysterious colors. David Lindsay uses the idea of new colors in A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). I wasn’t sure who was first before I checked, and I imagine neither was the first with this conceit.

    For a way to express the uncanny, it’s not too bad. And an apple is Euclidean in three dimensions. You could become very confused if you hand to traverse a 3D space that was obviously locally non-Euclidean (like the Tardis parked inside itself, which I believe happened at least once).

    (Heh, I completely forgot the topic of the OP.)

  11. chrislawson says

    PaulBC@12 —

    On the surface of an apple I can draw both parallel lines that intersect AND a triangle with three right angle corners. That is, I can violate one Euclidean axiom (the parallel postulate) and one core Euclidean proof (the sum of a triangles’ corner angles is always 180 degrees). Non-Euclidian isn’t limited to just weird geometries. When navigators calculate the shortest path to fly a plane using great circles, they’re using non-Euclidian geometry (specifically Reimannian). Many problems with Euclid’s parallel postulate were known and discussed even by ancient mathematicians, so it’s not like Lovecraft’s view of Euclid as the foundation of reality and therefore sanity was based on anything other than his xenophobic dread of the unfamiliar. He’s saying, “it will drive me insane if I question the assumptions of the geometry I was taught in high school.”

    As for Color Out of Space, I agree that it’s completely silly that there could be a previously undiscovered frequency of light that humans can perceive but somehow never experienced before. I took it to be a color imposed upon human perception by some sort of weird neural interference rather than an actual light color of defined wavelength. Mind you, I doubt Lovecraft put half as much thought into it as we have!

  12. says

    On the surface of an apple I can draw both parallel lines that intersect AND a triangle with three right angle corners.

    Well, only if you look at it as a 2D curved surface. In 3D space, what you draw simply isn’t a straight line and therefore doesn’t violate anything. I can make parallel lines meet on a flat piece of paper, too, if I’m allowed to curve the lines.

    I guess humans are largely 2D creatures. We live on the skin of the apple. We evolved to move across surfaces, even if those surfaces bend in 3D, so we tend to think in those terms. The ability for any significant free movement in 3D (as perceived by the individual) is fairly recent and even when flying, we’re typically still referring back to the surface below, as you mention. I wonder how birds think about space. Or fish. They more truly live in a 3D space.

    What would happen if you took a bunch of mathematicians and let them go hang-gliding or deep-sea diving every day for a few months? I wonder if they’d suddenly come up with something interesting.

  13. PaulBC says

    christlawson@13

    On the surface of an apple I can draw both parallel lines that intersect AND a triangle with three right angle corners. That is, I can violate one Euclidean axiom (the parallel postulate) and one core Euclidean proof (the sum of a triangles’ corner angles is always 180 degrees). Non-Euclidian isn’t limited to just weird geometries. When navigators calculate the shortest path to fly a plane using great circles, they’re using non-Euclidian geometry (specifically Reimannian).

    Yes, I understood your original point.

    It is still embedded in a higher Euclidean dimension, and few people are going to think of the apple as non-Euclidean while peeling it since we are (at least) three dimensional after all. If you were a Flatland inhabitant dropped on the surface of an apple, you would observe triangles whose corner angles do not add to 180° and it might be strange (I think it’s been the basis of at least one book). Lines of longitude might be a more straightforward example of “parallels” that actually meet.

    But again, if you think of the earth’s surface as a sphere embedded in three dimensions (which we usually do) it’s once again Eucliidean. Longitude is a much older concept than the idea of alternatives to the parallel postulate.

    If you were somehow confined to a 4D spherical surface that was small enough to traverse, you probably would find it unnerving that space was “flat” and yet you return to the same point after heading in one direction. Granted, it might not drive you to madness.

  14. PaulBC says

    chrislawson@13

    I took it to be a color imposed upon human perception by some sort of weird neural interference rather than an actual light color of defined wavelength.

    Lovecraft explicitly refers to its spectrum several times (I happened to skim it over last night). But again, no reason to nitpick. It’s verisimilitude, not reality, so you could replace it with “[insert some plausible-sounding explanation]”. Plausibility is in the eye of the reader.

    Actually, Lindsay has a better excuse for new colors, because the trip to Arcturus does seem to induce physiological changes. (Also, he’s really not going for a believable story.)

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    chrislawson @13:

    When navigators calculate the shortest path to fly a plane using great circles, they’re using non-Euclidian geometry (specifically Reimannian)

    It certainly has to be consistent with Riemannian geometry, but they’re not using it. They’re using trigonometry.

  16. birgerjohansson says

    About the reliability of that extra-sensory perception, I refer you to “Cartman vs. psychics” where they try to fight using telekinesis.
    .
    Also, fuck the University of Michigan.
    And give every female student a free can of mace.

  17. says

    hemidactylus@7

    Maybe I’m shy but I would never touch a woman at the small of her back or touch her in any way unless we had an actual mutually acknowledged relationship.

    Yeah, that’s pretty gross.

    I used to be OK with handshakes but not for the past year.

    Here in the Netherlands we’ve been dissuaded from shaking hands since early 2020.
    I haven’t had a single cold or flu since. While there are probably other contributing factors (like supermarkets cleaning the handles of shopping trolleys and baskets), handshakes with strangers can be permanently retired as far as I’m concerned.

  18. erictheviking says

    I work at the University of Michigan and I’ve been following this shit show as it has been happening. As we are approaching the fiscal year end, we are all going through our yearly evals and this year’s seems to be all about diversity and inclusion and how we can improve ourselves in these areas (a worthwhile pursuit, to be sure), but it seems to me that the real problem is a fundamental lack of leadership, all the way up to and including Schlissel. All these abuses that are in the public eye were perpetrated by people of authority with at least the tacit approval of leadership. I think that my girlfriend rightfully noted that the higher-ups are now trying to cover their asses. More of the “do what we say, not as we do.”

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