Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sexual and Administrative Harassment

From the intrepid University Diaries comes this shrewd column from a member of the faculty senate at Southern Illinois University Carbondale dismantling SIUC's new sexual harassment policy. As is often the case with sexual harassment policies, they're a bit heavy-handed.

''The procedures give almost unchecked power to the assistant chancellor for compliance. The compliance officer may ban anyone from campus who is merely accused during an investigation, if it is in the ''best interests'' of the university or may ''aid the investigation''. A security officer knocks on your door to escort you from campus because someone (unspecified) has accused you of something (unspecified).''

Furthermore, in the interest of ''protecting the accuser'', the actual accusations can be withheld from the accused, who is then expected to mount some sort of defense to protect their employment, without actually knowing what they're defending themselves from! ''How can you defend yourself against an accusation of having uttered an 'obscene comment' without even knowing what the comment was?''
[Nice question, pervert! The compliance officer will see you now...]

Also verboten is showing ''sexually explicit materials not related to the curriculum'' in class. Who would determine what is or isn't related to the curriculum? I'm guessing the mystery accuser, and since they would probably be a meek student vulnerable to the instructor's power, I'm guessing it won't necessarily be made clear just what offended who or why. Defending yourself from such accusations might be a bit like boxing while blindfolded.

And then consensual dating is forbidden ''where there is a material and direct power difference between the parties involved''. So newly hired junior faculty cannot date grad students. Luckily, we all know that never happens. It's just such a shame that people in their twenties and thirties cannot be trusted to make adult decisions about who they date without strict guidance from Daddy Compliance Officer. But, humans are flawed; luckily we have bureaucrats to protect us.
So, anyway, the Faculty Senate is a bit concerned. Hopefully, this is not the first time they've gotten the hint that university admins tend to see faculty as a nuisance to be ironed out through heavy-handed bureaucratic policies. I mean, we're not talking about coaches here! Some of these professors are real miscreants!

University Diaries notes:
''The crucial problem is that this campus is a dumping ground for local political hacks, and that these guys wouldn’t know a university if it hit them in the face. As the details of the proposed policy suggest, they just want to run things.''
When overkill sexual harassment policies are passed to cover administrative ass, people often call it ''political correctness run amok''. I tend to see it as the bureaucratization of everyday life. Maybe we're talking about the same thing. These policies are the wet dream of pencil pushing, graph paper-brained, office-dwellers who see the highest form of human society as the corporate world; and in turn want universities to be more like that world. Human interactions should be sanctioned by rule books. Academics are surly, socially-inept, weird- you have to start pushing them around early to make sure they realize that they're not being paid to think.

We all understand the problems involved when really creepy jerks make life miserable for their more vulnerable colleagues. There are certainly people who have no idea when they are being inappropriate, and there need to be ways to get them to knock it off. One suggestion: pulling them aside and saying, ''We've been getting complaints about your dirty jokes and comments. Cut it out or we're moving your office to the boiler room!''

But, I think sexual harassment policies rankle people because they reflect the administrative mindset- that we're all potentially creepy jerks who need to be kept on a short leash. They reduce all human sexual relationships to a short list of types. Even worse, they purport to tell adults which of those relationships are permitted and which are inappropriate. A gentleman does not come calling for a grad student!

Life in the university is not, at least ideally, like life in a corporation. If you put a bunch of bright, young things together, they will hopefully have intense, passionate, intriguing conversations, sometimes over beers- brain-sex, in other words. Some of them will have real sex. Some will form relationships. And, as with all human sexual relationships, there will be a danger that those relationships will go south. The idea that romantic love can be deranging is all throughout literature. Check out the Iliad: the Greeks send a thousand ships to a ten year war because some dude's wife schtups another man.

There's something creepy about regulating and regimenting people's private parts. It's infantilizing and insulting to treat adults like you're their chaperon to the junior prom. And, indeed, part of what's going on here is this tendency to see older and older people as ''children''. But, I suspect that, when people talk about ''political correctness'', what they're referring to is the technocratic urge to regulate all human expression. This is an urge that runs throughout a culture that is steadily becoming mindless, banal, and boring in other words, professionalized.

It is a genuinely immoral urge.

[Note: Incidentally, that statue, from Korea, really is immortalizing the act known as 'Kancho'- sneaking up behind someone and sticking your finger in their ass.]


gregvw said...

Is it my imagination or is that statue depicting the old "here is the church, here is the steeple" thing up someone's ass?

Holly said...

The other side of this discussion (as if there were only 2 sides!) is that adults in professional roles prove themselves repeatedly and profoundly unable to display common sense and restraint about the nature and extent of their relationships with the people they work with. Further, they are persistently unable to make distinctions between strategies they employ to advance their career and those used to secure sexual gratification.

Not saying bureaucracy is a suitable way to address this, but it seems far more effective than demanding that everyone grow up, start acting like adults, and learn about common sense.

Am I the only one who is sad that there is name for jamming your surprise finger up someone's ass?

rufus said...

I think you both missed my note there- that statue is immortalizing 'kancho', a game played in Japan in which you put your hands together with the index fingers extended and then jam them up someone's butt to surprise them. I cannot say why that needed to be immortalized.

It's sort of like a feedback loop with bureaucracy- for several decades now, corporate and academic cultures have been requiring that their lieges make less and less decisions for themselves. In turn, people are less and less able to make decisions for themselves. In the 60s and 70s, there was a sharp rise in bourgeois Americans being diagnosed with borderline personality disorders. Now, I suspect that the autistic spectrum is booming. This can't be separated from the environment. But, there has to be some other way to deal with it. Eventually, we're all going to need chaperones and adult societies will be something like living in nursing homes.

Holly said...

I saw your note, and now see a typo in mine. I'm disturbed that an activity of that type is common enough to warrant a name at all. Also, I'm pleased that no one has ever done that to me.

I wonder if/what the relationship is between reduced autonomy at work, and home life. Do people become increasingly controlling at home when they are not paid to think at work? Or do they get lazy and disaffected?

oh, I think I just answered my own question.

gregvw said...

That's a GAME? How does one win?