Sexual Assault Prevention
April 8, 2016 7:32 AM   Subscribe

What can/should I do to draw attention to a creepy professor?

I am a male undergraduate student at a sub-200 ranked National University. I have been made aware (by professor who I am close with) that one of the other professors in our department is currently under a title ix investigation because of 15 student complaints about him. Also, he has married 4 of his students. Yep. FOUR. He is about 70 years old, and one of only two full professors in the department. He is a pretty big deal in his field, and a well-lauded scholar. I was planning on doing a directed study program with him, but obviously now I am not going to do that.

I'm wondering how to let people know (specifically women) about this situation. The professor who told me all this said that the other teachers are doing what they can to get this guy fired, but that nothing will probably happen to him because patriarchy.

Is there anything students can do? I'm not even sure of what question to ask. How can I do the right thing here?
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

This is very common in academia, unfortunately.

There is pretty much nothing you can do here - it's actually impressive that other professors in your department are trying to deal with it. These kinds of situations are frequently just ignored.

You can warn your women friends who might interact with this guy, but that's about all you can do.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:44 AM on April 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Seconding that this is very common in academia.

Sadly many of these creeps tend to be A Very Big Deal in their field and bring in a lot of money & prestige. The only time I've seen one of these creeps paying for it with his career was when the creep decided that sleeping with undergrad girls wasn't enough but he also needed to do drugs with them - and one of his students nearly OD'd. That combination of sexual aggression, Class A drugs, reckless behaviour & nearly causing a girl's death was finally enough to get him booted.

The only thing you can do is to talk to your fellow students and make them aware of his reputation. Students can also opt not to do classes with him, of course.
posted by kariebookish at 8:14 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not advocating that you should put poop in a paper bag, and set it on fire in front of his office... but ... I'm not not advocating it either.

It is super common. There are many academic (male) predators that are too "valuable" to discipline. Please warn your friends, and feel free to load up his student evaluations with the equivalent of flaming dog poop.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:20 AM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you have proof of the investigation and it's not confidential, share it with every female-identified student you know, give 'em copies to pass on.

The fact that you're posting anonymously may also give you a big suggestion as to how to go about getting the information out, if necessary.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

In addition to bringing pressure on the university, I think there may be one other step you can do. You say the guy is well-respected in his field. Probably he has some connection with the national organization of his discipline. Probably there are conferences, and probably he goes to them. If you are also studying this discipline, you might also go to these conferences. You could contact the conference directors and ask what is being done to combat sexism and predatory behavior at the conference and in the field, and keep at them until you get a satisfactory answer.

Unfortunately this may come at the price of being tagged as a troublemaker in your discipline. Depending on your goals within this field, you may want to disregard this advice. But at least it's another area to bring pressure on, in order to change this awful dynamic. Maybe bring the idea up with your sympathetic professors and see what they say? Be the change?
posted by Liesl at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately this may come at the price of being tagged as a troublemaker in your discipline.

Agree with this. Seeing as you are an undergrad student, I'd tread with caution. Be discreet - but seeing as you've already anonymised your query, I think you know this. His colleagues know and have confided in you - this means people higher up the rank are already very well-aware of what is going on.
posted by kariebookish at 11:09 AM on April 8, 2016

Previous posters are absolutely right that this is very common, and that if a Title IX investigation is under way and the department knows about it, you personally probably can't do much more. If you know of friends who are considering working with this professor, you can raise your concern with them. One thing to consider here that no one has mentioned, however: remember that Title IX investigations are confidential to protect the complainants/victims-- the high profile cases of harassment that have broken over the past year or so were brought to the press by victims who decided to go public. Be careful that, in your effort to protect others, you don't inadvertently expose someone who has already been injured by harassment. Individual complainants are likely to have equally individual feelings about whether they want to publicly discuss what happened to them.
posted by shaka_lulu at 11:55 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Is there a way to leak this information to your college paper? Failing that, are there anonymous/pseudonymous message boards for your college community. Seeding this information out there could be just the thing for some student journalists to start sniffing more things out, without exposing you personally to any repercussions as a whistleblower.
posted by theorique at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

To the extent the institution can/will respond, it's already doing so, it seems, and you have no personal experience/testimony to add to those proceedings (correct me if I'm wrong on this: this professor has done nothing inappropriate to you or in your presence, and what information you have is hearsay from other people whose reports are doubtless already in the investigation).

There's an impulse to "do something!" when there's wrongdoing afoot, but it honestly doesn't seem like you're in a position where your involvement is useful on any sort of official plane. Passing your knowledge on to others in your circle seems like the limits of what's really appropriate. If you want to live on the wild side maybe tip off the student newspaper.
posted by jackbishop at 1:03 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, here's something you could do: make sure the women in your department know, for sure. But also, you can be an ally in other ways. As a woman, I can't always tell which guys are going to be supportive and which are going to blow me off if I have a problem with a creepy dude, so just a) warning women and b) believing what they tell you (and it sounds like you will) is going to go a long way.
You probably can't get this guy fired, but you can offer to wait in the hall if your friend has to go to Professor Creeper's office hours, or walk over and say hi if he's standing too close to her. Creepy men are much less likely to harass in the presence of men they don't know (because patriarchy), which is kinda bullshit, but you can use your male privilege for good here.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:42 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is it a public university? If so, emails that are sent/received through the university system may be accessible through an open records act request. That would mean that a journalist or investigator could request, for example, all the emails sent/received by a particular professor.
posted by medusa at 11:21 AM on April 9, 2016

« Older Sleep: Experience with CBT-I for insomnia?   |   I miss my old life, pre-baby & feel extremely... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.