Memorandum from M. Sheldon
September 1998


Please note: At the discretion of the Faculty Organization Secretary and with the permission of the author, names have been omitted to protect privacy.
 

First, I want to say that I take very seriously the issue of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. Second, I want to thank those of you who emailed me in support of my email message. The purpose of my initial email, and request to have this discussion now, was to discourage participation in Professor X.'s disclosure forms.
 

I am concerned about the way in which the use of the forms will impact on those who have in fact been disciplined previously for sexual harassment and/or sexual misconduct. Requesting a signature on a form is a kind of "outing" procedure that constitutes a violation of basic rights to privacy that are involved in disciplinary procedures.
 

Second, I am concerned about the implications for others of us on the faculty. Professor X. argues that not signing the form is a sign of disrespect for students. I would argue that, on the contrary, the Professor's approach involves, in its paternalism, greater disrespect for students. The analogy he uses in his letter to parents and students is the occasion in which one enrolls one's child in a day care center. This is not a day care center; this is a University. Students who come here are adults. They are not children.
 

Third, and to continue on about students, I am concerned about the implications of the use of the forms for students. The assumption is that students, on their own, cannot deal with serious issues and various circumstances. Furthermore, Professor X. invites parents to be involved at a time when students, as young adults, are engaged in appropriate separation from their families and are beginning to take responsibility for their lives. Furthermore, it invites students to participate in actions that may be illegal. For reasons that are not clear to me, they are encouraged to put the teacher/student relationship under a cloud of suspicion even before it starts. I don't see that this is in their best interest.
 

Fourth, I am concerned about the implications for our community. Unless I am totally out of the loop, it seems to me that Professor X grossly and egregiously exaggerates the number of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct cases that have occurred on this campus. Sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are serious issues, but his approach seems to me totally out of proportion to the situation. And students (and parents) are being whipped into hysteria in a way that is clearly detrimental to this campus, to this community, to student/professor relationships, to the pursuit of knowledge, to the exchange of ideas, that clearly requires mutual trust between students and faculty.
 

Two last points:
 

Why shouldn't a student take a course from a professor who has been disciplined for sexual misconduct or sexual harassment? What is the basis for Professor X.'s advice to students? First, presumably people can learn, can change their behavior. Second, he or she can still be an excellent professor, and why shouldn't a student take a course from an excellent professor?
 

Second, given the mistrust that Professor X.'s memo generates, what professor can reasonably allow students to tape class lectures?
 

Third (and forgive my own personal crusade on this point), I object to all the consumer language in Professor X.'s documents. Students are not consumers. And it suggests the greatest disrespect to regard them as such. This is a university and students are partners and participants in the pursuit of knowledge.



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