Monday, October 5, 2015
The Colorado Sex Scandal:
How Ideology, Incompetence, and Abuse of Power
Ruined a Great Department
Over the past year, the administration at CU-Boulder has taken a series of related actions
that have drawn heavy criticism from groups such as the American Association of
University Professors, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the campus Faculty
Affairs Committee. The administration has settled one lawsuit from a graduate student,
but their actions have brought on two more lawsuits from faculty that remain to be
resolved. Several professors have either been pressured into retiring, chosen to retire to
escape the toxic atmosphere, or applied for jobs at other universities. How did all this
The Title IX Threat
It started in April 2011. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights
(OCR) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and universities across the country,
warning them of an epidemic of sexual violence said to be plaguing American campuses
and ordering them to take forceful action to end the problem.1 OCR mandated that
universities conduct investigations into any alleged instances of sexual harassment,
sexual assault, or rape. Until this point, some universities maintained standards for such
investigations under which the accused is found guilty only when there is “clear and
convincing evidence” of guilt. Although this is already weaker than the criminal standard
of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” OCR ordered universities to lower their standards
much further, so that defendants are convicted whenever it is “more likely than not” that they
The letter threatened universities with litigation or, worse, denial of federal
funding if they did not comply with OCR’s instructions. For the overwhelming majority
of universities, this would be a disaster, threatening the university’s very survival. Thus,
it would be in the interests of any university to satisfy OCR--even if it means sacrificing
some innocent students and professors in the process.
OCR upped the pressure when it began a formal investigation of CU-Boulder for
possible violations of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in
education. The impetus for this investigation was an undergraduate student who said that
she had been raped by another undergraduate student and the university had not
adequately punished the perpetrator.2 This investigation represented a very serious threat
to CU. Legally, the federal government can cut off funding if it finds that a university
harbors a “hostile environment” for women. Though this is an extremely vague term,
OCR’s letter mentioned that “a single instance of rape is sufficiently severe to create a
hostile environment.” (p. 3)
1U.S. Dept. of Education, April 4, 2011, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-
At CU-Boulder, the administration’s response was to vow to go beyond the
government’s recommendations and become a “national leader” in fighting sexual
assault.3 Since then, the administration has taken a number of actions apparently designed
to create publicity supporting their intended “national leader” image, to deflect blame
away from themselves, and to satisfy OCR.
How Sexual Misconduct Is Viewed in the Academy
As universities lower their evidential standards, universities and government sources are
at the same time broadening their views of what counts as a sexual crime. Thus, the U.S.
government’s National Women’s Health Information Center advises readers that “Sexual
assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces you to join in unwanted sexual
contact or attention.”4 Notre Dame University classifies sexual intercourse without
consent as rape and then adds that “agreement given while under the influence of alcohol
or other drugs is not considered consent.”5 According to the Dean of Students at Clark
University, “Examples of some coercive statements include: ‘If you love me you would
have sex with me.’, ‘If you don’t have sex with me I will find someone who will.’, and
‘I'm not sure I can be with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with me.’ Coercive
statements are often part of many campus acquaintance rapes. Being coerced into having
sex or performing sexual acts is not consenting to having sex and is considered
rape/sexual assault.”6 And according to the University of Michigan, “Examples of sexual
violence include: discounting the partner’s feelings regarding sex; criticizing the partner
sexually; touching the partner sexually in inappropriate and uncomfortable ways;
withholding sex and affection ...”7
These sorts of definitions are now common on sex education, rape awareness, and
university web sites, so that “rape,” “sexual assault,” and “sexual violence” may cover
such activities as having sex with a drunk person, talking someone into having sex,
criticizing one’s partner, and withholding affection.
University investigations are carried out by bodies that are systematically biased
in favor of accusers and against defendants. These are the bodies that have put forward
the sorts of definitions quoted above, and they are often insensitive to the harms of unjust
accusations. In 1991, an assistant dean at Vassar College stated that the falsely accused
“have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think
it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. ‘How do I see women?’ ‘If I didn’t
violate her, could I have?’ ‘Do I have the potential to do to her what they say I did?’
Those are good questions.”8
Those accused of sexual crimes in the university’s justice system are commonly
denied the protections built into the justice system of the wider society--such as the right
4http://www.womenslaw.org/laws_state_type.php?id=13048&state_code=PG; emphasis added.
8“When Is It Rape?”, Time, June 3, pp. 48-54.
to have a lawyer present during questioning, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the
right to review the evidence against one, the right to have the evidence judged by a jury
of one’s peers, and the right to appeal to a distinct tribunal. A recent editorial from
twenty-eight Harvard Law professors described the procedures at Harvard as
“overwhelmingly stacked against the accused” and lacking “the most basic elements of
fairness and due process.”9
All of this is part of the background needed to understand what has happened at
the University of Colorado.
The Adler Case
Patricia Adler was a tenured professor in the Sociology Department at UC-Boulder.
Professor Adler taught a large lecture course on “Deviance in U.S. Society.” On one day
of the course, Adler would have students participate in a skit in which undergraduate
teaching assistants would pose as prostitutes, and students in the class would ask them
questions. This skit, and the course as a whole, were carried out, apparently without
incident or complaint, for the twenty years that Adler taught the course.
In the fall of 2013, a student expressed concerns to the chair of Sociology that
students might be uncomfortable participating in the prostitution skit (though
participation was voluntary and not part of anyone’s grade, and no one had in fact
complained).10 The chair reported this to the university’s Office of Discrimination and
Harassment (ODH), who sent investigators to observe Adler’s class without her
knowledge. ODH determined, as they informed Deans Steven Leigh and Ann Carlos on
December 5, that there was no basis to proceed with an investigation into Patti Adler.
Nevertheless, at a December 10 meeting, Deans Leigh and Carlos told Professor
Adler that she would not be permitted to teach the Deviance course again, and they
further pressured her to retire immediately--this is Adler’s account of the meeting, as well
as that of another sociology professor who was present. Dean Leigh told Adler that her
course was too risky in the “post-Penn State environment” (note: in the Penn State
scandal, administrators were punished for covering up sexual abuse by football coach
Two days later, Professor Adler told her students that she was being forced to
retire. A public uproar followed.
The administration’s response? On December 16, in an email message sent to all
university personnel, Provost Russell Moore made remarks implying that Adler had
sexually harassed her students. On December 17, the local newspaper reported further
remarks by unnamed university officials suggesting that academic freedom was in
10The following account of the case is based on the “Report of the Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA) Ad
Hoc Committee to Investigate the Patricia Adler Case” (5/1/2014,
) and Sarah Bright’s “Professor Patricia Adler and the University of Colorado”
tension with the need to prevent sexual harassment.11 In a December 18 meeting with
faculty, Dean Leigh stated that “there have been concerns expressed over the years”
about Adler; however, he gave no details. In fact, neither ODH nor any of the three
previous chairs of Sociology knew of any such concerns prior to that semester.12 In a
December 19 message to all faculty, Chancellor DiStefano alluded to the need to provide
an environment “free from harassment and discrimination.”
Originally, the administration’s claim was that Adler’s prostitution skit violated
university sexual harassment policy because students might feel pressured to participate.
Later, they claimed that their concern was that the prostitution skit might be
surreptitiously filmed by students in the course, without consent of the participants. Later,
in response to the public uproar, they backed off and said that Adler could teach the
course again, including the prostitution skit, provided that a Sociology Department
committee approved it.
In the end, Adler wound up teaching the Deviance course once more, in the spring
of 2014. However, she did not include the prostitution skit, saying that students had been
spooked by the publicity and by the legal consent forms that Adler now had to present
them with. Adler then retired in the summer of 2014.
For their handling of the Patti Adler case, the administration was condemned by
eight groups that examined the case:
- “The AAUP Colorado Conference condemns the University of Colorado’s treatment of
sociology professor Patti Adler as a clear violation of academic freedom.... The
reported concerns of CU administration ... have no bases in principle or in fact....”13
- The national AAUP echoed the Colorado AAUP, adding that “there has been an
unwarranted and egregious violation of [Adler’s] academic freedom....”14
- The National Coalition Against Censorship, the ACLU of Colorado, the Foundation for
Individual Rights in Education, and the Student Press Law Center all concurred with
the AAUP “in expressing alarm over the University’s actions regarding Professor
Patricia Adler.” They warn that “The overly broad and irresponsible use of harassment
and discrimination investigations threatens to limit academic inquiry to the bland,
conventional, and uncontroversial, throwing a deadening pall of orthodoxy over higher
- The BFA committee that investigated the case found that there was no justification for
the administration’s punishment of Adler, that the administration violated university
policy, and that they created a threat to academic freedom. They recommended that the
administration take steps to repair the damage the administration had done to Adler’s
reputation. The administration has refused to do so.
12“Professor Patricia Adler and the University of Colorado,” p. 19.
- The Boulder Chapter of the AAUP joined the national and state organizations in
condemning the administration, and they called for the administration to retract its
defamatory statements about Adler.16 The administration refused to do so.
The Philosophy Department
For about a year and a half, the Philosophy Department as a whole has been under
sanction by the administration. Department Chair Graeme Forbes communicated this
situation to department members repeatedly in department meetings and cited it as the
reason why the department was denied permission to hire any new members. The
administration’s hostility centers on fifteen ODH complaints that the department had
accumulated since 2007 (but none of this was raised as an issue prior to the Title IX
investigation). At a meeting with several senior members of the department, Provost
Moore refused to answer any questions about the fifteen complaints--such as how many
different faculty members were involved, or whether any of the cases had resulted in a
guilty verdict. Nevertheless, he threatened to cut off funding for philosophy graduate
students if there was “even one more complaint.”
In the fall of 2013, the Department responded to the Provost’s concerns by
inviting a team from the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status
of Women to visit, evaluate the climate for women, and give the department advice on
how to improve its climate. This “Site Visit Team,” a committee of three feminist
philosophers, assured the department that their report would be shared with no one
outside the department, not even the administration. Department members assumed that
this couldn’t be used against them, that they might get some helpful advice, and that it
would help convince the administration that the department was working to improve the
climate for women. Chair Forbes repeatedly told department members that denying the
existence of a hostile climate for women would just result in a backlash from the
The Site Visit Team wound up writing a scathing report--representing the
department as filled with drunken, lecherous bullies--which (in violation of their
confidentiality promise17) they immediately sent to Dean Leigh and Provost Moore as
well as the department. In the wake of this, Forbes strenuously advised faculty members
that if the report should be leaked to the public, the department’s continued existence
would be doubtful. In a December 2 meeting with the department, Dean Leigh and
Provost Moore warned members not to mention the report to anyone outside the
department; they also warned that the department would face severe reprisals if it failed
to take responsibility and denied the report’s conclusions. Many members considered the
Site Visit Report terribly unfair and thought that it contained significant errors, but the
department was never given any chance to criticize or respond to the report. Provost
17The Team later lied about the confidentiality violation. The violation and the attempted cover-up are
documented by Michael Tooley, “Violations by the Site Visit Team of its Agreement with the Philosophy
Moore conceded that the report was imperfect, but he told the department that he had
“owned” this report and that they should do the same.
In January 2014, Chancellor DiStefano, Provost Moore, and Dean Leigh decided
to send the report to the local newspaper and post it on the internet. The administration
informed the department of this in an 8 a.m. meeting, the morning that the report
appeared--it was already posted on the internet as the meeting began. Along with the
report was posted a video statement by Chancellor DiStefano, directing blame at the
philosophy department and claiming credit for the administration for addressing the
problems of the philosophy department. DiStefano had decided a week earlier to release
the report and had prepared the video and a written statement to go along with it, to
control the media spin; he kept his plans from the department, presumably so that the
department would not have any statement of its own prepared that might conflict with the
administration’s line. This caused serious, long-term damage to the reputation of the
department, including all of its innocent members.
When asked why they released the Site Visit Report, the administration claimed
that they had received a CORA (Colorado Open Records Act) request, which legally
compels government employees to turn over certain kinds of government documents. It
later emerged that there was no CORA request for the Site Visit Report in particular, but
there was another CORA request, which apparently caused the administration to worry
that the Site Visit Report might be requested in the future and thus might become public
at a time when the administration was unprepared.
In the wake of the Site Visit Report, the administration decided to shut down
admissions to the department’s graduate program, with no information on whether or
when it would be reopened. They removed department chair Forbes and appointed a new
chair from outside the department, Andrew Cowell.
Earlier, Provost Moore had threatened to shut down the entire department, firing
everyone. The administration has maintained the “shut down” threat since then, but with
the conditions for dissolving the department left vague, so that department members are
left in a general state of fear concerning anything that might displease the administration.
In a meeting at the end of the spring, 2014, the administration-appointed chair, Andrew
Cowell, stated that this threat was still on the table, indicating that if the department did
not cooperate to address its alleged climate problem, the administration would dissolve
the entire department, then hire back only those whom they wanted and roster those
people in other departments. This appears to be the administration’s theory of how one
may dismiss tenured professors without the need to present any evidence of misconduct
or follow other normal procedures.
Was the punishment of the department justified? The department was never told
the details of what it was accused of, ostensibly because of university confidentiality
rules. However, many of the facts eventually leaked out via informal channels. It now
appears that exactly one professor in the department (Robert Hanna) was found guilty of
sexual harassment, but this was kept secret from the department at the time under ODH
confidentiality rules. The harassment is said to have consisted in sending amorous emails
to another faculty member and to at least one graduate student. In addition, it appears that
exactly one graduate student was found guilty of sexual assault--that was the case that
David Barnett looked into, where he concluded that ODH distorted the evidence to
support a guilty verdict. This, too, was kept secret from the department. This does not add
up to a justification for punishing the entire department.
The local chapter of the AAUP investigated the administration’s treatment of the
philosophy department.18 They issued a report “condemn[ing] several recent attacks upon
the academic freedom, shared governance, and due process rights of faculty,” concluding
that “Leigh and Moore’s tactics perpetuate a climate of fear and disregard for the
academic freedom and due process protections of faculty at the University of
The Kaufman Case
Dan Kaufman is a tenured professor in the philosophy department who is well-known
within the department to suffer from clinical depression. He is also known as a strong
critic of the department’s prominent feminist philosopher, Alison Jaggar. On one
occasion, before he was awarded tenure, Kaufman joked at a party that he couldn’t wait
till he got tenure so he could fuck with Jaggar. One of Jaggar’s students reported this to
the rest of the department. Jaggar then accused Kaufman of “gender harassment.” The
department chair reported this to ODH as a sexual harassment complaint. Though ODH
did not find Kaufman guilty of any policy violation, this became one of the 15 sexual
harassment complaints that were later used as evidence of the department’s harassment
In the spring of 2014, chair Andrew Cowell, aware of Kaufman’s psychiatric
condition, met with Kaufman. Cowell asked Kaufman if he (Kaufman) was a danger to
himself. Kaufman replied with a philosophical joke, to the effect that he (Kaufman)
wouldn’t kill himself, nor would he kill Cowell, unless Cowell turned out to be truly evil
like Adolf Hitler, or they were in a trolley scenario. (The “trolley scenario” is a
philosophical thought experiment in which a person diverts a runaway trolley so that it
kills a single person, to prevent the trolley from killing five other people.) Cowell
reported this conversation to the administration.
The administration then decided to ban Professor Kaufman from the campus.20
They sent police to his classroom to remove him. Cowell then sent an email to the
philosophy department, telling members that if anyone saw Kaufman on campus, they
should dial 911 “immediately.” He refused to give any information about why Kaufman
was excluded. A university spokesman later explained that “in the post-Virginia Tech era,
and in the shadow of the Aurora theater shootings,” the university had to take all threats
In the summer, after an assessment by a violence expert, the university decided to
let Kaufman back on campus.
19AAUP Report, p. 10.
This case prompted the AAUP to condemn the CU administration for violating
due process and for intentionally inflicting “maximum humiliation.”22 It has also
prompted Professor Kaufman to sue the university for $2 million.23
The Monton Case
Brad Monton is a tenured professor of philosophy at CU. In the spring of 2014, Monton
was a member of the Executive Committee of the Boulder Faculty Assembly (the BFA, a
campus faculty governance group). During a February 3 meeting of the Executive
Committee, Monton made a series of remarks critical of the administration’s treatment of
the philosophy department and describing some of the events mentioned above. These
remarks were summarized in the minutes of the meeting.
A week later, Monton was called into a meeting with Dean Leigh, Dean Mary
Kraus, and philosophy department chair Andrew Cowell. By Monton’s account, he was
pressured into retracting his remarks and resigning from the BFA. Cowell gave Monton a
letter stating that Cowell and Leigh had determined that Monton was deliberately lying to
the BFA. As punishment, Monton would be barred from departmental service and would
receive zero credit for service on his annual performance evaluation. Cowell reserved the
right to impose further punishments.24 Monton’s remarks were then deleted from the
minutes, with the new version of the minutes replacing the old version on the BFA web
site. (Both the original and the censored versions remain available on Professor Tooley’s
Later that semester, the administration announced that Professor Monton was
under investigation for alleged failure to report an amorous relationship with a student.26
(Note: under university policy, such relationships between faculty and students are
permitted; however, in some cases the faculty member must report the relationship to a
supervisor, and/or recuse himself or herself from evaluating the student.)
Finally, in November 2014, philosophy department members suddenly learned
that Monton had struck a deal with the administration, whereby they pay him $120,000 to
leave the university forever, and both parties agree not to sue each other. Monton is
reportedly leaving the profession of philosophy entirely.27
The Barnett Case
David Barnett is a tenured professor in the Philosophy Department. His view from the
beginning has been--as he once stated openly in a department meeting (when Forbes was
22AAUP, “Report on CU’s Treatment of the Philosophy Department,” p. 9.
24AAUP Report, p. 7.
chair)--that the department’s problem is not so much a culture of sexual harassment as a
culture of false accusations. In another department meeting, with Cowell presiding,
Barnett criticized the administration for damaging the reputation of everyone in the
department. On other occasions, Barnett raised concerns with Cowell about the
administration’s mistreatment of the philosophy department, and raised the concern that
department members were afraid to speak their minds on these issues.
Today, Barnett is in the midst of termination proceedings and has already spent
tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees. Of course, no one claims to be punishing
Barnett for criticizing the administration. The administration’s claim is that Barnett is
being fired for “retaliation” against a student who made a sexual assault complaint.
In 2012, a female graduate student (hereafter referred to as GS1) accused a male
graduate student (GS2) of sexually assaulting her at an informal gathering of students at
GS2’s house. The incident is said to have occurred in August. In October, a faculty
member heard the accusation and insisted that the student report it to ODH (even dialing
the phone and handing it to GS1). ODH interviewed the accuser and the other students
who were in the house at the time. On advice from a lawyer, GS2 declined to meet with
ODH. Though GS2 offered to respond to written questions, ODH refused to send any
questions for GS2, so ODH never heard GS2’s side of the story.28 ODH then found GS2
guilty under its “preponderance of the evidence” standard. By order of the administration,
GS2 (who had served as an instructor) was barred from ever working for the university
David Barnett, who was a friend and informal mentor of GS2, heard about the
case and tried to learn more about it. He spoke with all of the witnesses, apart from GS1
and GS1’s boyfriend. By Barnett’s account, the witnesses stated that ODH had
misrepresented their testimony, and the ODH report omitted key pieces of evidence
tending to exonerate GS2. Barnett wrote (or perhaps co-authored with GS2) a report
detailing the distortions by ODH.
Barnett sent this report, together with signed statements from the witnesses, to the
administration. In addition, he spoke with another professor, who had assumed that GS2
was guilty. Barnett tried to inform the other professor about the evidence that GS2 might
be innocent, but the other professor was unimpressed.
The university then hired a Denver attorney to investigate. The attorney’s report is
not publicly available, but according to rumor, it clears ODH of all wrongdoing. The
university then hired the same attorney to investigate Barnett for “retaliation” against
GS1. At no time did this attorney contact GS2 while conducting either of his
investigations. Meanwhile, GS1 filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that David
Barnett had illegally retaliated against GS1 for her complaint against GS2.
Legally, for Barnett’s action to qualify as prohibited “retaliation,” Barnett would
have to have acted for the purpose of retaliating against GS1, and not for some other
purpose.29 No one familiar with the case seems to believe that that was true; to all
appearances, Barnett’s purpose was to expose misconduct at ODH and correct an
injustice against GS2. It is therefore hard to see how GS1 could have won in court.
Nevertheless, the university settled with GS1 out of court, paying her $825,000.
One can only speculate about the administration’s motive. Perhaps, to stay on the good
side of OCR, the administration hoped to project an image of aggressively pursuing all
allegations of sexual misconduct and always taking the side of the alleged victim.
Perhaps they wished to avoid a legal battle in which Barnett’s report would become
public--and along with it the administration’s complicity in ODH’s dishonest practices.
Perhaps they wanted to make Barnett the scapegoat for the department’s alleged sexual
Whatever the reason, when the administration announced the settlement, they at
the same time announced that Barnett was being terminated--again managing the public
relations front and spinning the story as one about the administration’s commitment to
rooting out sexual misconduct.
At first, the administration claimed to be firing Barnett for writing the report on
the ODH case--which, they claimed, discussed GS1’s sexual history and portrayed GS1
as sexually promiscuous. In internet discussions, this was interpreted to mean that Barnett
had suggested that it was alright to rape GS1 because GS1 was promiscuous (even though
no one in the case was even accused of rape). The administration did not explicitly say
that; they simply left it as an unstated insinuation. In fact, Barnett’s report did not discuss
GS1’s sexual behavior other than on the night of the alleged assault and did not discuss
anything about GS1 other than what was obviously relevant to the question of whether
sexual contact between GS1 and GS2 had been initiated voluntarily by GS1.
Now it appears that the administration is claiming that Barnett retaliated against
GS1 by speaking with another professor and thereby damaging GS1’s reputation with
that professor. According to the administration’s legal theory, then, attempting to defend
an apparently innocent person, to someone who wrongly assumes that person to be guilty
of a serious crime, is illegal.
Barnett is now preparing to sue the university for $2 million for defamation and
for retaliation against him for whistleblowing.30 Likely Barnett’s reputation in the
profession has been permanently damaged.
The Faculty Affairs Committee and the BFA
During the summer of 2014, the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) of the Boulder Faculty
Assembly (BFA) began drafting a motion of censure against the administration for its
treatment of Patti Adler and the philosophy department. FAC accuses the administration
of “blatant disregard for the rights, interests and well-being of its faculty” and of creating
“a sense of fear, insecurity and distrust among the faculty.”31 FAC planned to bring this
motion of censure before the full BFA for a vote. However, before this could take place,
Paul Chinowsky--chair of the BFA and a longtime supporter of the administration--
effectively dissolved the Faculty Affairs Committee. In September, Chinowsky told the
chair of FAC, Marty Walter, that Walter was being removed from FAC and that as a
result of the shortage of members, FAC could not conduct any official business.
After FAC was reconstituted, FAC attempted to bring their motion to a vote at the
October meeting of the BFA. Chinowsky put that item at the end of the agenda for the
meeting, then ran out of time to discuss it. At the end of the October meeting, Chinowsky
moved to “table indefinitely” (that is, postpone consideration of) the motion from FAC.
A member asked “why not just table it until the next meeting?”; Chinowsky replied that
this was the same thing. The members then voted to table the FAC motion indefinitely.
At the next BFA meeting, in November, Chinowsky again left the FAC motion to
the very end. At the end of the meeting, as time was running out, Marty Walter moved to
resume consideration of the FAC motion of censure. Walter’s motion passed with 18 in
favor, 12 opposed, and several abstentions. However, Chinowsky declared that the
motion had failed because it required a 2/3 majority. He declared that the FAC motion
had now been permanently killed. (Chinowsky’s ruling here was indefensible under
Robert’s Rules, which dictate that a motion to resume consideration requires a simple
majority; however, the members present did not know enough about parliamentary
procedure to challenge Chinowsky at the time.)
Finally, at the December BFA meeting, the BFA debated and passed a weakened
version of the FAC motion, by a margin of twenty-seven to eight.32
As a result of the administration’s actions, there is now an extremely hostile climate,
filled with fear, distrust, and resentment, at CU-Boulder and in the philosophy
department in particular. In a department that was once collegial and relaxed, members
are now hiring lawyers, worrying about lawsuits, and censoring themselves for fear of
being the next targets of the administration. At the end of the spring, 2014, two
department members retired, and a third plans to retire at the end of the spring, 2015. At
least two of these decisions were influenced by the hostile climate. Over the past year,
three department members, partly influenced by the toxic climate, have considered
moving to other universities. Two of those were given unprecedentedly large raises and
persuaded to remain. The third case remains to be resolved. Hitherto, CU has been ranked
24th in the nation for philosophy, but the recent events may well destroy the department.
To assess the damage caused by the university administration, one must take
account of three facts. First, the field of philosophy is extremely prone to gossip. Thus,
nearly everyone in the profession has now heard about Boulder’s philosophy department
being filled with sexual predators. Most have also heard something about Kaufman,
Monton, and Barnett being disciplined in some way.
Second, many people read the first news story to appear on a given case but do
not follow the multiple minor subsequent additions that trickle in over the months or
years. Others do not even read the first story but gather a vague impression of the gist of
it from someone else. Thus, no matter what happens from this point forward, many
people in the profession will retain, for many years to come, the sense that the philosophy
department is or was full of sexual predators, and that Barnett, Monton, and Kaufman had
something to do with it.
Third, the profession of academic philosophy is extremely punitive toward
anyone even accused of sexual misconduct. For example, one philosopher recently
advanced the following proposal: if any philosopher sues any professor or student for
making a false accusation of sexual misconduct, then even if he wins the lawsuit, proving
in court that he was maliciously defamed, that philosopher should nevertheless be
blacklisted by the rest of the profession.33 Another philosopher proposed that with
allegations of sexual misconduct, philosophers should assume that the accused is guilty
until he proves his innocence.34 A third has argued that to doubt an accusation is itself to
violate the presumption of innocence, since one should presume that the accuser is
innocent of deception.35
As a result, the harm to department members caused by the administration is
serious, long-term, and possibly irreparable. Professor Monton will never work in
philosophy again. Professors Kaufman and Barnett will probably never be able to work at
another university and will have reduced academic opportunities (including speaking
engagements, paper invitations, and all other academic honors), possibly for the rest of
their lives. Graduate students graduating from the department will have reduced job
opportunities due to the stain of scandal associated with CU-Boulder. The department
will find it difficult to attract or retain faculty or students for years to come and will likely
retain a climate of fear and suspicion for as long as the present administration remains in
None of the above discussion is meant to downplay the importance of combating sexual
crimes or of creating a supportive environment for women. But the way to do that is not
to abandon our norms of justice so that we may simply punish more men regardless of
whether they be guilty or innocent. Nor is the preceding discussion meant to assess what
is or isn’t wrong with the Philosophy Department at CU-Boulder. Rather, the concern of
this discussion has been what is wrong with the administration at CU-Boulder. The
administration--specifically, Chancellor Phil DiStefano, Provost Russell Moore, and
Dean Steven Leigh--have demonstrated by their actions that they are not fit to serve the
University of Colorado.
33Eric Schleisser, http://digressionsnimpressions.typepad.com/digressionsimpressions/2014/11/how-toreduce-
34Hilde Lindemann, http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/open-thread-supportingvictims-
35Anne Jacobson, https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/its-about-your-predatory-friends/
Sunday, February 5, 2012
THE BLUE NOSE OF ACADEMIA II
Let me begin with another true case. A girl performs brilliantly in a humanities class during the fall semester. She seems to love the subject and admire the professor. She tells him she is unhappy with her practical major. She loves the humanities but her parents would not hear of her changing to that field. She particularly likes to write poetry and fiction. The professor offers to critique her literary work. She brings him one of her poems. He makes several suggestions as to how to improve it and shows her one of his published poems so she can see how he approaches writing poetry. They agree to meet again to discuss writing further. Before that happens, however, she becomes ill and is diagnosed with cancer. She cries inconsolably in his office, in a panic that she is going to die. The professor explains to her that her type of cancer is dangerous but treatable, which apparently her doctor had not made clear. The professor makes all sorts of allowances so she can complete the requirements for his class. Attendance is mandatory, for example, but he makes himself available for her to come to his office to discuss the course material at times when her treatment allows it, including a Sunday afternoon. During those meetings the girl often breaks down and sobs out of control. The professor is very sympathetic but also very restrained, for he is aware of the dangers posed by political correctness.
After the semester ends the girl goes back to her country of origin to receive the critical part of her treatment there. She writes to the professor that the treatment is not going well. The professor answers offering encouragement. During the next six months he sends her two short, compassionate messages, telling her that people back at the university are wishing her well and hoping that she will be back in the fall, arguing with others to her heart’s content. They are the e-mail equivalent of get-well cards. He does not receive an answer. He does not know whether she is dead, or too sick or too depressed to tend to her e-mail. Towards the end of the summer, as he drives around campus to get to a meeting, he thinks he sees her. Later he calls her phone and leaves a message to the effect that he hopes it is indeed her, for that would mean that the treatment worked. He does not receive a reply.
Later in the fall he runs into her when he is running to class. She tells him that the treatment has not been really all that successful but she is back anyway. He asks her to please stop by his office to give him more details, if she is up to it. Then he sends her an e-mail telling her when he is available for her to stop by. The professor feels a lot of compassion for his unfortunate former star student and is very worried about her.
Not long afterwards, the professor is told to see an administrator. The administrator tells him that the girl has filed charges of sexual harassment against him. The professor is shocked. There has been absolutely nothing of a sexual nature between him and this girl. Nothing. From him she has received, first, intellectual stimulation, and, then, kindness. What is the evidence? The he gave her a poem. And that he wrote her an e-mail even though she had not answered his previous two e-mails. The “evidence” is silly beyond belief. She does not point to any gestures or words by him that even remotely suggest “an act of a sexual nature,” as sexual harassment supposedly demands. But it doesn’t matter. He now has to respond to such bizarre, moronic accusations. Why would an administrator even bother with such silliness? Because if he doesn’t, the university could get sued. So he has to take the complaint seriously.
Had the girl tried the same stunt in her country of origin, or in most countries for that matter, she would have been laughed out of the place. Of course, had she not become corrupted by American academic culture, the notion would not have occurred to her. But it did occur to her. Compassion is one of the noblest of human sentiments. But in the climate of suspicion created by feminist political correctness, it is met with the worst of human sentiments: hatred.
I know of another girl who behaved in a similarly reckless manner 20 years earlier. Eventually the institution told her that her behavior had been highly irresponsible and, should it be repeated, it could lead to drastic consequences. 20 years later the administrator has to solve the “problem.” The professor has to agree to an “informal resolution” or else he has to put up with the scandal, a scandal in which he will be considered guilty by the “community,” even if he is actually found innocent. So he agrees. But it does him no good. The girl goes around telling everyone she meets on campus that he sexually harassed her. Girls are now afraid of him.
What should he have done instead? He should have sued her for defamation of character. But it is hard to sue someone who is suffering from cancer. Compassion wins again. And compassion loses again.
Welcome to the blue nose of academia. Accusations could be completely crazy and yet they have to be taken seriously. Indeed, they need not be accompanied by evidence, not even by made-up evidence. In the case I have narrated, what the girl brought up was laughable. Laughable. This feminist hysteria has led to the firing of many decent men, as I have mentioned previously. To be fair, it has also led to the firing of a few decent lesbians too.
To make matters worse, such hysteria extends even beyond sexual harassment to “date rape.” At another university a girl accused a boy of “date rape.” It was her word against his. The university promptly expelled him. But someone who is too dumb to understand the nature of political correctness went to the police. The girl ended up telling her story to the police. They started an investigation. The investigation led to an arrest warrant against the girl. Obviously the police believed that she had lied. Even then the university administration refused to reconsider the expulsion of the boy.
First you create a climate of suspicion against men. They are out to sexually harass college girls. The poor darlings have to exercise constant vigilance. So accusations are going to come easily. It is practically a duty. And then self-righteous administrators take over. Professors get fired. Going to court is not a very hopeful proposition. We have already seen how the courts set the constitution aside in their trumpeting rush to come to the aid of the “victims.” Some day we will be ashamed.
Monday, January 23, 2012
THE BLUE NOSE OF ACADEMIA I
One of the most insidious aspects of the present political correctness on campus is the puritanical hysteria that now establishes the guidelines for the relations between the sexes. I will argue that such Puritanism is indeed properly described as hysterical, that it threatens academic freedom and civil liberties, and that it hinders the cause for the equality of women.
Speaking about these subjects is very painful. It is painful because it will upset many friends whose goodwill means a great deal to me and for whom I have the highest respect. Nonetheless it seems to me that it is imperative to criticize their views, views which have become quite prevalent among those who feel deeply about the goals of feminism, and among some others who have very lofty ideals about the nature of teaching. It is painful because I had never imagined that the day would come when questioning the intellectual grounds for a point of view might lead to personal censure. And it is painful because as I realize that these things must be said, I also realize that they must be said plainly and in a very personal way. I would rather hide behind the euphemisms under which these topics are often discussed, and thus not risk being thought crude, gross, and offensive, in addition to politically incorrect. But I can’t.
If men and women are to be truly equal in academic life, or in any professional endeavor, they must be able to work side by side, and they must be able to participate and be treated as full human beings. This seems plausible enough, but apparently it isn't. For a full human being is, among other things, a sexual being. This means that some of those men and women together at work or higher education will be attracted to each other, will fall in love, or at least will want to engage in sexual relations. But this unavoidable consequence of bringing together men and women is highly unpalatable to the makers of the present climate of opinion. They feel that sexual allure or tension creates an atmosphere that makes inevitable the oppression of women, and so they move to eradicate what they see as the cause of the problem. Although the ramifications of this attitude affect many areas of campus life, I cannot discuss them all in this article. I will concentrate on the worst possible case: sex between professors and their students.
On my former campus, and to some extent on my present campus also, as on most other universities and liberal arts colleges across the country, most male professors, and many female professors, leave their office doors open when they are talking to students of the opposite gender -- "you have to protect yourself," they say (I always prefer to make a point of closing the door, whatever the gender of the student, as used to be required when I first became a professor: to protect the student’s privacy). In a place that emphasizes close contact between professors and students, the advice on how to protect yourself could fill volumes. Professors are terribly afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. I, for one, worry about it whenever I have a personal or academic problem with a female student. But there is also a generalized fear that even students with whom you have hardly spoken may accuse you, for in the present obsession with sex practically any remark in class or at a social event may be seen as potentially seductive, and thus as requiring chastisement. When I came to this country in the sixties I felt liberated, freed from the prudishness of my native Colombia. But now I feel the same sort of burden that Sister Victoria placed on the boys of my first grade class, when she repeatedly sent us to rip the glossies used for advertisement in the movie theatre across the street from the school - particularly offensive were those photos showing men and women dancing, or worse, kissing (remember all those porno musicals of the fifties, and those perverted flicks with Cary Grant?). That is a sick way to live. But that is the way we are expected to live as academics in this country.
This description of the situation may seem too outrageous, but I will back it up in the postings to follow. Indeed, I will claim that the situation is actually more outrageous than that: the present attitudes encourage some students to make up false and malicious charges against their professors. The result is a climate of fear and intimidation comparable only to that which exists in the universities of countries ruled by religious tyranny.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Nothing in academia brings as quick and sanctimonious a condemnation as the revelation that a professor, normally a male, has engaged in a romantic relationship with one of his students, normally a female. If you get caught, your career is over. Plain and simple, as I have heard many administrators state firmly, self-righteous chests rising to announce their determination to protect all those vulnerable co-eds from the nerdy predators who lust after them.
Yet when I was a student, and during the first part of my career as a professor, there was nothing outrageous about professors marrying their students, let alone dating them. When I was an undergraduate, I remember, one of my classmates would brag about leaving her lover’s bed to go to his seminar. And another had the personal goal of trying to seduce all of her philosophy professors. It is strange to think that today’s society finds that those two poor girls had their civil rights violated by the professors they managed to get into bed. Of course, we now live in enlightened times.
In the next few postings I would like to examine this new taboo. But lest people think that I just wish to shock for the hell of it, I would like to begin today with an example -- an extreme example of a love affair between a teacher and one of his students. They first meet when she is 13 years old. By the time she is 15 they are madly in love and they decide to get married. Had this love affair taken place today, the teacher would be sent to prison and branded a sexual predator for the rest of his life. And television pundits would squeeze their bleeding hearts for every drop while expounding on the horrible psychological damage done to the poor victim, the more so the fewer signs of resentment she shows against her former teacher.
Certainly, this example complicates matters quite a bit, for it carries sexual harassment into the criminal dimension. And the fact that it is a true case only shows that in former days women were so brainwashed by society that they accepted their exploitation at the hands of men without much complaint. But thanks to women’s liberation, women no longer must settle for lives without dignity. Surely, had that girl not been so victimized, who knows what she could have accomplished, let alone how happy she might have been.
Let me tell you what happened to her, and you will understand why I like this example so much. As it turns out, she became an intellectual leader of women’s liberation, a thinker respected around the world, a Pulitzer Prize and a Medal of Freedom Award winner. Being the beneficiaries of today’s progressive thinking, we might imagine that she was motivated to save other women from the terrible ordeal that she had to overcome. But surprisingly, she felt extremely fortunate instead.
She was Ariel Durant, the wife of the famous American intellectual Will Durant, a man who devoted his life to intellectual and moral integrity. Yes, the very man who explained that “To be one's 'deliberate self' meant to 'rise above' the impulse to 'become the slaves of our passions' and instead to act with 'courageous devotion' to a moral cause." So, what did Ariel Durant have to say about that sordid episode and the effects it had on her life? In a recording she made with her husband when they were both elderly, she said the following to him:
Every once in a while I had to go off and be myself and do my own adventures and I came back and I met people and we exchanged ideas, and meanwhile I was growing all the time. When you met me, Will, I was a tabula rasa, and you knew that it was because I knew nothing that you could make something of me. And because you knew that I was good for you; that my adventurous spirit, my energies, and my desire to know everything; I would fill myself up and I would bring it to you. You were stationary, you had to sit all the time; you had to read the words of books, the great knowledge in the world, and I had to go out and meet people, gather adventures and bring every kind of personality to you. I introduced you, didn’t I, to all the artists that were in Greenwich Village? I brought them to your table – you never knew with whom you were going to eat, did you? I brought them all to you from Woodstock. We had great adventures, but I brought the world to you so that, though you were learning the world from books, you had not had many adventures because you were almost like a little monk. From the age of four to the age of twenty-seven -- when you were excommunicated -- you knew nothing but Church history, Church philosophy and the word of God, but did you know much about the word of man? Did you know much about what man was around you, or everywhere within us? I was the adventure in your life and I brought you this life, and what did you do for me? You educated me; you quieted my wild blood. You brought unity and meaning to our lives so that now, after 59 years of marriage you have toned me down so that I may be a helpmate to you and I have been so happy to think that, as I believe in the Woman’s Liberation Movement, women should go shoulder-to-shoulder with men. I was so happy the first time that I saw my name with yours in the books that we were working on together for so many years. So many years of research and labor and love before we could see our names united before the whole world as representative of the unity that a man and woman can achieve and must achieve – and will achieve all over the world. I believe the time is right for all that -- with or without a Woman’s Liberation Movement. If you have character, endeavor, personality, courage and the capacity for concentrated labor, you will do what is your destiny – and, perhaps, even do it well. And for so much of the life that we have lived together, learning, contributing to each other’s way of life and character and considering the complexity of the universe, I have so many years of happy memories. And so much of it I believe I have to thank you for, Will. Not only all the attractions of a husband and a lover, but the deep companionship that has developed between us so that we almost have one breath, one life, one interest.
 Rubin, Joan Shelley. The Making of Middlebrow Culture, Univ. of North Carolina Press (1992)
Monday, December 19, 2011
THE INCREDIBLE BIRTH OF “HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT”
I should not fail to mention Vinson, the unfortunate Supreme Court decision that gave us the infamous "hostile environment" version of sexual harassment. The plaintiff had claimed that she had suffered all sorts of indignities at the hands of a supervisor in the bank where she worked, including being raped repeatedly in the bank’s restroom. Talk about a truly hostile environment! Of course, if her charges were true, the man had committed all manner of felonies and should be sent to jail. Had the criminal justice system failed her, she could have still sued the supervisor in civil court for the damages ensuing from his assaults. This is what the families of O.J. Simpson’s victims did. Vinson tried a new approach instead. The puzzle is, why did a rather conservative Court invent a new legal offense when traditional criminal and legal remedies were at hand?
The result is a legal and social nightmare in which large sections of the population are often deprived of their constitutional rights to free speech and due process, and in which companies all over the country settle obviously bogus cases for an average of about $65,000, because it is a lot cheaper than going to trial, and because they run the clear risk of a bizarre verdict whenever sexual harassment is involved.
It should be mentioned again that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mentions absolutely nothing about sexual harassment. Such words are not used and nothing remotely approaching the description of it appears anywhere in the Act. This is an area of constitutional law invented by the courts under the influence of feminist political correctness.
Strictly speaking, sexual harassment law can be justified only by making a strong analogy between sexual harassment and racial discrimination. But the intended analogy turns out to be spurious, as we have seen earlier. Therefore the presumed justification is also spurious. Sexual harassment law, as a subset of discrimination law, is a very serious constitutional mistake.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
QUID PRO QUO “HARASSMENT” IS NOT DISCRIMINATION
Clearly, what constitutes a hostile environment is more subject to political fashion than seems constitutionally permissible. Some years ago the Court struck down many death-penalty statutes for far less vagueness than this. It is this vagueness, however, that fuels the fires of political correctness and makes "hostile environment" into the source of the overwhelming majority of accusations and lawsuits concerning sexual harassment.
Nevertheless, for some strange reason, when sexual harassment is mentioned most people still think of the quid pro quo variety. The image that comes to mind is that of the boss telling his secretary that if she does not go to bed with him, he will fire her. This seems so much more damaging than "hostile environment." But is it a form of discrimination? No.
Most sexual harassment codes distinguish between two kinds of quid pro quo. In the traditional kind, the use of threats to obtain sexual favors, reasonable people ought to agree that it is impermissible. But two points must be made. First, there were already laws against it before anyone ever heard of sexual harassment. For such behavior is nothing other than extortion. A college professor in a private university in Southern California was recently found guilty of extortion in a criminal case. His crime was to extort money from foreign students by threatening to flunk them in his classes. Second, no one thought of accusing him also of discrimination, even though the students involved were not white. Analogously, the lecherous boss is not making his secretary a victim of discrimination. He is making her a victim of extortion.
The other alleged kind of quid pro quo sexual harassment is that in which the "harasser" accepts sexual favors in payment for hiring, promotion, or good grades. This is clearly unacceptable conduct, but how could it possibly be a form of discrimination? The situation is not different from that of a city official who takes bribes from a hoodlum. When the official gets caught he should go to jail for corruption, but surely not for violating the civil rights of the hoodlum!
Were the male boss to offer promotions or office perks in exchange for sexual favors — instead of issuing threats — he may be guilty of solicitation of prostitution. Were the woman to accept, she may be guilty of prostitution. But once again, this is not an instance of discrimination.
Some may worry about the arbitrary behavior that women may suffer in retaliation if they fail to satisfy their bosses’ sexual appetite. For example, after a nice affair, Mary tires of Peter, her boss, and starts dating the new man in the mail room instead. Peter begins to give her bad reviews and eventually has her fired. Shouldn’t there be a law against such behavior? Perhaps there should be. But it would be part and parcel of a more general labor law that protects employees from arbitrary behavior, not an instance of a law against discrimination. To see the point consider this other example. Peggy and Nancy have been best friends since high school. After graduating from college they both go to work for the same company, where they continue their friendship even though Peggy is promoted quickly and becomes Nancy’s supervisor. Enter the picture Roberta. Nancy and Roberta hit it off and become best friends. Peggy feels excluded and resentful. After a while she begins to give Nancy bad reviews and eventually has her fired. Her actions are arbitrary, but it would be really far-fetched to say that they are discriminatory. By analogy we can also see that Peter’s actions against Mary are arbitrary but not discriminatory. Notice also that Peter might direct his anger against the new man in the mail room, just as Peggy could make Roberta’s life miserable. Objectionable? Yes. Should there be a law? Perhaps. Is it discrimination? No.
Of course, if it is not discrimination, then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 cannot be used to justify any such legislation, either from Congress or from the federal bench.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
SCALIA’S UNREASONABLE OPTIMISM
On a court decision concerning sexual harassment, Justice Scalia writes confidently that the "reasonable person" requirement is "sufficient to ensure that courts and juries do not mistake ordinary socializing in the workplace - such as male-on-male horseplay or intersexual flirtation - for discriminatory conditions of employment." He should tell that again to a country in which reckless eyeballing has finally been made into a federal crime. In practice the "reasonable person" requirement has often been replaced by the "self-righteous, politically-correct person" standard. The example of the university employee’s posted cartoon, as well as thousands and thousands of other examples, show that what constitutes a hostile environment is more subject to political fashion than seems constitutionally permissible.
According to Justice Scalia himself, sexual harassment was legally born because Title VII "evinces a congressional intent to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment ..." In this receptive mood, the Court bought the peculiar feminist notion that sex is a man’s best weapon to keep a woman down.
The feminist rationale for sexual harassment law does expose one form of discrimination. Take, for instance, the notion that where a power differential exists consent is not freely given. For many influential feminists both John and Peter are guilty of discrimination since they both have supervisory power over Mary. This view has made its way into the sexual harassment guidelines of many colleges and businesses as a flat-out prohibition against romantic involvements between supervisors and those under their supervision. Notice, however, how this view militates against the legal equality of men and women. For it implies that an adult woman is incapable of making wise decisions about the most intimate aspects of her life, and that therefore the state has the duty to step in and safeguard her. In short, women workers and women college students are to be made wards of the state.
Women are thus made into a "protected" group (that is how they are treated by the Federal agencies that enforce Title VII and Title IX), just as affirmative action has made a variety of racial minorities into "protected" groups. The consequence is that women and men no longer receive equal protection under the law. At its heart, then, the very justification for sexual harassment law involves discrimination against men.
Notice that the feminist rationale could not have yielded all this body of law unless, as Yale law professor Vicky Schultz, points out, "The courts said harassment was sex bias because the advances were rooted in a sexual attraction that the harasser felt for a woman but would not have felt for another man." When such a rationale, adopted as a measure against men, leads to laws whose protections are later extended to men, and now homosexuals, we are deprived of all reasons, even bad reasons, for such laws, as I will explain in the Appendix below. For abuse of power by itself may be reprehensible, and in some cases illegal, but it need not be discriminatory. As I will argue in a future article, not even quid pro quo harassment can be shown to be discriminatory, although on occasion it amounts to extortion, which is already covered by other laws.
In defense of the prohibition against sex between supervisors and their powerless female charges, some observers draw analogies to the profession of psychiatry, in which it is considered unprofessional for a doctor to engage in sexual relations with his patients. Nevertheless, realize that the doctors are seen as harming their patients, not as discriminating against them. And their patients, by the very fact that they are mental patients, are supposed to suffer from diminished mental capacity. But I do not suppose even feminists would suggest that a woman suffers from diminished mental capacity by the mere act of becoming a university student or getting a job in an office.