Harassment II


Universities have a long history of harassment. I recall in my freshmen days that the only way to get a professor disciplined was to prove incompetence or moral turpitude – so if you had a problem you better get him into bed with your underage sister. Even then it wasn’t a sure thing.

Things changed over the years. By the early 90s professors’ doors remained open during meetings with individual students. To prevent the perception or possibility of anything untoward being underway. Professors could and did get disciplined for having sex with their students (not with students generally – just their students).

Still, the professor, backed by the faculty association and senate, was a pretty formidable force and in the context of the university it was very difficult to challenge them. They had a monopoly on academic freedom.

My ex-wife was doing her Masters at the University of Calgary. She was doing well in all her courses and was respected by the faculty in the department. There were exceptions. One professor, who pictured himself as a ‘gatekeeper’, didn’t care for Lynne. It was nothing personal; it was because she was a feminist and wanted to use feminist methods. He didn’t believe in ‘feminist’ methods – inquiry from a feminist perspective, i.e. changing the questions you chose to ask, not the way you ask them.

In any case, this professor took against her and two other feminists in the class. He failed two of them and gave the third a mark low enough to limit her academic career. This was not mere misogyny. There were other women in the class who did fine because they did not question the standard model or more precisely they did not question him.

All the systems of the university came into play. The Dean of Women ‘counselled’ her. The head of the department – Lynne’s thesis advisor – was concerned. Nothing could be done. He was the professor and was free to grade his course as he saw fit.

So finally I suggested another way. I had extensive experience with union grievances. I had, as a shop steward and local president, fought and won 21 of 22 grievances. I won, not because the workers were angels – far from it – but because management had been arbitrary, inconsistent and generally acted without evidence. Evidence was key. And when I looked at the evidence this professor was an idiot. He had actually amended posted marks to cause these failures.

I wrote a letter as my wife’s representative. No one in the department knew who I was (except Lynne’s friends and allies). Through various threats we forced a hearing. We went through the evidence and made our demands. Strike the course from the record, allow her to take it from someone else, remove this professor from any decision making process that would affect her. Do that or face the courts.

They caved. My wife was delayed in getting her degree but she got it. At the party celebrating the event, she tore pages from her methods book and burnt them. Not an effigy perhaps but good enough.

But that’s ten minutes.


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