taking a class with a professor who harassed someone

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by latitans, Apr 9, 2018.

  1. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    so tw: sexual harassment

    I found out a few months ago through the Shitty Men in Academia list that a professor at my university sexually harassed one of his grad students. He made advances towards her, got increasingly aggressive, and when she rejected him, he tried to ruin her career. He called her a narcissist who was incapable of feelings, and essentially shit-talked her all through the department. Our field is really small--this type of thing can actually stop someone's career in its tracks. She went to the Title IX office, but there wasn't much of a response. The department didn't really do much either. There wasn't an exact date given with the story, but certain information given suggests that this was about 15 years ago.

    I don't have any other details than that, but I don't have any reason to doubt the story. I haven't interacted with this professor personally, mostly because he was on sabbatical and hasn't taught a class since I've been at the university.

    But here's the problem: next semester he's teaching a seminar that's almost exactly on the topic of my dissertation. It would be a perfect class to fulfill some of my coursework requirements. But how do I take a class from someone who took advantage of and harassed someone who trusted him, and who he was supposed to be helping and mentoring? How could I go to his office hours, knowing what I know? How could I feel comfortable taking his advice on my research?

    I'm disappointed in my university, and in my department for how they handled this. I don't know who I should go to for advice, or even if I should bring it up at all.

    I know, logically, that nothing will probably happen. For one: it's been years, and since he already has a complaint on his file, he probably knows that another one would result in him losing his job. So he's probably watching his step now. For another: although his actions definitely show evidence of some deep-seated misogyny, even creeps don't want to date every woman that they come across. So he's not particularly likely to pursue me.

    But I'm still scared, and frustrated, and a little sick over it. Part of me wants to not take the class as some sort of boycott, but I'd kind of be shooting myself in the foot.I shouldn't jeopardize myself and my research because he did something wrong, right? But it feels disrespectful to the woman he harassed to take his class, too. But I don't want to let some dude's shitty actions chase me out of my field, and keep me from doing the good work that I know I can do.

    I talked about this a bit with my s.o., but I still feel like I need some outside perspectives. Help? Please?
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2018
    • Witnessed x 8
  2. Alaspooralice

    Alaspooralice An actual trash fire

    Oh jeez I can see why you feel conflicted. I think if it were me I'd take the class and just keep an eye out for myself and others in the class. Maybe take someone with you if you need to see him during his office hours just to be safe.
    • Like x 2
  3. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    I think I will end up taking the class, yeah. Gonna dig my heels in. It might make me a bit ornery, but there are worst things to be.

    This decision would be a bit easier if I knew who else was in the class. Most of the other students in my department are great, and I would trust them to have my back. But a few of them are kind of...I don't know exactly how to explain it, but they can be kind of dismissive and obstinate in class. (One of them also never does any prep for class, which is a bizarre combination.) And it's pretty likely that they'll be in the class. It's also likely (though not 100% sure) that I'll be the only woman, which isn't a new experience but seems extra weird given the rest of the situation.

    Blegh. I wish I was just sure that someone would have my back if things went south. Even if it wasn't a full-on harassment situation, it would be nice to have someone I trust to do reality checks with. Like "okay that thing that happened in class was Bad, yeah?" type stuff.
    • Witnessed x 5
  4. ZeroEsper

    ZeroEsper Well-Known Member

    Seconding what Alaspooralice said, and adding that you shouldn't feel guilty about taking the class. It's the professor's fault he sexually harassed someone, and it's your department's (and your university) fault for not firing him. You aren't condoning his actions, you need a class and unfortunately he's the one teaching it.
    • Agree x 4
    • Like x 2
  5. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    Okay yes that was definitely something I needed to hear again (my s.o. said that I shouldn't feel guilty, but I was still worried about it). I just have to keep reminding myself that I'm not condoning him, I'm just using his class to do work that will help me get my doctorate. And that there's nothing that I, a student 15 years later, can do about the harassment that happened.

    I guess the thing that keeps tripping me up is that it feels like by taking his class, I'm saying that I think he has worthwhile things to say on the topic, and that I could learn from him. Which, yeah, that's true. I'm definitely pretentious, but I'm not so bad that I can't see that a fuckin tenured professor knows more than I do. But admitting that feels weird.

    Like, I know that people who abuse and harass other people can still be good at other things, or make good art, or have a good idea about something else. It's just hard to reconcile when it's right in my face.
    • Witnessed x 4
  6. ZeroEsper

    ZeroEsper Well-Known Member

    I totally understand. I'm in a somewhat similar position. But you don't have to punish him by refusing to take his class - it is/was the school's responsibility to address his behavior, and them failing to do that isn't a reflection on your morals.
    • Witnessed x 2
    • Agree x 1
  7. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    I'm really sorry you're having to go through something similar. Get it together, academia.
    • Agree x 3
  8. Chiomi

    Chiomi Master of Disaster

    There's the possibility he's grown as a person since then?

    But yeah, reiterating: there's nothing wrong with you taking the class. Pursue what you need to for your dissertation.

    Also, are you in a single-party consent state for recording? Because that can be a way you can cover yourself and have solid evidence on the very dim chance that something does happen. Or - is there anyone in your program who'd benefit from taking the class? You could ask them to take it with you.
  9. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    So, an update. Apparently, from when the informal course listings were released and to actual class registration, the professor's plans/the department's needs changed, and he is now instead just teaching an undergrad lecture.

    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
    • Like x 2
  10. ZeroEsper

    ZeroEsper Well-Known Member

    Glad to hear it, sorry he wasn't fired :(
    • Agree x 2
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