Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Science Lady Asked For It

A few months ago I wrote about a strange man who had been wandering into my office and acting in a disturbing way. He continued to appear at random times throughout the summer, in my department and in other science departments, and was seen stealing books. He pretended that he was my student or was working for me, and frequently asked people where I was and how to contact me. On numerous occasions when he made an appearance, I or others called the campus police, but he was never caught.. until today.

Today he showed up in my office and I sent off a quick 'call the police' email to a department colleague who checks his email every 8 seconds. The strange man left my office, and I wasn't sure if my colleague had called the police, so I called the police myself and they came quickly and apprehended the man. Because I had made the call to the police, I had to identify the man as the 'person of interest', and he started shouting at me that he hadn't done anything wrong and I had no right to call the police on him. The police issued him a citation for trespassing and let him go, then the police officer came to my office and proceeded to criticize me for how I have handled the situation.

First he told me that if I don't want to be bothered by people like that, I should keep my door closed at all times and only open it for people I know. He said "I don't think it will wear you out too much to have to get out of your desk chair from time to time and walk all the way to the door, ask who is there, and open it. Then you can return to your desk chair." Perhaps he has Issues with people who work in offices?

I invited harassment by provocatively leaving my office door open?

Then he asked me if I preferred to be listed on the report as "Dr." or "Professor". I said that it didn't matter, either was fine. He said "Ooooh, how nice for you to have all those titles." That was bizarre as well. This is a university campus and this police officer is a member of the campus police force. This place is littered with PhD's, and some of them are even women.

Then he said "If this guy has been bothering you since May, why haven't you called the police before?". I said that I had called the police before, as had many others in my department and other departments throughout the summer. He said that he had no record of this. I said that he could talk to the administrative assistant in the main office for a full accounting of the trespasser's activities, and he could also check with the Other Science Departments to find out what had been stolen from them. He replied "Yeah sure, me and my crack team of investigators will get right on it, science lady." Then he rolled his eyes and walked out.

Lest anyone think that my days are relentlessly grim and filled with people who insult and patronize me, I have had many fun and interesting interactions with colleagues and students, and a major paper that I worked on for years was published this week.

29 comments:

Andre said...

I am so angry right now I could eat my keyboard!!! You don't need me to tell you, but calling the police was completely justified. That officer should be disciplined for his _revolting_ behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Ick. You should report the interaction to someone higher up, not your department chair, but the provost or someone like that. Schools just have to be on the ball about stuff like this. We've discovered at our University that we're supposed to have a policy about harassment, but the campus police just don't take it seriously. And, on our campus, someone had to die before people started talking about it. It makes me ill.
bj

Dr. Shellie said...

Hi-- I might have commented this before, but it's worth saying again: my former university had 2 officers within the campus police department who were specially assigned to stalking and harassment cases. I suspect this is true at many universities. (Unfortunately, stalking/harassment cases are NOT uncommon.) If you haven't done so already, tomorrow during working hours, I suggest that you call the police department non-emergency line and talk to the supervisor on duty; ask to be connected to the officer(s) specializing in these cases. Explain the response you got today when you called the line and tell them that in the future, you need to be able to reach an on-duty patrol officer who is familiar with the history of the situation. If you have the time, I would go in person rather than calling, since it makes more of an impression. The response you got today is unacceptable. This particular officer may not treat such situations seriously enough, but I am fairly optimistic that if you take this up the chain of command, they will.

Dr. Shellie said...

One more thing-- when you talk to the police, make sure that they have a full record on file, including former calls from you and others in the department, history of citations/arrests, etc. This file should also be accessible to the officer in charge of harassment/stalking/trespassing cases; make sure they find it. If you ever do feel like closing your door, it can be helpful to get a "peephole" installed if the door has no window, so you can see out without opening the door. (Building maintenance staff can do this for you.)

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your paper. But please, call the officer's boss - if not for yourself, for the hundreds of less-brave and more vulnerable souls he treats similarly. Thank you.

brad said...

As one who has been on both the academic side, and (as an undergrad) on the police officer side, I strongly recommend that you pursue the matter of this particular officer's conduct.

Yes, many campus police departments employ troglodytes. Unfortunately, it's par for the course. But for every two cave-dwellers on the force there will be an enlightened officer with integrity. That's the person you need to find.

From reading your blog over time, it seems as if you need to escalate your, and the university's, response to this stalker. Seriously. You need to find that person of integrity in your university's police force and resolve this matter.

What you don't want to do is make the caveman officer's behavior the intro to this discussion. Save your dissatisfaction, if that's the right word, for later. Once the seriousness of the stalker situation is acknowledged, then you can bring it up.

I guess my point is that you need to find someone in the campus police force who takes your situation seriously. My experience is that once that happens, they make that situation their personal special project, and that once that happens the problem usually goes away pretty quickly. Yes, rarely, the stalker has a cache of automatic weapons, but in the vast majority of cases they just go away quietly.

JoAnne said...

Thanks to the officer's bungling of the incident, you now have a very serious situation on your hands. Your stalker now knows that you don't want him around, but also knows that your university isn't so concerned. There is a possibility, infinitesimal but non-zero, that the stalker could get angry enough to take revenge. No matter how small that possibility is, you and your university cannot slip and let it happen.

You need to do 3 things: (i) take Dr. Shellie's advice and talk to the supervisors on your campus police force. *Right-away, first thing tomorrow, do not hesitate!* (ii) inform the provost of what has happened. Only as a FYI matter, but the provost does need to know. (iii) inform your department chair of what happened and that you have informed the provost and talked further with campus security. Both are likely to chat with your department chair and it is better if he hears about it from you first.

If nobody in your university understands how serious this situation could become, then you need to take one of your job offers. If nothing else, every institution should realize that they don't want to be on the 10 o'clock news.

I had a stalker about 10 years ago. I told the senior member of my group about it. He was immediately alarmed and alerted the lab director, who in turn alerted the security guards at the gate, and the man was not allowed on the laboratory site again.

Anonymous said...

You absolutely need to escalate this, but I recommend going up the academic side rather than up the police hierarchy. Go to your dean (or an assistant or associate dean), taking your department chair along or not as you prefer. I'm the dean of sciences at a big research university. If something like this was brought to me, or to any of the chief staff people in my office, it would be taken very seriously -- and I know from experience in similar cases that we can go directly to the campus police chief and be taken seriously. Any dean who has been around a year or two not only understands the institution's harassment and disciplinary policies, and how to work effectively with the campus support units like the police and facilities, but also has probably learned about the uses and limits of restraining orders and other ways to deal with difficult nonaffiliates. And he or she has a good network for spotting troublemakers who might be moving from building to building, as well as patterns of inappropriate behavior from people like your police officer. The provost is too far from the action, and a department chair's life is too sheltered. Go to your dean. --Anon Dean

Anonymous said...

Good lord, you need to get rid of that big magnet for these jerks that you must have somewhere in your office. Most of us have to deal with the average asshole every few days, but it seems like they just gravitate to you. I'm sorry for all this trouble. Your husband should give you a nice hug. And daughter too.

Anonymous said...

I would first write up a detailed report about the stalker, another for the officer. Email these to collegues, chair, dean, provost, president AND go in person to the police chief right away. Stress that you now feel unsafe. Be nice, sensible, but firm on the need to have this guy gone.

David Moles said...

What the hell is your campus police department for, and where do they get their officers?

meijusa said...

this sounds awful, i hope you can soon leave your office door open in peace, free from stalkers and police idiots.

Auntie Em said...

Crap on toast! Talk about not getting how academics work. Coming from the UK I've never understood the notion of a separate university law enforcement body. In the UK we use the local bobbies, same as everyone else, so they bring their wide experience of the full gamut of crimes.

It always concerned me (on behalf of my friends working in US institutions) that campus plods might be a little, shall we say, "live and let live" about matters that the regulars would come down harder on. The temptation to write things off as "youthful exuberance" must be great. But I assumed that, on the upside, at least that campus coppers would know how, y'know, a campus works.

It seems from the last few posts that you're the one with the Sisyphean task of pushing these matters up the hill, only to have the come rolling back down on you. But this is worthy of one giant heave - I only suggest you don't do it alone.

Rebecca said...

Gosh, FemaleScienceProfessor, how awful! No suggestions here, I'm too busy looking on the floor for where my jaw landed after it dropped off my face from reading this!

Anonymous said...

what??????

That is unacceptable. I get Prof. Troll is one of those fossils that every dept seems to have, awkward in his interactions and old-far-fashioned in his thinking, but this policeman was just insulting.

How can he possibly think it is reasonable for you to keep your door closed at all times, are you supposed to get a peephole? isn't campus supposed to be safe? isn't that sort of his JOB??

I am so angry on your behalf. I think you need to report him. I doubt it will do any good in changing his mysoginist mind, but at least there will be a record and if this keeps being a pattern, somethinig may be done about it.

What an absolute jerk. I almost wish you were making these things up, but unfortunately, I've met people like this too.

Anonymous said...

I must say, from all your stories, that your University seems worse than most, or at least worse than mine. Consider this in deciding whether to move elsewhere.

Alexis said...

I generally concur with brad. I, too, briefly worked security, eventually leaving it to play at working in academia, so I have seen both sides of the coin.

I distinctly remember a particular conversation I had with a security coworker in which I was explaining a very basic scheme for tagging animals with GPS devices as a way to track them. His exact response was, and I quote, "Wow, you're like a genius, huh?" Tracking. Animals. Genius. Burble burble...uhhhhh...huh?! It defied belief then, and still to this day I barely have words to describe my shock.

In other words, there are a lot of spectacularly stupid security personnel out there, but there are also usually one or two "super-geniuses" on staff who understand the very difficult concepts of tagging, tracking, stalking, and the like. Search out one of those individuals - preferably by approaching them as a peer and not a plebeian security guard - and you should have your problem handled beautifully.

usagibrian said...

What the hell is your campus police department for, and where do they get their officers?

What he said. That officer is in need of serious discipline (if he'd worked under my father (ret. 1st Sergeant State Police), he'd have been canned already.

You need to escalate this ASAP. Prof. Troll is just annoying, this guy could be dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Tell the campus police department and someone in the PR department at your University that you might just call the News to let them now that some stalker is around. They will immediately take care of it before being on TV with bad publicity.

I did that once because someone in Payroll send my check to somebody else and didn't want to give me my money. I threaten them with letting the media know I was being robbed and I got my check the next day!

Good luck with it.

Lab Cat said...

Hugs of support here because unfortunately you are going to have to take this further both within the academic line and to the campus police department.

Action about the police officer needs to be taken as I am concerned about how this officer reacts when female students report harassment and for your own safety.

Do you have a senior female colleague who you can talk to and take with you to any of the meeting suggested in the comments above? It will be support for you AND she might be able to get the University to take this more seriously.

maria said...

hi fsp, I have to say that it sounds like time to go over to the police station, and your dean's office. The fact that your stalker now knows that he is unwanted, and that you, who he is particularly attached to, called the police on him, is a real concern. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Get. Him. Fired.

He is not competent. You should expect basic civility from any police officer, even if he will not be able to do much to help you. This is not really like complaining about another prof in the department (who you'll have to live with in the future) or about a person with more power than you.

I am not all that brave but I would complain loudly and repeatedly to this clown's superiors.

sandy shoes said...

Holy crap. Officer Asshole is in the wrong line of work. How satisfying it would be to facilitate a career change for him.

Underscores to what everyone said above about going up the ladder on this one, and all their reasons for saying it.

alpinekat said...

I'm in agreement with all those who are disgusted by the incompetent behavior of the police officer and hope that you take further action.

And since he made a big deal about the open door -- it's a little thing that has an effect on students. At least, it made me feel more welcome and less like an interruption. So keep the door open if it's safe.

ReluctantChemist said...

You, know - all his behavior does is to provide evidence to support the stereotype that men who go into law enforcement do so because they have some kind of insecurity problem. It does a disservice to police officers everywhere.

usagibrian said...

Actually, other offices that haven't been mentioned but should be alerted are HR and Student Services. Just request a clarification from HR that you've been informed by Campus Police (name & badge) that it is now school policy that female professors should keep their office doors closed at all times for their own safety and request an updated faculty handbook to that effect with a CC to Student Services. Let them do the dirty work from there on.

julie said...

Keeping reporting strange people if they have nothing to hide so be it but if they do you will be helping others in the future if a person gets enough report it gives the authorities what they need.

Fitz said...

Oh my god. You need to report this lousy condescending treatment to the university president, faculty council, student newspaper, and university consul's office, not to mention this caveman's boss. Please, please follow up and let us know that there has been some retribution.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

With respect to this post and your previous troll posts... wasn't there some mention of you and your partner looking to move to a new institution? Is that going to materialize? Because it sure doesn't seem like this is a very friendly place period, let alone very woman-friendly. How do you manage to get any work done on campus?

I've had experiences with large university and small college campus police, and I can't even fathom that this sort of behavior from them would be possible. I've called them with soooo much worse/crazy situations. In college I had to call for help when a 10 foot python got loose from its cage and was crawling into the wall of the science building... the responding officers wouldn't grab the tail to keep it from wrapping itself around me and suffocating me. I guess I can't blame them, but they certainly spoke to me in a professional manner the whole time. (We ultimately went with their suggestion, to call Animal Control. The python was long gone by the time they arrived. It turned up 6 months later on top of the autoclave, looking extremely fat. No one fessed up to having any small mammals missing, so no telling what (or who?) it had been eating.).