Although I have a continuous supply of my own experiences involving women-in-science issues and phenomena, I also have a group of friends who feed me additional anecdotes. Today's story comes from one of my informants, who recently attended an exam-related meeting involving 4 male faculty and a female graduate student, and who was bothered by the choice of words of one of the other male professors at the meeting.
The male professor in question has a long history of inappropriate behavior with women students. As far as I know, he stopped sleeping with undergraduate students at least 20 years ago when he was reprimanded and temporarily banned from unsupervised interactions with students. In more recent years, he has confined himself to innuendo and occasional 'casual' touching of women students (hand on arm, arm around shoulders, 'friendly' hugs). It's hard to tell if his more recent behavior would seem as sinister without his prior history.
This post is not about why he wasn't fired and why he continues to lurk the halls of academe, but is instead about his current interactions with colleagues and students. People who know his history find some of his current actions and words offensive, although perhaps the same words and actions would not be offensive for someone without his record of appalling behavior.
This much is clear to me: He should not touch women students ever. More difficult is the 'free speech' issue. If this professor leans close to a female graduate student in a committee meeting and makes a remark that the other faculty present think is inappropriate innuendo, he can do that. He shouldn't, but he can and he does.
It is obvious to me that the best way to deal with this particular person is to stop inviting him to be on graduate student committees, and, for his colleagues who are so inclined, to tell him why. Students and advisors typically have a choice in the members of examining committees, within certain limits to assure objectivity and breadth. If someone cannot behave in a professional way, this person's access to graduate students can easily be reduced without any formal action or attempt to restrict what words he can use. This is something that individual advisors can do. There should be substantive reasons for making such a decision, but if that's the case, just do it.
8 years ago