Author Archives: Philip N. Cohen

When the campus sexual harassment policy doesn’t work

Which is, let’s face it, a lot.

We would all prefer a system for handling sexual harassment claims that used a fair and rigorous process of investigation and delivered proportionate consequences in a timely way. We don’t have that, for several reasons.

As I think about harassment in academic contexts, I’m struck by the problem of conferences, job changers, and cross-institution collaborations. Even if the internal process on a particular campus worked well, that would only address a subset of possible harassment cases. Academics change jobs (sometimes frequently) and they harass people who don’t work at their own institutions — but people who are nonetheless subordinates in the reputation system, or co-authors, or reviewees, or people who hope to work for the harasser or their friends and colleagues in the future. How can the campus-based system address these cases? As far as I know, it can’t. (For example, consider this good advice to graduate students about how to deal with sexual harassment, and ask how it would work if the harasser didn’t work on your campus.)

And of course even when cases fall within the jurisdiction of campus systems, these systems are often seriously flawed, inordinately focused on protecting their institutions instead of the victims (past or future) and the perpetrators are protected by tenure.

For job changers, biologist Jason Lieb, a multimillion-dollar grant recipient who quickly moved from the University of North Carolina to Princeton to Chicago, apparently trying to stay ahead of the sexual harassment and abuse cases that were trailing him, even as he continued to carry out new offenses. I don’t know what he’s doing now, but it seems that only public exposure finally dislodged him.

picture of Jason Lieb

This picture of Jason Lieb was still up on the page announcing his new job at the University of Chicago two days ago when I mentioned it on Twitter. Now the page has been taken down.

For tenure protections, consider Berkeley astronomer Geoff Macy, who got a slap on the wrist after repeated findings of responsibility for violating campus sexual harassment policies. Only after Buzzfeed blew the whistle did he lose his job. Buzzfeed also has a great story by by Tyler Kingkade about how hard it is to fire tenured professors for sexual harassment. English professor Andrew Escobedo remains on paid leave 18 months after the university concluded he sexually harassed multiple people. The story also details cases in which professors quit before they could be fired, as local investigations dragged on, which could protect them as they look for other jobs. That’s what Jasob Lieb did: “Dr. Lieb stepped down last month before any action was taken.”

Is sociology better or worse than other disciplines? We don’t know. But it looks like public exposure is necessary to apply pressure to improve this system. To that end, last week, Liana Sayer and I offered to help people bring cases in sociology to light. Read the post for more information on that.


See also: Adia Harvey Wingfield, “Are Universities Enabling Sexual Harassment and Assault?” from June, way before all this recent news. The Chronicle also had a rundown of cases the other day.

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Sexual harassment: Et tu, Sociology?

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Unrelated picture of Women’s March, January 21, 2017 / photo pnc

I once asked a journalist to cover a case of sexual harassment I knew about in a sociology department. In the discussion that followed, they told me that journalists aren’t the only ones who can do this, and that academia should police its own kind. Further, those of us who have tenure should step up and take some of the risk associated with cleaning house.

So my colleague Liana Sayer and I have an offer. If you have first-hand knowledge of sexual harassment in sociology, tell us about it. We’ll collect information and report on it.

We won’t sully reputations based on unsubstantiated rumors. But if there are serious problems going unreported, we should do something about it. We shouldn’t have to wait for someone more powerful to give us permission to speak up. Liana and I can take a little risk. And if the reputations of bad actors get damaged, that is OK — professional reputations should not be a ratchet, even if the tenure system makes it seem like they are. This has nothing to do with “witch hunts,” and everything to do with making our profession safe and productive and equitable.

As sociologists, we know that many, probably most, professional women have experienced sexual harassment in their training or careers — and we know that both the prevalence and impact of such experiences is shaped by the cultural and institutional context within which they work. In economics, a feminist initiative has taken on the “pervasive misogyny” in the field, prompted by furor over the discipline’s anonymous rumor board. In sociology we have not yet had such a catalyst.

Here’s our proposed procedure: Send an email to my gmail address (philipncohen@), tell us as much as you’re comfortable with, or simply ask us to call you. You can do this individually or in groups. We won’t discuss it with anyone at all until we’ve contacted you and agreed on how to proceed. We’ll ask you for more information if we need to. Before anything goes public, we will take steps to verify anything we can, and corroborate with witness, and so on — like the reporters do — with your permission. Then, with your permission,  we will report on the findings, and name names. This will include giving the alleged bad actor a chance to respond, but only after we are satisfied that there’s something to report regardless of their response.

If we don’t hit a threshold for what we consider responsible reporting, we won’t report anything. Of course, you can tell anyone else, including journalists or the police, any time. We’re not trying to get an exclusive, we’re trying to shine a light.

We are not defining sexual harassment in advance here; there are legal and normative definitions you can follow or not. We don’t need to meet a legal standard to speak up, but we need to be responsible and ethical.

If no one contacts us and nothing comes of it, great. If instead people decide to use some other method and ignore this, that’s great. If people talk about this issue just to say how much they hate me or I’m trying to get attention or I’m acting badly, that’s probably a good thing, too. If you think we’re just virtue signaling, we’re OK with that. If you conclude, “Oh they just want everyone to know they’re against sexual harassment,” that’s great — despite its bad rap, “virtue signaling” is also how norms happen. (On the other hand, if we get swamped with messages we’ll have to decide how to triage the cases. With your permission, we might recruit help.)

We hope this will be part of elevating the discussion to the point at which we start to take steps to improve the situation more systematically. We want to see better policies and practices, which could at at the level of the American Sociological Association, our colleges and universities, or our departments. In light of the obvious retreat in federal policy toward Title IX and sex discrimination enforcement, we need to find creative, proactive responses. We hope evidence will help.

Disclaimers: We’re not lawyers, and we don’t give legal advice. We’re not doing this as a part of our job duties at the University of Maryland. If a court forces us to turn over what we have, we will. My lay understanding of the open documents rules in Maryland is that our private email is not subject to records requests to the state, but I could be wrong. If you choose to contact us, you’re trusting us to do our best, and we will do our best. We can’t promise any result (or any response at all if we don’t know what to do). If we fail and it becomes a disaster and people try to fire or sue us, I hope we’ll figure out how to win it.

 

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Interrogating Ethnography comments

pnc-sign-at-northwestern

Elite law schools have better views.

I’ve edited out 4 minutes of stammering and ums, and a couple of errors, from my comments on Steven Lubet’s new book, Interrogating Ethnography: Why Evidence Matters, from this conference held over the weekend. So here it is in 16 minutes:

It turns out some people saw things differently from how I did, and I had a lot to think about. Comments welcome.

(There was a court reporter and video, so a complete record of all the panels should be available at some point.)

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Sources for Interrogating Ethnography conference

I’m at this conference today for the launch Steven Lubet’s new book Interrogating Ethnography. Since I’m going to mention the things I’ve written about Alice Goffman’s work in On The Run, I’m putting the links here for easy reference:

My comment to the American Sociological Review about problems with the survey in her article and book is here. The rejection I received from ASR is here.

My blog posts are:

They say the sessions at this conference will be recorded and made available later.

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The amazing lack of gender progress in Hollywood, Weinstein and not

With gender and Hollywood in the news because of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, I haven’t seen anyone count up the women who produced his movies. I counted off every tenth movie from his 300 or so producer credits on IMDB, and eyeballed their names (or images) for gender. The result: 23% of 373 producers were women.* (Some have a lot of producers, but if you use movies as the unit of analysis the average is also 23%.)

Here is the breakdown of these 30 movies, by decade:

harveydecades

Weinstein seems to be right in line with the industry on this. (With a range of 5 to 70 producers listed, none had more than 50% female producer teams.) Producer jobs are the most gender integrated of the major behind-the-scenes leadership positions in Hollywood movies, as reported by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. And, like the other major positions, in his movies and in general, there is zero movement toward gender integration in the last two decades.

womenintvfilm

In turn, Hollywood looks a lot like the economy in general, which also shows basically no progress on integrating women into leadership positions over the last two decades. Here is percent female among those employed in managerial occupations (using the IPUMS occ1990 coding scheme for consistency):

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Putting women in top leadership positions is not a panacea for gender inequality. But for the sexual harassment situation I am quite sure it would help a lot. Harvey Weinstein’s sex crimes may or may not have been an open secret in Hollywood, but the lack of women in positions across the industry, and the economy, is plain for all to see — and to act on, if they choose.

For other posts on movies, mostly having to do with gender, follow the movie tag.


* If someone wants to code all of his movies I’ll happily update this. Here’s the list I generated:

Year Men Women Percent Female
The Burning 1981 5 0 0.00
The Pope Must Diet 1991 7 1 0.13
Pulp Fiction 1994 6 1 0.14
Jane Eyre 1996 6 2 0.25
I’m Crazy About Iris Blond 1996 4 1 0.20
Cop Land 1997 8 2 0.20
Wide Awake 1998 6 2 0.25
Talk of Angels 1998 3 3 0.50
In Too Deep 1999 6 1 0.14
About Adam 2000 4 4 0.50
Backstage 2000 7 3 0.30
Mimic 2 2001 5 1 0.17
Heaven 2002 10 5 0.33
Chicago 2002 8 3 0.27
Bad Santa 2003 7 1 0.13
Finding Neverland 2004 6 3 0.33
The Brothers Grimm 2005 11 0 0.00
Scary Movie 4 2006 5 2 0.29
Death Proof 2007 6 4 0.40
The Great Debaters 2007 6 4 0.40
The Meerkats 2008 7 1 0.13
Halloween II 2009 10 1 0.09
The King’s Speech 2010 14 1 0.07
I Don’t Know How She Does It 2011 5 4 0.44
Escape from Planet Earth 2013 13 3 0.19
Lee Daniels’ The Butler 2013 31 10 0.24
Suite Francais 2014 8 4 0.33
Regression 2015 13 2 0.13
Wild Oats 2016 54 16 0.23
The Upside 2017 7 0 0.00
Total 288 85 0.23

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New books on the block: Enduring Bonds, The Family (2e), Contexts (3e)

Suddenly I have news on three books to offer.

My brand new book is called Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible. It is in press at the University of California Press, to be published in February (order from UCPress or Amazon).

EnduringBonds-cover

It’s a collection of essays that originated on this blog, all substantially revised and updated. For several chapters this meant combining posts in a series to make a longer essay, including those on sexual dimorphism in popular culture, marriage promotion, parenting and children’s names, and the Regnerus Affair.

The title comes from Anthony Kennedy’s Obergefell decision (at the suggestion of Judy Ruttenberg, my wife and the one with two history degrees, who knows about pulling titles out of primary sources). It’s about the good and the bad of bonds. From the introduction:

Kennedy wrote, “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” It took the late justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative Catholic, to point out that marriage isn’t really about freedom. In his furious dissent, Scalia mocked the idea that people find “freedoms” in the “enduring bond” of marriage. “One would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage,” he scoffed. “Ask the nearest hippie.” Scalia had a point.

I hope you like it, for you or your students.

The Family (2e)

Also on the block is the second edition of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. It’s also in press, available for adoption next fall (I don’t recommend ordering right now from Amazon, but you can check the book page at Norton for exam copies and instructional materials). In addition to integrating marriage equality throughout the book, and hundreds of updated references, the new edition benefits from reviews by many instructors compiled by Norton, leading to more material on gender identity, aging and old people, and role of technology. I also wrote a “trend to watch” feature for each chapter, with data-driven speculation about the future for classroom discussions. Norton will release it with their new InQuizitive instructional tool, which is state-of-the-art pedagogy. The new edition was a lot of work (for a lot of people) but I think it was worth it.

2eCover

The Contexts Reader (3e)

Finally, as we wind down our editorial tenure (sniff!) the editorial team of Syed Ali, Letta Page, and me have produced a new edition of the Contexts Reader, also with Norton (order info). It’s more than 60 of our favorite pieces from the magazine we’ve been editing for the last three years, most of them new for this edition (and with a beautiful cover photo from Scott Matthews, who has provided most of our cover images). Undergraduates are a huge part of the Contexts readership, and we’re super proud that this book has been a big part of thousands of students’ introductions to sociology. (Also, the royalties from this one go to the American Sociological Association, not us!)

reader3ecover

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Craptastic

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Your bright future written in the sign over a urinal (Photo: pnc)

I don’t know where it came from, but sometime after the 2016 election the word craptastic started rolling around in my head. Eventually it congealed into the title of something I want to write.

Some people use craptastic to mean “so bad it’s good,” like bad food you love. But to me it’s that thing you say when you thought something was going well — maybe turning around from a bad situation — and it suddenly turns out to be even worse than you thought. An early use appears in a 2007 young adult novel called Two Foot Punch:

“Come on. Now that we know where Derek is, we can get help!”

“Not yet,” I say. My voice becomes weak, even for a whisper. “He told the guys that if anyone comes, or if something goes wrong, they’re going to kill Derek.” …

Rain leans against the duct, shaking her head. “Craptastic.”

The situation with Derek was bad, but then they found out where he was (lucky break!), but it turns out if they act on that he will be killed (craptastic!).

Joy-Ann Reid has a descriptive piece up at Daily Beast called “The Enormous Emotional Toll of Trumpism,” in which she writes:

Dr. Jeffrey R. Gardere, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, said some of his patients over the past nine months “have expressed much frustration, unhappiness and stress with the present political climate,” and that he is seeing increased instances of “dysphoria, and sometimes the related eating and sleeping interruptions.”

We all know this is happening. My theory for Craptastic is that the catastrophic thinking and uncontrollable feelings of impending doom go beyond the very reasonable reaction to the Trump shitshow that any concerned person would have, and reflect a sense that things are turning around in a suddenly serious way, rupturing what Anthony Giddens describes as the progress narratives of modernity people use to organize their identities. People thought things were sort of going to keep getting better, arc of the moral universe and all that, but suddenly they realize what a naive fantasy that was. It’s not just terrible, it’s craptastic.

If that’s true, I suppose, it would be felt more strongly by relatively privileged people, who had the luxury of believing their good lives were just a little ahead of the lives of those obviously much worse off, so being happy wasn’t a betrayal of humanity, it was just a little premature. Now, they feel not just bad, but worse. (My insider perspective on this is a plus, right?)

I suspect that if America lives to see this chapter of its decline written, Trump will not be as big a part of the story as it seems he is right now. And that impending realization is one reason for the Trump-inspired dysphoria that so many people are feeling.

(Cohen forthcoming)*


* If you love this idea and want to help make it happen, please contact my agent. Or I guess be my agent.

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