Insanity in academia, or, reason #1,103 why you should stay out of grad school: Kangaroo courts

In “In the Middle,” a medieval studies group blog, Dorothy Kim and Jonathan Hsy have a post reasonably titled “Medieval Studies, Sexual Harassment, and Community Accountability.” But the body isn’t reasonable: Kim wants to adopt policies that demand being “Victim-Centered,” which in her view means among other things:

Don’t ask for ‘proof’.
Don’t treat ‘both sides of the story’ as if they hold equal weight.
Do not engage in any type of victim blaming behaviour.
Listen to the victim. Do it. And don’t judge.

And she quotes approvingly:

Did a woman just report getting sexually harassed? Eject the man from the conference.

This reminds me of the Harvard law professors who are protesting, for good reason, changes to Harvard’s policies.

We have adversarial legal and conduct systems because those systems are designed to balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the accuser. Being able to confront one’s accuser and hear the evidence against a person is part of that process—and for a good reason. False accusations exist and they too are a serious problem.

Formal bodies of almost any sort should have to adhere to evidentiary requirements and assume innocence. Otherwise you’re running a witch hunt. That witch hunt won’t necessarily be limited to men, either, as Jane Gallop writes in Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment.

If I went to a conference with rules like this I’d be tempted to accuse a woman of sexual harassment just to see what happens. Performance art may be the only appropriate respond to insane policies. I wonder too if Kim, Hsy, or the various approving commenters have read Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel.

I’m also curious about what sexual harassment constitutes. If a woman says to me, “Wanna come to my room and have a drink?” does that count? It shouldn’t. The line is tough to draw and is close to “I know it when I see it,” which may be one reason why it’s hard to draft good rules—and publicly available rules that are specific enough to be understood are another legal hallmark developed over centuries to prevent unfair punishment. If a woman offers to hug me and I feel uncomfortable, should that count? Possible examples proliferate.

Anyway, this post is also worth discussing because most of the comments about academic looniness and unreasonableness either blown out of proportion or misunderstood or whatever. In Kim and Hsy’s case, here are academics being their own worst stereotypes; the post reads like Rush Limbaugh-style caricature. It’s also a good example of yet another reason you should avoid grad school. See also “The ignorance and ideological blindness in the college sex articles: Kathleen Bogle and Megan McArdle.”

(I originally left a version of this post as a comment; perhaps not surprisingly, it was deleted. The open flow of ideas is not appreciated in all quarters of academia!)

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