Philosophy off the Rails?

Not long ago out here in Canon City, Colorado, a six-year old first-grader, Hunter Yelton, was suspended from school for . . . kissing a girl on her hand in a school reading group.  It was, according to current school guidelines, “sexual harassment.”  One news report noted that “no criminal charges have been brought against the first-grader.”  After sustained public ridicule, the school backed down a bit, but the question remains: HAS EVERYONE LOST THEIR MINDS?

The age-old battle of the sexes is reaching a climactic moment, I think. On the one hand, the first premise of feminism is that women are the absolute and complete equal of men in every way, because apparently we have lost the ability to make any reasonable distinctions between equal and same.  But the second premise is that women are still victims of men—everywhere and always.  Simple question: if first-grader Susie Yelton had kissed a boy on his hand, do you think she would be suspended for “sexual harassment”?  Of course not.  The war on boys—Christina Hoff Sommers and Helen Smith, call your office—proceeds apace.

In the old days, we might have told the young Mr. Yelton that his behavior toward girls in his class was not appropriate, because he’s dealing with young ladies who deserve respect, placement on a pedestal of sorts, and expectations of gentlemanly behavior from young men, etc.  Nowadays that kind of instruction in manners is forbidden by the Categorical Imperative of Gender Equity.  We’re supposed to be sexually liberated in every possible way (hence the various “Sex Week” programs on so many campuses), but if a male makes a public notice of this, he’s toast.  (Or perhaps, to put in in mathematical language: “sexual harassment + charm = flirting.”  Which means, by the principle of basic algebra, “flirtation – charm = sexual harassment?”  I guess so.)  The road to oppression is always paved in just one direction: You’re a man? Then you’re guilty.  Trial to follow.  (Need evidence? How about the feminists at Wellesley currently complaining about “sexual assault” from . . . a completely unrevealing statue of a man in his underwear.  Some people really need to get a life.)

Which brings me to the Philosophy department here at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  A couple weeks back a major scandal about the department became public.  Major scandal?  Well, one of the stories about it made the front page—above the fold—of the Denver Post.  According to the allegations, the male-dominated philosophy department (only four women professors in a department of 24 full time faculty) has been running a boozy long-time bad boys club, hostile to women and hazardous to undergraduate women in particular—a cross between the Miami Dolphins locker room and an after-hours culture that is a bad imitation of the Monty Python “Philosopher’s Song.”  (“Rene Descartes was a drunken fart: “I drink, therefore I am!“)

The faculty is also apparently nasty to one another, with a “poisonous” atmosphere, especially in emails and online listservs.  The department chair was summarily dismissed, and a new chair brought in from the linguistics department.  The chancellor of the university (a person I like a great deal) announced all this on a Friday afternoon just like they do in Washington when you want news buried, including a video that looked like a hostage tape from Afghanistan.

How do we know all of this?  The university commissioned an outside review by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women, whose findings can be predicted as easily as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1692.  Their report tells us that there have been at least 15 formal complaints of sexual harassment filed with the university’s Office of Harassment and Discrimination, but there are no details as to the disposition of any of these cases beyond a vague hint that there have been some sanctions imposed in some of these cases.  Because of the lack of due process in the star chamber campus world of sexual harassment, the tacit bargain these days seems to be that if you accept a punishment quietly, the matter will be kept confidential.

In any case, are 15 harassment complaints higher or lower than other departments?  We don’t know, since the university does not disclose harassment complaint data.  The time period for these complaints is not specified: was this over the last two years, five years, ten years?  Might be nice to know this.

The Philosophy Department, near as I can tell, is dominated by left-liberals, and like most American philosophy departments is heavily weighted toward analytical philosophy.  But I think they’re being hung out to dry anyway, so I took to the pages of the Boulder Daily Camera today in their defense. A couple of the key excerpts:

Likewise the report’s finding that “some male faculty have been observed ‘ogling’ undergraduate women students” should require something more substantial than was offered. Count me as shocked, shocked, that faculty ogling would occur. I am sure this has never happened before. Is there a relative scale for judging degrees of “ogling,” by the way? Is “ogling” a more or less serious offense than a leer? I get it that the “power relationship” of a professor over a student makes this kind of behavior more serious than the normal private behavior of frat boys on a Saturday night, but are undergraduate women presumed to be so helpless or defenseless as to be unable to process and fight back against the lecherous leers of an analytical philosopher?

And the conclusion:

The experience of a small number of faculty whose intellectual contempt for colleagues generates a toxic departmental climate is hardly unique to CU. But a report that avoids disclosing facts and details but rests instead on survey responses — an exceedingly weak form of evidence for charges so serious — falls short of any reasonable standard of proof. Barring more transparency, I think the presumption should be reversed: the Philosophy Department is the victim of the increasingly Star-Chamber atmosphere of campus political correctness.

But do read the whole thing.  I expect it will raise a ruckus with the genderbender set.

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