Lords of the Campus
Jun 23 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – Thomas Pogge is a professor of philosophy at Yale University, one of the most eminent educational institutions in the world. From there he directs the Global Justice Centre, which advocates, among other issues, the premise that the wealthy countries of the world have a moral and ethical responsibility towards providing aid to poorer nations.
In a dog-eat-dog world, Dr Pogge, at least on the face of it, stood for what is right.
But appearance and reality rarely coalesce, as an investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed last month. Pogge is also allegedly a sexual harasser. In 2010, a Yale graduate student named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar accused Dr Pogge of sexually harassing her and then retaliating against her for refusing him by rescinding a fellowship offer.
When the incident first took place, Aguilar, who is a foreign student, went to the Yale authorities to report what the professor had done. According to Aguilar, Yale University not only did not investigate her claim, but tried to buy her silence by offering a payment of $2,000. When she refused, a panel was finally convened to investigate the matter. Their report found that while it was clear that Prof Pogge had behaved in an unprofessional manner, there was insufficient evidence that the professor was guilty of sexual harassment. Pogge was permitted to keep his post, and teach at and direct the Centre for Global Justice.
All of that happened in the years 2010-2011. More recently, the Buzzfeed investigation revealed, Yale has been confronted with more evidence of Pogge’s alleged sexual harassment in his interactions with students from other institutions. In addition, in 2015, Fernanda Aguilar, whose case had been so deftly dismissed by Yale’s internal investigation, chose to file a federal lawsuit against Yale University for violating Title IX of the Equal Protection Act, under which educational institutions like Yale are responsible for eliminating hostile environments and taking action against sexual harassment. She has also filed a claim under Title VII, which prohibits racial discrimination.
Educational institutions offer excellent opportunities for power plays and harassment, whose targets are often, if not always, women.
Some of the allegations reveal the common modus operandi of most harassment situations: offers of better opportunities. In one illustrative incident, when Aguilar and Pogge were supposed to attend a conference together, she arrived to find that he had booked them not in separate rooms as she had expected, but only one room.
Yale University may be far away from Pakistan, but the issue of sexual harassment in the campus context is not. One recent case involves a pattern ironically quite similar to that of the esteemed Dr Pogge of Yale University. In March of this year, there was a news report about a case of sexual harassment filed at Karachi University against a member of the visiting faculty.
The complainant was a young assistant professor who said that the faculty member had barged into her office and behaved inappropriately with her. It was alleged that she was later subjected to similarly inappropriate behaviour, involving physical contact, by the same teacher in the office of another, senior faculty member.
In this case, like Fernanda Aguilar of Yale University, the teacher who alleged inappropriate behavior chose to do what most women do not: make a complaint. She is said to have first gone to the person in whose office the latter incident is supposed to have taken place and whom she believed would be supportive of her situation. When, as reported, he refused to take action, she filed a complaint with the vice chancellor. It took a month and a student protest for the university to form a three-member investigative committee.
The committee issued its report, stating that “there is no conclusive evidence available to the committee based on which the charges levelled by [the teacher] can be proved” and that she “took this incident too far ahead”. If it was not enough to dismiss a complaint that had allegedly taken place in the office of a senior professor, the investigation committee chose to level a charge of its own, saying that the complainant had “previous handshakes with him in the past”.
The tone of the report comes across as dismissive and accusatory, and is an indication of just the sort of obstacles that confront working women who insist on demanding a workplace that is free of harassment. Even while the investigation committee had to be formed under the Protection of Women against Workplace Harassment Act 2010, it appears that the members seemed determined to permit a culture of harassment to continue. In the words of an investigative reporter, such is the entrenched nature of sexual harassment that even dismissive comments by investigative committees have not been considered sufficient to establish that an inquiry could well have been biased.
Educational institutions, their formats of instruction and advancement, are by design hierarchical. Being so, they offer excellent opportunities for power plays and harassment, whose targets are often, if not always, women. In the case of Pakistan, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that allegations against progressive-minded professors are quickly co-opted by members of religious groups who want to ban women from the workplace and from educational institutions altogether.
All of it comes together to create a situation where men, religious or progressive, remain the lords of campus, their bad behaviour, their misogyny, their failure to respect women, all tolerated, promoted and considered entirely and completely acceptable.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. [email protected]
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan