Saturday, July 19, 2008

Making jokes vs taking them

Over at drug monkey’s, we were discussing discriminatory behavior on the part of university units not under our control, and how to respond. Being a bit of a cowboy, I prefer action over words, so here’s the story of how I responded to a low grade harassment issue last year:

Back when I was a technician at the ANU, one of the female PhD students complained about a sexist joke that had been mailed to professor Y and stuck up on a bulletin board in a public area.

I suppose we could have involved the system, but the sexual harassment officer* was more interested in grabbing ass than promoting a positive work environment, and the complaining student was concerned about appearing to be a person without a sense of humor (this is Australia after all- few personal traits are more important).

A close look at the printed email revealed the sender to be Professor X, and overseas researcher who I knew well enough to ascertain that a humor based solution could be effective. So I sent professor X the following letter (after running it by the aggrieved student to gain her approval):

Dear X,
As sexual harassment officer at the Research School of Earth Science, it has come to my attention that you are the owner of a remote control found in the unspecified common room after a late night "analytical session" conducted by the former professor Y last November. In case your recollection does not extend into past semesters, the offending unit can be viewed here:
Let me state in no uncertain terms that this sort of equipment is unacceptable at the Australian National University. Your behavior has been reported to the University X board of regents, and to the US EEOC. These institutions will doubtless begin their own investigations. If you wish to avoid the fate of Ms. (formerly Prof.) Y, we suggest you immediately perform the following acts of contrition:

-Agree to voluntary surveillance of all electronic communication with the university to detect bias, abuse, or humiliation.
-Guarantee that all meetings with female ANU personnel he held with a chaperone.
-Provide all current female RSES grad students with a 3 year, fully funded post-doc upon completion of their degrees.
-Submit, to the spring or fall AGU meeting, an abstract that repudiates your previous body of research on elemental partitioning between phases A through G. You must instead present a feminist theory of geochemical differentiation, which empowers individual geologic systems to take their personal thermochemical evolution into their own hands. Particular emphasis must be placed on the rights and abilities of anions in a Catriarchal paradigm under which electron acceptors have been historically repressed.

Failure to complete all these acts of contrition will result in swift and terrible punishment at the hands of the university disciplinary committee.
Sincerely yours,
Chuck Magee
Lithophile harassment officer

And just to be sure the message sunk in, I cc’ed his wife in on it.

Who’s the joke on now?

* This was the SHO from when I was a student. I wasn’t sure if it was the same person or not still in that role. Either way, I had faith that the system was only good for protecting the University's reputation and/or empowering the really nasty people who game the system for sinister ends.


Anonymous said...

You cc'ed his wife: Yessss!

Anonymous said...