Thursday, December 07, 2006

Seuxual Harassment and Protecting Yale Professors

On November 22, a former Yale employee filed a civil suit against Yale. The woman, Mary Beth Garceau, worked as a secretary for the Chair of the Yale Pharmacology Department, Dr. Joseph Schlessinger. In her suit, she claimed that she suffered from innumerable incidents of sexual harassment during her three years as his secretary, and that when Yale refused to act on her complaints, she was forced to resign. The Yale Hippolytic blog has excerpts from the suit as well as a link to the full document. I encourage you all to read the post.

I don't want to speculate about Dr. Schlessinger's innocence or guilt, but I do think that these accusations reveal problems for women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. When the harassment comes from a superior, as in this case, it's hard for a woman to vocally object without fearing that she will lose her job or that such objections will only exacerbate the current condition. It's even worse when women have the courage to come forward only to have their concerns summarily dismissed. Garceau claims that she asked Yale to address her concerns but that Yale administrators made it clear that Dr. Schlessinger was too valuable to the university to warrant such an investigation. Do certain employees or, in Yale's case, certain professors, have license to act in a morally reprehensible way because their contributions (e.g. Schlessinger's work in cancer research) are so valuable? I'm thinking about the accusations made against Harold Bloom, besides those that Naomi Wolff made several years ago (on a side-note: I realize that not everyone believed Wolff's story, but I'm still troubled by how she was vilified by the media and by those at Yale). Do we think that such a system exists at Yale, one in which certain professors are infallible no matter what testimony is heard against them? If this is the case, then gender discrimination in Yale's administration is more pervasive and insidious then I thought.

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