Sexual Harassment in Academia
Yes, we are still talking about this, largely thanks to Colin McGinn. What I would like to do here is merely propose a hypothesis, born of reflection on all the incidents of harassment that have ever come to my attention within departments I’ve studied or served in. In every instance I can think of, if I try to recall as many details as I can about the object of the complaint, that person seemed to fit the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The gender ratio of NPD is apparently 75% male, and the incidence in the population about 1%. The percentage of heterosexuals is a contested issue, with some estimates as low as 90% and some as high as 98%: let’s call it 95%. If you are male in an academic environment with a narcissist colleague, you will soon enough conclude that the person is annoying and insufferable, but not much beyond that. If you are female, your experience is likely to be dramatically but often invisibly different. That suggests that there are two root causes of the persistence of sexual harassment in academia, and it may be that neither can be ameliorated to any significant degree. The first is the sheer ratio of men to women (duh): if a large majority respond to the problem person with “well, he’s annoying and insufferable, but so what?” instead of merely half of the group responding that way, action will obviously be lackadaisical. Second, if the person is already tenured, what can one do ultimately? Nothing will be effective short of firing the person, since the behavior pattern is likely to be incorrigible. Consider this one more argument for the abolition of tenure.