Harvard can get rid of an old guy with tenure

“Married prominent Harvard professor with tenure is placed on administrative leave following 18 accusations of sexual harassment spanning decades” (Daily Mail) concerns a guy to whom Harvard was obligated to keep sending paychecks until his death. Considering all of the virtuous Silicon Valley guys (example: Sundar Pichai) who start their pronouncements with “Because I have daughters…”, this part of the article is disturbing: “The 72-year-old is married and has two daughters.”

The tenure system was established at a time when it was legal and conventional to have a mandatory retirement age. So it was a job guarantee from age 35-65, not from 35-90. Will the #MeToo movement be the catalyst for meaningful access to university jobs for young people?

[Update: They didn’t even have to fire the guy… “Harvard Professor Resigns Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment” (nytimes).]


12 thoughts on “Harvard can get rid of an old guy with tenure

  1. ok then, what are males supposed to do to avoid a false sexual harassment lawsuit ?

  2. “Will the #MeToo movement be the catalyst for meaningful access to university jobs for young people?”

    No, but it will be the catalyst for meaningful access to university jobs for young WOMEN.

  3. @Anonimous: do you have an office? when you get in your office open the door and keep it wide open while you are in said office. Place your desk so people can see you and any other person through the open door. This is not new stuff. My father, a retired tenured professor, worked during the period students and junior colleagues were fair chase. He did not want any gossip about his behaviour, hence the strategy. It worked as advertised.

    For the curious, I have no idea what the strategy was for conference, but he usually dragged the whole family along.

  4. Philip,

    Tenure doesn’t shield this guy’s alleged crimes. If the claims are true, then it would be just cause for dismissal from the institution.

    Universities deal with issues such as sexual harassment in different ways (some do it well, others not). This probably tells us more about the incompetence of Harvard in dealing with the matter.

    (At my university for example, a 2n commission (which includes the union and the administration) would investigate whether the claims have merit. If they do, then there is a clearly defined procedure to terminate. )

  5. John: Exactly my point. Tenure won’t shield him. Thus, thanks to the accusers, Harvard can get rid of an unwanted 72-year-old and replace him with a younger more energetic worker at one third the pay. Any rational manager of a university would be encouraging survivors who say that they were victimized in the 1980s to come forward. The statute of limitations for any liability by the university have run out so the school can’t be sued. At the same time, the school can use the survivors’ stories to fire the unwanted senior citizen paycheck-collectors. (Maybe do the firing of the aged professor after an “investigation” by a young administrator with no training in the area of investigations. Or possibly, as at your university, convene a kangaroo court of untrained younger employees who will vote to push the old guy out onto the curb.)

    Federico: I don’t think your idea works over a multi-decade time period. Last week, for example, I was in a hotel room in Dallas, quietly typing at my computer. A woman from the housekeeping staff came in, let the door swing shut behind her, and performed a variety of tasks within the room. After she left, nothing would have stopped her from saying “The guest in room 431 aggressively propositioned me, stood between me and the door while demanding sexual acts, berated me for refusing, and I only narrowly escaped. #MeToo” (plaintiff lawyers love to use the word “berate”! There is really no way to defend against a charge of having “berated” someone) If you were on a jury, would you believe her? As far as I know, there were no cameras rolling within the room and therefore it would be entirely her word against mine.

    (Why did it work for your father? Those were different times. If a woman had gone up to your dad’s hotel room during a conference she wouldn’t have wanted that fact known to anyone, much less broadcast in the media.)

  6. “can get rid of an unwanted 72-year-old and replace him with a younger more energetic worker”

    Youth is not everything! I retired from my university post at the statutory age 65 and am now 85. I have published more and more significant material in better-ranked journals since retirement than before, and kept a 1-man lab going for 12 years on scratch funding too. This year, I have two publications, and what is predicted to be my last one seems likely to have wider and deeper effects on my field than any previous paper of mine.

    I may be an unwanted asset in the present climate of opinion, but so far as contributions to knowledge are concerned, my activities are more siginificant than those of many younger academics.

  7. I am a different anonymous than Anonymous. I do have a glass door on my office, and a glass window in my conference room. It just reduces the odds of inappropriate behavior on both parties, instead of eliminating it entirely. An office where anyone feels free to knock on my door and walk in with a question (and that can be a written policy in the policy and procedure handbook). is also a discouragement. Lastly, Phil, the housekeeper probably needs her weekly paycheck more than she needs a lawsuit that she may or may not collect on years from now and she may well be bejiggering the system in some other way that she does not want scrutiny of (eligibility for section 8 housing, SNAP, medicaid, and other quick cash government handouts for the “low-income” ).

  8. anonymous: The glass windows sound like a fine idea, but over a 40-year career at some point two employees are likely to be alone and not on video, right? In a corridor near the water cooler, for example. What stops Employee A from then saying that Employee B said or grabbed something?

    And, so far as I know, the housekeeper from last week hasn’t made any complaints about my behavior or even my totally uncool choice of the Windows operating system. But if I stay in hotels twice per month for 40 years that’s 960 coin flips. Even a tails-biased coin may come up heads after 960 trials…

    Aren’t you’re saying “Protect your investment in career training by relying on being lucky”?

  9. Phil,

    my dad would never work in a hotel room (lord, the kingdom of heaven is more likely to come than that), and my dad retired aged 77 nine years ago, so not too remote. If a woman had gone to his room she’d have found either an empty room or me and my siblings inside. I suspect we’d kill the mood. By the time he could travel without the damned progeny he still forced my mum to go with him — I think he genuinely though (and thinks, since he is till at it) he was offering her a great opportunity to travel with the most charming man she ever met.

  10. Where is Google Glass, why Google stopped this project? It is the prefect answer for us men who want to protect our-self from those nasty women!

  11. Janay Palmer was hurt more by her supporters than she ever was by Ray Rice. Hell, she married him 6 weeks after he hit in her the elevator.

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