Is the CU-Boulder Sexual Harassment Scandal Falling Apart?

Ben Cohen
About a month ago, this author expressed his deep suspicion of claims that CU-Boulder’s philosophy department had a sexual harassment problem. The story made national news after the school released a report prepared by a “site visit team” from the Committee on the Climate for women in philosophy. To this author at least, the report seemed to be oddly short on specifics, and what little it did have seemed rather trivial, especially in light of the draconian sanctions imposed on the department. Dr. Michael Tooley of the CU-Boulder philosophy department has come forward to offer an insider account matching this author’s suspicions.

The department Tooley describes consists of sincere liberals deeply concerned with creating an environment friendly to women. When the department found out that a faculty member had been punished for sexual harassment, they immediately formed a committee to study the issue, and see if there were any other problems. In Tooley’s retelling, they invited the committee in by unanimous decision, because they genuinely wanted to maintain a welcoming environment for women and minorities. What they didn’t realize was that the “site visit team” was not officially sanctioned by the American Philosophical Association, and might have an agenda.

Tooley anticipated the site visit team conducting an honest investigation into whether a hostile environment existed, but that wasn’t what happened, “In our own case, the site visit lasted a day and a half, with only three hours given over to scheduled discussions with faculty.  But when one meets with a group of individuals, one cannot ask people to talk about the sexual harassment or the bullying that they themselves have experienced.”

The site visit team also exaggerated the scope of the problem: “The facts as regards sexual harassment, however, are these. Only one tenured or tenure-track member of the Philosophy Department has been found guilty of sexual harassment, and that in two cases.  That person was punished both times, and in the second case, the punishment was not one that could plausibly be perceived, contrary to what the Site Visit Report tends to suggest, as “a slap on the wrist” (page 9): it involved, among other things, one semester’s suspension without pay.”

In other words, after performing a non-investigation, the site visit team declared that CU-Boulder’s philosophy department had a massive sexual harassment problem. What a surprise. Further damaging the team’s credibility, they may have misled the philosophy department as to the confidentiality of the report. Although the details are a bit fuzzy, Tooley has uploaded a document from the “site visit team” claiming that the report, and its details, would remain in the confidence of the team and the party requesting it. Tooley claims that the philosophy department alone requested it, team leader Dr. Valerie Hardcastle claims that the department and the Dean both requested it.

Astute readers will recognize a familiar pattern: Trayvon Martin, Duke Lacrosse, etc. When they spot a great white (male) defendant off starboard, a certain segment of the media abandons any form of professional skepticism, or objectivity. While we don’t know all of the facts in this case, it appears to fit this pattern. Sadly, these scandals keep happening because a certain number of people want to believe the worst, and will persist in their beliefs regardless of the facts.

About a month ago, this author expressed his deep suspicion of claims that CU-Boulder’s philosophy department had a sexual harassment problem. The story made national news after the school released a report prepared by a “site visit team” from the Committee on the Climate for women in philosophy. To this author at least, the report seemed to be oddly short on specifics, and what little it did have seemed rather trivial, especially in light of the draconian sanctions imposed on the department. Dr. Michael Tooley of the CU-Boulder philosophy department has come forward to offer an insider account matching this author’s suspicions.

The department Tooley describes consists of sincere liberals deeply concerned with creating an environment friendly to women. When the department found out that a faculty member had been punished for sexual harassment, they immediately formed a committee to study the issue, and see if there were any other problems. In Tooley’s retelling, they invited the committee in by unanimous decision, because they genuinely wanted to maintain a welcoming environment for women and minorities. What they didn’t realize was that the “site visit team” was not officially sanctioned by the American Philosophical Association, and might have an agenda.

Tooley anticipated the site visit team conducting an honest investigation into whether a hostile environment existed, but that wasn’t what happened, “In our own case, the site visit lasted a day and a half, with only three hours given over to scheduled discussions with faculty.  But when one meets with a group of individuals, one cannot ask people to talk about the sexual harassment or the bullying that they themselves have experienced.”

The site visit team also exaggerated the scope of the problem: “The facts as regards sexual harassment, however, are these. Only one tenured or tenure-track member of the Philosophy Department has been found guilty of sexual harassment, and that in two cases.  That person was punished both times, and in the second case, the punishment was not one that could plausibly be perceived, contrary to what the Site Visit Report tends to suggest, as “a slap on the wrist” (page 9): it involved, among other things, one semester’s suspension without pay.”

In other words, after performing a non-investigation, the site visit team declared that CU-Boulder’s philosophy department had a massive sexual harassment problem. What a surprise. Further damaging the team’s credibility, they may have misled the philosophy department as to the confidentiality of the report. Although the details are a bit fuzzy, Tooley has uploaded a document from the “site visit team” claiming that the report, and its details, would remain in the confidence of the team and the party requesting it. Tooley claims that the philosophy department alone requested it, team leader Dr. Valerie Hardcastle claims that the department and the Dean both requested it.

Astute readers will recognize a familiar pattern: Trayvon Martin, Duke Lacrosse, etc. When they spot a great white (male) defendant off starboard, a certain segment of the media abandons any form of professional skepticism, or objectivity. While we don’t know all of the facts in this case, it appears to fit this pattern. Sadly, these scandals keep happening because a certain number of people want to believe the worst, and will persist in their beliefs regardless of the facts.