Like everybody else at Marquette, we have been required to take an online Title IX training session, addressing sexual violence and sexual (and other) harassment.
We’ll leave the sexual violence issue for another post, and for the moment outline what Marquette has to say about harassment.
On the face of it, the rules aren’t too bad. For unlawful harassment to occur, the following conditions must be met. The action must be:
•Related to a protected category.
•Offensive to a reasonable person in the recipient’s position.
•Severe or pervasive.
That would seem to set the bar reasonably high for a finding of “harassment.”
Unfortunately, the content of the online training module makes hash of any and all the reasonable limitations the announced standards imply.
The Politically Incorrect Office
Consider, for example, a picture of an office, included in the module, in which one has to pick out all the potentially offensive or harassing objects. It’s loaded with them.
(You can click on the image to view a larger version.)
First, one that makes sense: an “adult” magazine is said to be out of bounds because it can contribute to a “hostile working environment.” Fair enough. But it goes downhill from there.
A sign saying “men working” is said to be unacceptable because a Kentucky human rights agency ruled it to be discriminatory, implying the exclusion of women. Might a feminist object to this: of course. Might a reasonable woman? No.
The Kentucky agency should knock off for a day and enjoy a little of the state’s excellent Bourbon.
Also out of bounds is a supposedly risqué photo. What does this outrageous, unacceptable picture show?
A couple at the beach in bathing suits. But the legend notes that “harassment complaints have been filed against workers who display photographs of their spouses in swimsuits.” Somehow, the folks who put this together think that attire that would be acceptable on any beach in the country, and indeed at the pool at Marquette’s Recreation Center, is offensive in an office.
Likewise, a computer screen saver showing a man bare from the waste up (but fully clothed from the waist down) may (it is claimed) create a hostile environment.
And while we are on scanty clothing, we are told that “some courts have required worksites to remove sculptures or painting that contain nudity.” Apparently, some other courts haven’t.
It adds, “what might be appropriate for a museum or an art class may not be acceptable for an office.”
We can imagine something truly gross that some deranged professor might choose to display, but if a professor of Greek Culture has a model of “Venus de Milo” or a professor of Renaissance Art a model of Michelangelo’s “David,” no reasonable person would complain.
The sculpture pictured seems bland enough.
And how could a student making an occasional visit to a professor’s office and seeing his wife in a swimsuit or a classic piece of sculpture face “severe” or “pervasive” harassment?
Of course, if a conservative Christian student complained about the public display of nude art on a university campus, she would be derided as a narrow-minded prude. But a different standard apparently applies to feminists.
And it’s not the case that feminists are put off by naked genitals. When Marquette’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center sponsored a program called Femsex
, one of the exercises required participants to draw in the Cunt Coloring Book
. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Other Protected Groups
Of course, the groups who are “protected” (at least in theory) extend beyond women. A sign saying “Over the Hill” is said to “contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of age.” We are pretty confident that only old guys would ever display such a sign. Can one harass oneself?
And a token nod (more like a head fake) is given to veterans. An anti-war poster is declared unfit because “extreme anti-war postings could contribute to an environment of harassment based on military or veteran status.”
While we like the idea that the doctrine of “harassment” equally covers both politically correct groups and politically incorrect groups, the poster in question is clearly in the area of protected free speech.
Further, on any college campus, military people have doubtless learned to “suck it up” and put up with leftists. So seeking redress is going to be absurdly rare. If they were the sort who whined about every hardship, they would have never joined the military.
Suppose it Isn’t Actually Unwelcome
People working through the module are quizzed: “Jokes welcomed by the recipient are never harassment. True or false?” The answer: “false.”
It is explained: “jokes related to protected categories can still be harassment, even if they don’t offend the recipient.” So you can be harassed without thinking you are being harassed.
Protection for Groups that Aren’t Protected
Finally, behavior that might be tacky, or even gross, is said to be harassing, in spite of not being addressed by Federal law nor directed at any protected category.
For example, we are told that ringtones that involve weapon sounds are “inappropriate.” But people who don’t like loud noises are not a “protected category.” Neither are liberal weenies who don’t like guns. Private employers may have rules about this, but the Federal government does not (yet).
Punishment for Politically Incorrect Speech
One little sequence in the course involves two women coworkers (Becky and Maria) who discuss their opposition to gay marriage. Another coworker (Hans) overhears them and is offended at their opinions. He reports them to Human Resources.
The conclusion of this little tableau is that Hans did not have to participate in the discussion to be offended by it, and the two female coworkers could be guilty of harassment.
Of course, political liberals are not a protected category, and all Hans was subjected to was hearing opinions that “offended” him. But like so many liberals, he believed that opinions he disliked should be shut up.
Thus Marquette University, in this “training,” has endorsed that view. Notwithstanding that the Catholic Church disapproves of gay marriage, merely endorsing Church teaching in a university setting can be harassment.
Would the two women have been able to complain if Hans had been spouting off about how he favored gay marriage?
Fat chance. Even if the rules claim to protect people in an evenhanded way, everyone knows they don’t.
How Far Do We Take This?
Thus employees of Marquette are clearly warned that expression can be harassment even if it’s:
•Unrelated to a protected category.
•Offensive only to an unreasonable person in the recipient’s position.
•Not Severe or pervasive.
•Discussion of a political issue
Since just about anything that somebody might happen to dislike seems to be included under the rubric “harassment,” isn’t the logical endpoint that any objection from anybody is sufficient to shut up any speech or expression?
Thus one is not surprised to find, in the course, the following statement:
Liability Avoidance Tip
It is best not to discuss any of the protected categories at work
So you better not discuss the relations between the sexes (a protected category), anything about race relations (protected category), anything about the status of veterans, anything about getting old (age is a protected category), anything about religion (yet another one) and so on.
In short: stifle.
This, it seems, is the logical endpoint of the bureaucratic mentality.
And the bureaucratic mentality dominates the administrative ranks of Marquette University. Like bureaucrats everywhere, they supinely accommodate the demands of special interest groups (feminists, gays and lesbians) and of overbearing government regulators (especially the Obama Justice and Education departments).
They will mouth silly things if they are being said elsewhere in academia. Whatever “initiatives” are fashionable elsewhere, they will mimic.
The current “training” module, for example, is a generic one from an operation called Workplace Answers, which specializes in providing cookie-cutter programs (each one just like the previous one) to places like Marquette. Complete with tacky stock photos.
Bureaucrats don’t much care for free expression, since that creates problems (although they will protect it if failing to creates bigger problems).
What is the Practical Import?
It is not clear how this will play out at Marquette. Perhaps the university is just going through the motions, and reasonable sorts of free expression will prevail.
For example, when some feminist in one of our classes claimed we had sexually harassed her by telling the class that feminists grossly exaggerate the incidence of date rape, the University dismissed the complaint
. The fact that we were obviously willing to raise hell at any other outcome might have been the deciding factor.
But when a graduate student in Philosophy posted an innocuous political comment by libertarian humorist Dave Barry on his door, somebody complained to department chair James South. South decided the comment was “patently offensive” and tore it down
. The University backed South.
So enclaves of authoritarian intolerance exist at Marquette, and doctrines of “harassment” are a tool they will happily use.
A genuinely Catholic university would be tough on real harassment (and without being bullied by the Federal Government), but would tell the perpetually offended and aggrieved “people are going to disagree with you; live with it.” And it would honestly say so.
But that’s not the Marquette we have.