A university professor has an exalted position, not only on campus but also in society. A professor’s students should have higher expectations of his/her behavior than they would of fellow students and others in society. Professor Dobyns was found guilty of sexual harassment by Syracuse University. Not only was a female student harassed and embarrassed, the reputation of the University also suffered. The verdict was appropriate, given the circumstances.
A student attended a university sponsored party where she met the English Department graduate students and faculty members. At that party she was approached by Professor Dobyns. She was not close to Dobyns, they had only exchanged a few words of casual conversation. He immediately made aggressive remarks and acted in a belligerent manner. The girl ignored the professor’s overtures and turned away from the situation. Dobyns’ reaction was to make a comment to another male about her breasts. Such a remark, of course, turns the situation into one of a sexual nature. Again, the student showed no reaction. While she was walking away Dobyns yelled out, “Stalinist bitch!” When she reacted to the remark with silence, he became very angry and threw his drink in her face. This act clearly shows not only that Professor Dobyns has no respect for his female students, but also that he has much to learn in containing his tongue and his temper.
Professor Dobyns was representing the University when attending the party. He was there in his capacity as a professor and should have acted accordingly. As a professor there should be a trust between students where they can feel comfortable. When that trust is broken both the student and the University suffers. Dobyns portrayed not a professor but an arrogant rude male who thought it was ok to interrogate his female students. Students need to feel comfortable and aware that their teachers will be there for them on and off campus for guidance and advice. Not to be intimidated and bullied by them. Someone who is recognized as a distinguished poet and novelist should be fully aware of his duties as a teacher and how to express himself appropriately.
One of Dobyns colleagues stated in his defense, “Clearly, my friend is guilty-but only of bad behavior. You don’t go throwing drinks in a student’s face and talking about her breasts.” Dobyns’ friend admits that he was in the wrong. But how could she possibly perceive his behavior as not being a verbal form of sexual harassment. When Dobyns was commenting on her breasts he was not just showing bad behavior, but a kind of verbal sexual harassment. She even talks of how Dobyns connects with other men with crude talk about sex. That’s ok out of school, with his friends, but he shouldn’t be using that kind of language with his students. If a similar scene had occurred during a fraternity party, and a male student had made the offending remarks, it still would have been harassment but it wouldn’t have affected the female student’s ability to study or how she perceived the university. Dobyns’ colleague also referred to his victims as,
“Victorian damsels in distress,” who were crusading against dirty thoughts and loose speech. She is clearly trying to make his behavior appear more innocent then it really is. These girls are not damsels in distress they are victims.
Professor Dobyns was suspended from his job without pay for two years, banned from campus, required to perform 200 hours of community service, and pay $600 in compensation. I agree with all of the sentence except for being suspended from his job without pay for two years. Suspension for one semester would most probably be a sufficient sentence. Merely to have been found guilty and all of the negative publicity that goes with that is a real slap in the face to a distinguished professor. Something that will remain with him for the rest of his life. Suspending the professor for two years does not serve any purpose. In every other respect Professor Dobyns is a capable instructor and should be allowed to continue his academic career providing he has learned how to respect all students.
This is a very sad episode that should never have happened. Every student has the right to expect his professors to act in a professional and helpful manner. When a professor does not live up to the high standards expected of him, then the student and the university loses. Professors are held in high esteem. If one of them oversteps their boundaries, then all of academia suffers.