Hung out to dry

University’s dastardly deed.

 

Bettina Arndt

Jan 1

     

 

   
         

Four days before Christmas one of our elite Melbourne universities committed an act of total bastardry. They announced they were firing a tutor working in one of their colleges. His employment was terminated forthwith – just in time for the festive season.

This young man’s story should send a chill through the ranks of every man working in an organization in Australia. His crime was sexual harassment, defined strictly by the rules of ‘believe women’ justice, where her version of events became gospel whilst his stood for nothing.

The glaring lesson which emerged is there is nothing men can do to protect themselves from malicious accusations. This guy, I’ll call him ‘Chris’, was an ultra-cautious man, very conscious of the need to maintain professionalism in his role as a residential college assistant and tutor. He’s a thirty-year old with a PhD, in his first job after achieving his PhD in social psychology, a position which required him to provide pastoral care, living amongst the students and supporting them.

All was going well until one of the girls, let’s call her “Eve,” took a shine to him. He hadn’t even registered it was happening until a member of the administrative staff pointed it out to him. Chris then took strenuous measures to ensure professional boundaries were being kept, such as: telling staff and students repeatedly that he would never have female students alone in his room; making sure doors were kept open if he was with females in a common space; changing his personal phone number so students couldn’t contact him other than through email and avoiding social interaction with Eve.

He also reported what was going on to the college principal, particularly when another student spread a rumour he was having sex with Eve, and sought advice from colleagues as well as the university’s HR unit specifically designed to help people deal with such issues.

Eve was clearly not happy when she met resistance to her numerous attempts at more intimate social interaction with Chris, complaining when he hugged other students but not her when saying goodbye to them after a group event, or when he reopened the door of the common room where they were both studying, after she had closed it.   

In July, he was suddenly officially informed a complaint had been made against him by Eve and told he had to leave the residential hall. He was assured the matter would be treated confidentially but quickly learnt from other students that the list of allegations was circulating in the college.

The whole matter ended up in the hands of an external investigator who took four months to go through the process of interviewing Eve and the friends who collaborated her story. Chris was not permitted to contact witnesses who could have supported his version of events, nor has he been given a list of who was contacted during the investigation.

Many of the alleged sexual harassment offences were trivial in the extreme. Like catching her by the waist when she was tripping over. Placing a scarf around her shoulders after she had specially asked for one. Placing a blanket around her and other students sitting outside on a cold night. Including her in a group of students receiving goodbye hugs after an event. Placing a hand on her shoulder whilst herding students across a busy road. All these events occurred in the presence of other students, with Chris treating all students in a similar manner.

The most damning allegation involved Chris supposedly asking Eve to a movie night in his room, where he hugged her and touched her knee. Chris says emphatically that this was a fabrication, pointing out that when this was alleged to have happened, he had already approached his superiors and the university’s HR program for advice on handling the unwanted interest Eve was showing. Yet, the external investigator claims the movie night allegation was “proved”.  

It’s notable that some of the more outrageous claims in the list – such as suggesting Eve be shown photos of penises – was listed as unproven, presumably because witnesses failed to support her story. There’s just no way this process can claim to offer just treatment to the accused man when the investigator so blatantly chose to include only witnesses recruited by Eve, excluding those suggested by Chris who could have disproved many of the allegations.  This applies particularly to the administrator who warned Chris that Eve had a crush on him, and kept tabs on the young woman, noting her unhappiness when Chris put up professional barriers to limit contact with her.   

It is mighty depressing ploughing through the list of trivial nonsense included in the 35 allegations cooked up by this young Miss and her friends, knowing that many thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent on this one-sided investigation designed to shaft the accused young man. In today’s climate, there’s just no other possible outcome from this arse-covering exercise than to dig up suitable dirt to support the university’s initial decision to turf him out.

Getting ready for the next battle

So here we are. We’ve had one of our campus justice legal team helping Chris through the investigation process and we are very grateful to him for his valiant efforts. (Readers unaware of my ongoing battle exposing the shameful campus kangaroo courts may like to read this summary from my website, which includes information about the wonderful group of lawyers doing pro bono work to help accused students.)

We now face an unfair dismissal hearing before the Fair Work Commission – never easy when up against the very deep pockets of our universities. You have to wonder if the timing of the dismissal was influenced by the fact that Chris had only 21 days to file his application – not easy to do when all lawyers are on their Christmas break. Neat trick, eh?

Throughout the Christmas period I have been worrying about this impressive young man, who was already devastated when we first had contact back in August, after he found himself thrown out of the college and publicly shamed. It’s very telling that it was his ex-girlfriend who contacted me seeking help for Chris. When an ex will vouch for a man’s decency, it’s a pretty sure sign he is a real mensch.

Now he faces the New Year broke and jobless, after working for years on his PhD. There’s a certain irony in the fact that Chris, of Malay/Chinese descent, did his PhD research on racism, yet Eve, who is also Asian, included a bizarre allegation of a racist slur in her long list of allegations against him. Go figure.

So, I’m putting out the call to all you good people, particularly those with Victorian connections, to see if you can find some urgent employment to tide him over as he faces the ordeal of another long legal battle. I’ve started a gofundme to gather funds for this process – given that even if we get some pro bono legal help, there are costs in this difficult exercise. It would also be nice if Chris had some immediate financial relief, since he was excluded from his tutoring and research jobs while the investigation took place. Every little bit helps.

More tales from the trenches

Sorry about this grim start to 2022. There’s no doubt we are up against it in these dark times. But I do have good news stories to bring you soon – occasional wins to bring a smile to your face. Chances are we are going to need them.

Until next time.        

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Best wishes for a far more joyful, less troubled New Year. Let’s hope the tide begins to turn and men are no longer destined to a lesser life in 2022.

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The charming illustration on my blog this week is from Dennis Cox at Dreamstime.com       

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