Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Protocols Against Sexual Harassment


Yesterday’s Ming Pao newspaper published a “front page story” (actually on A2 because A1 was a full page ad featuring Cameron Diaz) that a CUHK professor was given a warning letter for “contact of a sexual nature” for hugging a colleague.  The woman argues the penalty is too light, but the fact of the matter is that a professor hugged a distressed colleague and was then unfairly chastised and is now publicly humiliated. The professor strongly protested his innocence, and resigned in protest. 

A friend of mine who works in a big company, upon hearing of this sad and shocking case, said that the University needs to have “protocols” for meetings. 

I hereby proclaim my protocols for meetings with students and colleagues:

1) All meetings in my office will take place with the door wide open. 

2) All students, staff and colleagues are required to stay on the other side of the desk from me.  I can swivel the computer screen so visitors can see it from across the desk, so no one should come around to my side of the desk and stand next to or behind me, for any reason.

3) No hugging. Ever.

A corollary is that if you come to my office and see there is someone sitting in front of my desk, please do not interrupt me. The open door is not an invitation to interrupt.  And since the door will be open, noise in the hallway needs to be kept down.

Sexual harassment is terrible and needs to be stopped. But we also need to protect people from false accusations of sexual harassment.  Since the University clearly does not have a fair system in place to balance these two needs, my protocols are necessary. They may seem extreme, but given the extremely serious consequences and distressing results of the above case, they are necessary.

Cultural footnote: An important aspect of the original dispute in the case is the meaning of the hug. The professor in this case studied in the US and is married to an American; he hugs my wife when we meet and when we say goodbye. But Chinese do not hug. The newspaper reports the woman saying that she nearly fainted in shock when the university vice-cancellor (president) explained to her that the professor was just using a foreign custom. She could not accept that. I suspect she never spent time in a Latin culture. Many students and some colleagues have commented to me over the years at their surprise at French and Brazilians' custom of hugging and "kissing" (not really a kiss, but seems like a kiss).  Then there is the issue of the professor's resigning in protest. An American friend said that resigning made him seem guilty, but Chinese all recognize this as part of a tradition of righteous protest. Americans would stay and fight (which is why they perhaps deserve the reputation for being litigious), while the Chinese believe in maintaining one's honor. A colleague used the expression 不同流合污, which means "to not associate oneself with undesirable elements" or "not join in their evildoings (literally cesspool)."

1 comment:

梦里客 said...

As far as I remember there are numerous Facebook groups opened by CUHK students not so soon after the news is released. Until reading your blog post I'm also inevitably led by comments about how 低俗 and 粗鄙 our university teachers have become. But something is wrong because all these comments are revolved around how humiliated the female 'victim' was and how 'immoral' Prof Lu was to plead not guilty. In short, the discussion goes on without any contextualized understanding of the incident. Did the general education courses we have now fail to allow students to think from other perspectives?