The President of MIT emailed me

It is rare that I get an email from the president of MIT, Rafael Reif. So I was excited to see something from November 29. Was there an important engineering or scientific breakthrough achieved at MIT? Another few Nobel Prizes were pulled out of a drawer? A challenge on which my particular experience was required?

Here’s how the email begins…

In the last several weeks, the nation has once again seen evidence that sexual harassment is pervasive. I am deeply disturbed by the revelations of misconduct elsewhere – and I know it also happens at MIT. [emphasis added]

[This does raise one question: Unless he himself is perpetrating harassment, how does he know?]

The president of a school that costs roughly $70,000 per year to attend in person says that maybe people would be safer doing an online degree for minimal $$ at Western Governors University:

When it comes to sexual harassment, assault and related misconduct, a community like ours presents a particular set of risks: a 24/7 environment that brings together people across a broad range of ages, incomes and backgrounds, many of whom have power over others – power to make being at MIT miserable, power enough to make or break a career. [emphasis added]

Why incur these risks if one can do a degree in 2.5 years from the comfort and privacy of one’s home? And at a much lower cost?

People who have been harassed are likely damaged goods:

For many who suffer sexual harassment, the experience seriously damages their lives, their aspirations, their confidence and their careers. In some cases, the “remedy” can be damaging too.

Maybe there is a way to predict the gender ID of those who are likely damaged?

Let me now state the obvious. Most harassers are men. As a result, the men in our community must play a particularly important role in leading and driving the necessary change in culture. [emphasis added]

Suppose that an employer is willing to assume that most men are heterosexual and therefore most people who have been harassed identify as women. Further suppose that the employer is willing to believe the president of MIT regarding the “serious damage” that has been suffered by these women and that “sexual harassment is pervasive” (see first paragraph). Would it not make sense for an employer to hire women only as a last resort? Why take the risk of being stuck with an employee who is seriously damaged?

Readers: What do you think? Is there a logical way to read the above as encouraging people to pay up for an on-campus education? Or as encouraging profit-minded employers to hire women?

13 Comments »

  1. Jerry

    December 6, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

    1

    Via Slate Star Codex:

     slatestarcodex.com

    “About 30% of the victims of sexual harassment are men. About 20% of the perpetrators of sexual harassment are women.”

    As with all Slate Star Codex posts, you should read the whole thing.

    Related is this piece from Conor Friedersdorf

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/12/a-police-killing-without-a-hint-of-racism/546983/

    A Police Killing Without a Hint of Racism
    Daniel Shaver begged officers not to shoot him. What role will his death play in the push for law-enforcement reforms?

  2. George

    December 6, 2017 @ 1:19 pm

    2

    MIT was ahead of everyone on this issue. 3 years ago, it unpersoned its most popular professor because a 32yo woman in France sent him some emails, he flirted with her, and she sent him a naked selfie.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Lewin
    MIT cuts ties with Walter Lewin after online harassment probe
    Institute revokes emeritus title, removes online courses of popular physics professor who starred in viral videos
    http://tech.mit.edu/V134/N60/walterlewin.html

  3. Will Sutton

    December 6, 2017 @ 2:16 pm

    3

    If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect collusion with the Thiel Fellowship program.

  4. Vince

    December 6, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

    4

    Let me now state the obvious. Most harassers are men. As a result, the men in our community must play a particularly important role in leading and driving the necessary change in culture. [emphasis added]

    He did write that he was stating the obvious. What is the point of adding emphasis to the obvious?

    “About 30% of the victims of sexual harassment are men. About 20% of the perpetrators of sexual harassment are women.”

    Mr. Reif would be pleased to see his assumption confirmed.

    Would it not make sense for an employer to hire women only as a last resort? Why take the risk of being stuck with an employee who is seriously damaged?

    This is a good one. In the discussion about Harvey Weinstein there was a lot of blaming the victim. Now we have a suggestion that all women should receive some sort of extra punishment after some have been victimized. This is all in the name of maximizing profits, of course.

  5. demetri

    December 6, 2017 @ 4:10 pm

    5

    ” Is there a logical way to read the above as encouraging people to pay up for an on-campus education?”

    Logic’s got nothing to do with it. I’ve seen these “proactive” missives from CEOs of large corporations before and I think this is the same. They are usually about legal butt covering. When/if a lawsuit comes they can say “We did all we can to prevent this!” The next phase is usually “training” where the potential trouble-making demographic is yelled at, sensitized and told never to engage in the reprehensible behavior du jour. Maybe such a session is in your near future Phil!

  6. GermanL

    December 6, 2017 @ 7:22 pm

    6

    @George, wow, good find. And even though it was an online he still got in trouble!

    It’s a shame, because he must have be a really good lecturer if women get that crazy over him, e.g. from the link:

    — Lewin joined MIT in 1966 and became a full professor in 1974. In the decades that followed he collected award after award for his undergraduate teaching. Through OpenCourseWare and YouTube, Lewin’s lectures and physics demonstrations have reached millions. —

    — MIT is also removing Lewin’s lecture videos and other course materials from edX and MIT OpenCourseWare indefinitely, “in the interest of preventing any further inappropriate behavior.” —

    from the women or him?

    “Another great man.. taken down” as Bill Burr would say.

    That reminds me… even nerd me almost got baited… something I forgot a long time ago. I remember giving a lecture in grad school for a biology course (for a 60y/o professor who long ago married a women 20 years younger and was formerly one of his students! ) . Afterwards a female student came up to me and start asking all sorts of personal questions (where are you from? what kind of accent is that? etc) and complimenting me on my leather jacket. Luckily I had the good sense to ignore her (well, that and a wife), or more honestly, I was just clueless and didn’t register what that all meant at the time.

  7. GermanL

    December 6, 2017 @ 7:39 pm

    7

    btw- This has about the same logic and burning all of Pablo Neruda’s poetry books because he raped a Sri Lankan woman in his past. I must admit, that was a bit shocking to read about it, but then what do we do about it? Remove all traces of his work? How far back should we apply this rule if we are to be consistent about it? Tear down the statues of Greek philosophers and remove all their work from western literature when we find out some of them practiced pederasty?

  8. Gordon Macdonald

    December 6, 2017 @ 8:41 pm

    8

    You’re overthinking this. It’s just CYA.

  9. Jack Dee

    December 7, 2017 @ 1:06 am

    9

    I think the solution is to have separate schools for men and women. For example the women’s school could be called Harvard and the men’s school would be called Radcliffe (the women would get custody of the valuable asset in the divorce, as usual). All the professors at Harvard will be female (we are headed this way anyway). This will largely cure the problem of sexual harassment.

  10. Natalia

    December 8, 2017 @ 11:57 am

    10

    Phil, if you have not yet read “Pussycats” by van Creveld -I highly recommend. Unfortunately, the way this issue affects military is much more disturbing..

  11. philg

    December 9, 2017 @ 10:51 pm

    11

    Natalia: Thanks for the recommendation. It is on Kindle Unlimited (i.e., free!) so I will check it out.

  12. Natalia

    December 10, 2017 @ 6:24 pm

    12

    @philg- please make a post once you finish- would like to hear your thoughts.

  13. philg

    December 10, 2017 @ 8:41 pm

    13

    Natalia: I’m about 10 percent through. So far he has anecdotally come to the same conclusion as the academic psychologist who wrote iGen: young Westerners are taking much longer to grow up than previous generations did. Thus an American, European, or Israeli 18-year-old today is like a 14-year-old back when I was a kid (i.e., before cities were electrified, etc.). This is bad news for Western militaries because they are essentially sending 14-year-olds into battle where they lose to grown-ups who are barely armed and equipped.

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