May 172010
 

If I told you that fruit-bats have oral sex, would you be offended?

I don’t know.

Would I care if you were offended?

I would not.

However doing this very thing has cost Dr Dylan Evans his good name, his promotional prospects and his dignity.

Evans is a behavioural science lecturer in the  School of Medicine, University College Cork.  His particular specialisation is evolutionary psychology.

In the course of his research, when he received this peer-reviewed article about fellatio in fruit-bats, he was intrigued.  The article was covered widely in the press because this was the first time such behaviour had been observed in animals other than humans, and therefore, the indication was that it must provide some sort of evolutionary advantage.

Evans showed the article to a dozen colleagues, including one woman who held a similar lecturing position in the college.  The woman subsequently asked him for a copy of the article, which he provided.

The article was directly relevant to their academic relationship because they had been debating whether certain behaviours were unique to humans or not.

Two weeks later, the HR department informed him that his female colleague had lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against him for showing her  the article.  She was offended — very offended — but she didn’t say this to Dylan Evans.  Instead, she chose to take the official route.

An inquiry took place, which determined that Dylan Evans’s previous behaviour towards his colleague showed no sign of sexual harassment, and it concluded furthermore that he had not intended to cause offence by sharing the details of the research.

There is considerable conflict of evidence in relation to interactions between the parties. Dr Evans has produced email evidence that casts serious doubts on some of the evidence of Dr Blank.

We find on the balance of evidence that Dr Evans did not ever intend to cause offence to Dr Blank.  He was not aware that he may be causing offence by visiting her office and Dr Blank admits she was not sufficiently assertive at making clear her displeasure his visits to her office or other behaviour.  We cannot therefore find that any of the actions of Dr Evans up to 2 November 2009 constituted sexual harassment and do not therefore uphold those complaints.

Despite this finding, inquiry stated that although Evans didn’t  intend to cause offence, the complaint was upheld.

However, on the 2 November 2009 it is a fact that Dr Evans showed Dr Blank an academic article which Dr Blank claims was inappropriate and offensive and which made her feel hurt and disgusted. Dr Evans was emphatic in saying that Dr Blank showed no such signs and on the contrary was amused by it and requested a copy. The questions for us is whether Dr Evans’ action can reasonably be regarded as sexually offensive, humiliating or intimidating to Dr Blank. We find that the action was a joke with sexual innuendo and it was reasonable for Dr Blank to be offended by being presented with it in her office alone. We therefore find that the complaint on this action is upheld though it was not Dr Evans’ intention to cause offence.

So, Evans was found guilty, at worst, of telling a dirty joke, something that nobody has ever done, anywhere, ever in the history of humanity.  I know people, both men and women, who would have been fired a hundred times over if they worked in UCC.

Because he was found guilty of making a joke, without intending to cause offence, the university then ordered Evans to undergo two years of counselling and close monitoring.  His application to be made a permanent member of staff has been denied as a consequence and a record of sexual harassment will be placed on his file.

Why?

Because the female colleague was offended.  According to the investigation report, she found the academic article inappropriate and offensive, and felt hurt and disgusted.

How offended?

As offended as she decided to be.  Evan’s guilt depended entirely on how touchy this woman was, and you can form your own conclusions from the fact that a lecturer in a university department of medicine found an article on the biology of an animal hurtful and disgusting.  In my opinion, anyone that squeamish isn’t fit to be there in the first place.

It seems that Evans’s article triggered some sort of unresolved sexual conflicts in this woman and these conflicts became everyone else’s problem.

Mostly they became a problem for Dylan Evans.

It appears that the whole thing may be based on religion.  The woman seems to be a fundamentalist Catholic who objects to the teaching of evolution in the psychology courses, while Evans is a cheerful atheist.

Obviously he presented the complainant with an open goal by showing her this article.  She saw her chance to retaliate and the subsequent inquiry findings ruined his career.

Christians 1 Atheists NIL

Ironically, given their debate about behaviours, it seems to be a uniquely human thing to hold our colleagues to ransom for fear they might step over some secret unmarked line, which nobody defines, and offend against our private craziness.

The thing that determined Dr Evans’s guilt was not whether he intended to cause offence.  The determining factor was how touchy his colleague was, and it seems to me that this woman is as crazy as a fruit-bat, and a bully as well.

It seems to me that this is emotional manipulation and childishness of the worst sort on the part of the complainant.  At  the same time, it looks like abject cowardice on the part of the university’s president, who didn’t have the balls to stand up and call the charge what it is: horseshit.

Here’s a case where a person made a complaint which was found to be without basis, and yet managed to inflict harm on a colleague by throwing a temper tantrum and playing the gender card.  The more offended this woman decided to be, the worse Dylan Evans’s fate.

Now the university has arrived at a situation where an academic is unable to refer research to a colleague in case that colleague turns out to be a quivering time-bomb of unresolved hang-ups and decides to be very very offended indeed.

Anyway, even if he had tried his damnedest to cause offence, so what?

Here’s a question for you: what exactly is wrong with offending people?  The world is full of nutcases just lining up to be offended by the slightest little thing.  Should they all be listened to — every last lunatic one of them, or are some people more entitled to be offended than others?

What the university has done offends me.  Where can I lodge an official complaint?

If UCC proceeds with this, it doesn’t deserve the right to call itself a university.

___________

Papers.

Here is the complaint lodged by Dr Blank.

It makes a number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Evans prior to the 2nd November 2009.  The investigation report stated as follows:

We cannot therefore find that any of the actions of Dr Evans up to 2 November 2009 constituted sexual harassment and do not therefore uphold those complaints.

This is important in the context iof the final paragraph in Dr Blank’s letter, where the accusation of harassment occurs.

In that paragraph, the complainant says:

I want reassurance that action will be taken in the School so that harassment of this type does not recur.

The question is harassment of what type?  The investigation dismissed Dr Blank’s complaints about alleged harassment up to 2nd November, and found that the fruit-bat incident did not constitute harassment.

Therefore, since nothing else was complained about, Evans has no case to answer.

________________________

Here’s an extract from the Universities Act 1997.  It appears to me that the university may have committed an offence.

14 (2) A member of the academic staff of a university shall have the freedom, within the law, in his or her teaching, research and any other activities either in or outside the university, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions and shall not be disadvantaged, or subject to less favourable treatment by the university, for the exercise of that freedom.

___________

On-line petition

Elsewhere: Huffington Post

New Scientist

Geary Behavioural Economics Blog

Times Higher Education Supplement

Pharyngula

Ferdinand von Prondzynski

Natural Selections

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