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I wish to give a further contemporary spin to the notion of sexual harassment and the power of individuals to destroy/create careers within institutions of Learning. (Is this Orwellian doublespeak?) In my late twenties, I left one institution, the ABC, to go back to scratch and study in another, a university.
I was deluded into thinking tertiary education was equitable. I believed being the first person in my family to gain a university degree was a Noble thing. It was certainly an idealistic quest and not founded on substance. Before I was to graduate, I was to see the corruption of Power that Professors and Lecturers have over their students. In an honours class, I witnessed a very attractive Italian-descent woman gaining the highest marks in the honours class with offers by the Professor of English (who marked her paper when it was his colleagues job to do so) to drive her to his house in the country where she could finish her essay on his laptop. The student told me she would “use him” to become a tutor and ultimately a lecturer in English. She was a woman in her late twenties. The lecturer rang her on New Years Eve but had to hang up when his wife came into the room.
My own experience of having my academic career derailed by a female Professor in the Theatre Studies department occurred as I sat in the academic’s reclining antique chair with the blood rushing to my head. The Professor had me all relaxed and then blew her bombshell: I was not to be given any help from her whatsoever in the development of a preliminary research paper for a Methodology class in Theatre Studies as she was obliged to do as my supervisor and lecturer. The reason the Professor gave me for this was because I had approached her about my research two weeks late, even though the paper was not due for another month. I had an intuition at the time she was doing this purely because I was male. I wanted to inform on her to some committee but as a busy student, I did not find out the procedure for disputes of this kind with Professors. I suspected anyhow a Professor with a long track record and Power would be believed before a lowly student. A couple of weeks after she failed my paper, I walked into a cafeteria and she was eating her lunch but the way she looked up at me, wondering what I was going to do upon seeing her, and the fear of my confronting her — well, I just looked at her and walked out of the cafeteria.
In my position as Individual against the Academic, against The Institution, I felt as powerless as any woman. University students, in my experience, are not informed of all their rights. The right of the student to take their Professor to a committee over some dispute or handling of their research is not underlined in any university manual I have seen. An equitable Institution of Learning would have such a right known about and enshrined in gold.
Another less serious experience saw my quiet admiration for a brilliant young female lecturer of English slide, who made lectures and seminars meaningful with her Knowledge, Wit and Humour. She was always on track with the literary issues and wooed many students with her lightning-fast brain. The lecturer asked students to go to her office for additional material and I was surprised that her office was not full of students. I was very shy. The lecturer talked to me about a male author she admired while I stood in her office getting the additional material. I could not believe that this particular feminist lecturer had a male author she admired. Perhaps my shock in listening to her came across as something else. But I was very hurt when she suddenly forced me out of her office and slammed the door in my face. As a consequence, I no longer attended her classes and I avoided her in corridors.
I feel very sympathetic to students of either gender who have been demoralised and worse, had their careers and hopes shattered by cold and heartless lecturers who in the end, only give a damn about themselves and their own careers. I think this active work by some lecturers of destroying the career paths of other people is quite widespread in what seems to be a jealous and envious Academia Land.
I have to wonder if I am marginalised from Institutions of Power and Learning because I am a white Australian male from a working class background. I lost research opportunities because of a malicious Professor who seemed to have something against men, even though she had forged a long and fruitful career in what once was a male dominated area. One can only hope Equity returns at some later date to Academia Land. As a postscript, I am enjoying fruitful postgraduate research work at another university where Equity seems to be valued. I must say, though, that I remember with fondness lecturers of both sexes who have made study worthwhile, and even enlivening.
David Hart is studying Masters in Literature and writes fiction in his spare time.