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Advice, please

Linden Higgins linden at MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU
Fri Mar 8 11:36:33 EST 1996

on 8 Mar 96, Linnea Ista wrote:

>One of the undergrads working in the lab came to me yesterday evening
>with a problem.  She and another woman student had asked a professor a
>question concerning the direction of a project for a class they are in.
>The professor was very sarcastic, as he is to everyone, grudgingly
>answered their question and then followed it up with "When will these
>women engineers ever learn to..." and then mumbled something incoherent
>when he looked up and realized that they were still there.
>The student, who for the record is extremely bright and motivated, was
>quite upset about this and unsure what to do. This happened in a student
>study lounge and many others heard it.  The general concensus among the
>students' class mates was that "Oh that's just the way Dr. X is;  just
>blow it off".  She ( and I) disagreed and said that no one should have to
>put up with this and that it was just plain unprofessional.
>My first advice was to tell the department chair, who is extremely
>approachable and supportive.  Or maybe to talk to our mutual boss.

[snip of other pertinent info]

Linnea - my 2 cents is that you should both start with your mutual boss.
The behavior is inexcusable in this day and age, and whom ever he is, he
needs to learn.  If your mutual boss is supportive, he/she may well do
something subtle that need not involve the dept. hierarchy, such as speak
with the offending prof..  This also has the advantage that it can be done
without reference to exactly which student was "upset", protecting the
student  (assuming that there are more women in the student body thanjust
yourselves), and the advantage that, not involving the heirarchy, it might
avoid making the prof in question want to retaliate.

If you cannot get satisfaction from this route, I would think about
approaching the chair - he/she, if as supportive as you say, will also be
concerned for the reputation of the department and the well being of the
women in the student body.  In this case it is really important that the
matter be handled so that the prof in question cannot single out the
student.  One possibility I could think of would be for it to be put
forward as a general problem among the faculty at a faculty meeting - no
names of either profs or students.  However, if the prof in question is
truely oblivious or uncaring, this will have no affect (although done this
way it is nearly impossible to trace to the student in question).  Another
is for the chair to speak privately with the prof in question. As with
having your boss speak with him, the only way that this will not backfire
on the student is if the chair is very careful to phrase the complaint
somewhat generally "it has come to my attention that some of the female
students in the dept....".  It has the disadvantage that, involving the
administration, if the student is "discovered" it could cause her serious

Good luck!  I remember in college having a chem prof who offended
_everyone_ - blacks, women, hispanics, environmentalists, dieticians, etc.
- we ignored him because (a) he was a terrible professor and the class was
(by organic chem standards) pretty easy, (b) he had offended _everyone_ so
no one felt particularly offended, and (c) we really, in '77, didn't know
we could do something about it!


Linden Higgins, Ph.D.
Dept. of Zoology,
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX  78712
linden at mail.utexas.edu

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