A REAL CLASS ACT

A COMMUNITY COLLEGE TEACHER'S COME-ON GETS A BYSTANDER HOT AND BOTHERED--AND A STUDENT EDITOR BOOTED.

On the evening of September 12, the blare of a fire alarm cleared the hallways and classrooms of Arapahoe Community College in Littleton. It was just a drill, but it sparked a sexual-harassment bonfire that has yet to die down.

Outside the building that night, Richard Lebowitz and a male friend approached a female student. Lebowitz told her she looked good and that she would also look good with him and his friend. And he asked her for a date.

Not only did the woman turn him down, she reported Lebowitz's comments to campus cop Michael Jones.

After the fire drill ended, Jones went to the Introduction to Radio class in which Lebowitz was enrolled and asked him to step outside. Then Jones explained the woman's concerns.

The Arapahoe campus had been agitated over the issue of unwanted advances ever since a part-time student, Stephen Gordon, was arrested last spring for stalking an Arizona woman who'd moved to Denver to escape his attentions.

Lebowitz told the officer that his comments had been misconstrued. A few minutes later he rejoined his classmates, explaining that he'd been accused of sexual harassment.

Sitting in the class was Lisbeth Mullin, a reporter with the student newspaper. She listened as Lebowitz joked about the situation, complaining that in today's society he could no longer attempt to "talk to a pretty blond."

Before returning to school as a 41-year-old journalism student, Mullin had been an activist in such areas as domestic violence, gay and lesbian matters and disabled issues. "I have a long feminist history, but I try to be balanced," she told Westword. "When I came back to school, I was going to lay low. I certainly didn't go out of my way to find sexual-harassment problems."

But, as she described it, "the universe" dropped the Lebowitz incident "on my lap, and as a journalist, I thought I should do the story as unbiased as possible."

Still, Mullin said she agonized overnight about whether to approach her editor at the Rapp Street Journal, the college's biweekly newspaper, before deciding to go ahead. Searching her college telephone directory, she had discovered that Lebowitz was not just a student; he also taught business economics at the school.

Mullin said that editor Michael "Doc" Simpson, an electronics major, insisted she write the story. Simpson told Westword he felt pressured by Mullin to go with not just one article but ultimately an entire section on sexual harassment.

In collaboration with two other staffers, including news editor James Bridgers, Mullin wrote a front-page story--which was published under a generic "RSJ staff" byline--in which she used the unusual technique of quoting herself in the third person ("Mullin") as "a student in the class and witness to Jones's removal of the alleged perpetrator from the classroom." Mullin also wrote about the incident in her regular "Hair of the Dogma" column.

The column and story were printed in the September 21 issue, along with a notation that Lebowitz was unavailable for comment. On September 19, Bridgers says, Lebowitz stormed into the newspaper's offices and demanded that the article not be published, saying that "false allegations could be hazardous to his career," that publication of the allegations would "automatically make him guilty with the president and administration" and that "students would be after him." He also handed Bridgers a statement, which he asked the paper to publish.

Bridgers said that the issue had already gone to press. But Lebowitz's statement did not appear in subsequent issues, either.

Although Lebowitz did not return phone calls, Westword received a copy of his statement, along with Bridgers's notes of their meeting.

In his statement, Lebowitz described seeing "a striking, attractive woman" and going over to speak with her. "I thought I was trying to be complimentary and friendly," he wrote. "I do not know if it was the tone of my voice, my age, physical appearance, my accent, the style of my delivery, the words which I spoke, all of the above. The woman obviously found my brief intrusion into her life to be repugnant.

"I wish to apologize to the woman for in my own mind I was only being complimentary and friendly."

In her column, Mullin wrote that she herself had seen Lebowitz the night of the fire drill, "in a very social mood, laughing and pressing hands with faculty and students alike--as if he were the center of attention at a party in his honor." She'd watched as Lebowitz walked toward the blond woman; then, sensing "that he was going to hit on her," she'd turned away. "Now, of course, I wish I had listened," she wrote. "Could I have intervened?

"What could I have done at the time to help you out of the situation?" she continued, addressing her question to the woman. But in the next paragraph, Mullin provided her own answer by noting that "obviously you didn't need my assistance to stand up for yourself."

Mullin wrapped up her column with a series of questions: "Where are the boundaries between social dating rituals and victimization? Would this situation have been different if the alleged perpetrator wasn't a faculty member? Is there ever a situation where it would be okay for two people to walk up to a stranger standing alone and make sexual innuendos?

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