Fear and Groping in Boulder

Power, politics and patronage--three reasons why CU's "zero tolerance" sexual-harassment policy could be one big nothing.

A decision by the investigating panel is expected this week. Jane says the panel told her they can't investigate the case the way Gamow's two accusers want, since it would be unethical for them to "comb the university" in search of current harassment victims. "I can understand, they wouldn't be neutral if they did that," Jane says. "The burden is on us to find these other women, but we don't know who's dropping his courses."

Having already been through four administrative proceedings as a result of the two women's complaints, Gamow has filed a counter-grievance of his own, accusing his accusers of pursuing a vendetta against him. He insists he's had no complaints from other students about his behavior and suggests there may be something more behind the current case than meets the eye.

"Would it be very politically incorrect to say 'money'?" he asks. "So far, the Boulder campus seems to be paying a lot of money for anybody who has threatened a suit."

Although he declines to discuss details, he says he suspects that the women may have been manipulated into filing charges against him by administrators he's feuded with for years. "Professors that fall out of favor are not only at the mercy of the engineering administration, but the entire legal establishment of the university," he says.

Despite the furor over past incidents, Gamow says he continues to meet with male and female students outside of his office--and, in some cases, off campus. A couple of weeks ago, he says, he invited a student to lunch at his house so he could feed his horse while they discussed her paper. He's had "probably fifty meals" with the same student, who was on one of his Nepal treks.

"When I came back from lunch," he says, "I was told, 'Haven't you learned your lesson, taking somebody home in your car?' Was that appropriate or not appropriate? It never entered my head that this student, who I know very well, could now come up and say she felt uncomfortable sitting in my kitchen with me cooking her lunch."

"You Can't Stop These Idiots"
Susan Cherniack didn't know anything about CU's way of handling harassment complaints when she arrived on campus in the fall of 1993. But by the end of her first year she'd run into enough roadblocks to file a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By the end of her second, having failed to get satisfaction from the EEOC, she'd filed a lawsuit branding the university's methods "confusing, ineffective, inadequate and ill-suited to remedy sexual-harassment issues in a timely or appropriate manner."

Cherniack had accepted a position on the faculty of CU's Oriental Languages and Literature Department, bringing with her impressive credentials as a professor at Smith College and a visiting scholar at Harvard. During the recruitment process, she says, she made the mistake of becoming intimately involved with her future boss--Paul Kroll, the chair of the department. By the time she started teaching at CU, she'd terminated the relationship, and Kroll had resumed a relationship with another female professor.

Kroll declines to comment, but in court filings, he's denied he ever had a sexual relationship with Cherniack. He's conceded, though, that he does have a "personal relationship" with another member of the department and that his ex-wife also teaches in OLL. At the time, no university policy prohibited relationships between faculty members and their department chairs; in fact, the new policy merely requires that department chairs notify their deans if they're involved with employees they're supposed to supervise and that they make "alternative arrangements to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest"--for example, recusing themselves from tenure decisions involving their paramours.

According to Cherniack's lawsuit, Kroll made life miserable for her at CU. Among other things, she charges that he unfairly criticized her classroom performance and professional behavior, gave her an unfavorable teaching evaluation despite the high marks she'd received from students, and discouraged students from enrolling in her classes. And when she went to Charles Middleton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for help, matters quickly got worse.

At the end of the fall 1993 semester, Cherniack says, Middleton promised to convene a committee of faculty peers to investigate the situation. Middleton has denied making any definite commitment; in any case, no committee was formed for months, despite the specific timetables CU officials are supposed to follow once a complaint is received.

Middleton never advised her of her options, Cherniack says, but decided to pursue the matter on his own, despite his "longstanding personal and professional relationship" with Kroll. "He seemed very eager to get hold of it," she says. "And after he changed his mind about convening a committee, he had complete control of it. While he sat on it, I couldn't go elsewhere."

What Cherniack didn't know at the time was the degree to which Middleton was in contact with Kroll about the dispute. Without telling her, the dean had sent a copy of her written grievance to Kroll only days after he'd received it. Cherniack claims the dean was actually advising Kroll on how to rebut her charges; Middleton has denied it.

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