Fear and Groping in Boulder

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

Although her total payoff could be in the million-dollar range, the outcome wasn't what Boggiano wanted. "Not at all," she says. "I didn't want to be on welfare. I did want and still want to teach undergrads. I have been trained for that. I loved teaching. But I had no other choice. My lawyers have to be paid something. They carried me for months, based on the strength of my case."

Boggiano has offered to forgo her yearly stipend in return for a position at another CU campus, but Cherniack isn't optimistic about her own chances. Shortly after her settlement last fall, she met with Chan-cellor Park to seek reconsideration of her dismissal.

"I asked him why he insisted on my resignation, since I was never accused of any wrongdoing," Cherniack recalls. "He told me it wasn't anything personal. He said--I'll never forget this--because I had filed a grievance, I had created an adversarial situation that could only be resolved by my departure. He told me, 'You can't stop these idiots from doing it.' His understanding was that sexual harassment was inevitable."

Park says he doesn't recall the remark. "What I probably said was that I can't control what people do, but I expect them to behave professionally," he says.

Named as a defendant in the Miller suit himself, Park says he's legally bound not to discuss the specifics of other cases, including Cherniack's. But he insists he's not reluctant to punish faculty or staff for stepping out of line; as vice chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, he succeeded in firing a tenured professor over a harassment issue. Such proceedings are difficult but not impossible, he says, even though cases that begin with consensual relationships between faculty members can be tough to sort out.

"Often in these cases, neither party is entirely innocent," he says.
Life Among the Geeks
All Kristine Larson wanted was a comfortable environment in which to teach and conduct her research. What she got was a one-way ticket to the Land That Time Forgot.

In 1990 Larson was hired as an associate professor in CU's aerospace-engineering department and as a researcher at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research (CCAR), a federally funded research center housed in the university. A specialist in Global Positioning System satellites who'd worked at Harvard and at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Larson expected to play a major role in developing CU's own GPS program. Instead, she found a lot of her attention being devoted to picture postcards.

The cards, sent from former CCAR associates around the world, were posted on a hallway bulletin board, next to a chalkboard where students and faculty could write comments. The cards were a goofy tradition at the predominantly male center, and some were not in the best of taste--for example, one was simply a picture of a pair of breasts, sans head, legs, or arms. In addition, many of the chalkboard comments were, in Larson's view, "hostile to women in the sciences." One regular feature was a Letterman-like Top 10 list, such as, "Top 10 reasons students love CCAR: Money for nothing and chicks for free."

Larson had never seen anything like the postcards at other research institutions, and she complained to CCAR director George Born that they didn't belong in a public hallway. As the only female professor at CCAR, she felt uncomfortable--not only for herself, she explained, but for students.

"There were so few women students--only one woman grad student, in fact--and it just seemed to me they should try a little harder to make a better atmosphere," Larson says.

But Born was loath to monkey with tradition. After all, other people liked the postcards and comments. In fact, several of the cards were addressed to his administrative assistant, Carol Leslie, who was soon to become his wife. In the lawsuit she eventually filed, Larson claims that Leslie "enjoyed the sexual atmosphere, the postcards and other displays" and "exhibited outward hostility" toward her in the wake of her complaints, to the point of refusing to say hello. (Leslie, who no longer works at CCAR, has denied any retaliation.)

Larson persisted in her protests to a variety of officials, from Born to her department chair to an associate dean, with little effect. She also began to take action herself, removing postcards that offended her as well as a racy poster and instructions for collecting sperm samples that had been posted in a unisex bathroom. Soon she became an object of chalkboard humor herself, as in "Top 10 reasons Kristine Larson doesn't approve of the board."

Although CCAR officials did make efforts to tone down the displays, Larson says her stance led to several confrontations with Born--and to her "expulsion" from the research center. In court filings, Born has insisted that Larson wasn't kicked out but chose to leave. In any event, Larson's departure didn't end the dispute; instead, she says, both Born and her department chair, Robert Culp (who was also assistant director of CCAR), began to retaliate against her for filing a complaint with the EEOC over her treatment.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims that Culp arbitrarily downgraded her performance evaluations and moved her office away from other active research faculty to another part of the building populated by soon-to-retire professors. Among aerospace-engineering students, the area was known as the Land That Time Forgot. During the same period, Born made calls to the Jet Propulsion Lab and other places Larson had worked, asking if she had been a "troublemaker"--calls Larson regards as damaging to her career and reputation.

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