Longform

Fear and Groping in Boulder

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No one bothered to tell Jane if any of the panel's recommendations were ever followed. Gamow says he did watch the harassment video and considered the matter resolved. A year later, though, he was informed that Dean Seebass wanted him to limit his contact with students only to regular office hours--a condition far beyond what the panel had proposed. Gamow promptly filed his own grievance over the university's handling of the case.

The faculty's Privilege and Tenure committee, which looked into his grievance, took issue with both the fairness of the panel's proceedings and the reasonableness of Seebass's directive, which was eventually rescinded. But the faculty inquiry, which took months to complete, didn't put the matter to rest, either. Following her encounter with Jane, Sarah decided to file a "third-party" complaint against Gamow, one of the first cases to be heard under the university's new harassment policy. Although she has no evidence that Gamow is currently harassing anyone, Sarah wanted the university to look into his alleged remark about ongoing romantic relationships with students and his "history" of harassment.

Sarah says her meeting with the ombudsman might have gone quite differently if she'd known about Jane, and Jane says that learning about the earlier incident only confirmed her suspicions.

"I knew there had to be other women before me," she says. "Looking back on it, everything seemed so well-rehearsed. He had all the lines ironed out. I always felt so angry that these other women hadn't reported it so that he wouldn't be there anymore, or at least change his behavior. But then I thought, maybe they did report it. Maybe they did everything in their power, but nothing happened."

Ironically, one of the drawbacks in CU's harassment-reporting system is its confidentiality. Complaints can be funneled through a bewildering variety of channels, from the hush-hush Ombuds Office to a range of forums dealing with staff, faculty or student issues. Cases tend to be dealt with in isolation, and since there's no central reporting authority, tracking repeat offenders is difficult.

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."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast