Zero Tolerance on Sexual Assault

It is hard to escape the coverage of the nomination process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the allegations of sexual assaults against him.

As a college president, the immediate inference for me is that this episode reinforces the need for a clear and unambiguous message to our youth that, as a society, we have zero tolerance for sexual assaults. More to the point, we want everyone on our campuses to treat each other with absolute respect.

But there is also another higher education extrapolation. Much has been made about the similarities between Judge Kavanaugh’s situation and the nomination process for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. One of the similarities less often mentioned is that the accusers for Judge Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas are both academics.

It has been painful to relive the television scenes of the grilling to which Anita Hill was submitted in October 1991. This was a different time, TV commentators explain. Was it? One has to wonder whether she would have been given more credibility as a witness if Ms. Hill had been introduced more often as Professor Hill?

From the time that young people descended upon Bologna, Paris, and Oxford in the middle ages to form these institutions called universitas, higher education has always been about the creation and transmission of knowledge and truth. As a champion of the scientific method, the academic world has long benefited from a reputation for rigorous inquiry into the key questions that affect us all.

In our highly polarized times, it is important that higher education still be seen as a standard bearer for the search for truth. And that the academy still be perceived by the public as one of the places to look for clarity in the face of confusion.

This should be of benefit to our entire society.

Harry E. Dumay, Ph.D., MBA
President of Elms College
Friday, September 21, 2018