We reacted with general distress to the recent Policy Studies Review symposium on "Democracy and the Academy" (Winter 1998). While many of the articles are scholarly and provide important findings, and the topic of the symposium is vital, several articles cross the line from academic treatments of issues of academic freedom to personal polemics. As such they do not have a place within a forum which is designed to disseminate careful scholarly research. While the Weissberg articles on academic tyranny and a "tale" of academic tyranny are interesting and well-written, they have no real scholarly merit. And, because of their basic nature it is impossible to respond to them in scholarly terms. The article on sexual harassment by Professor Thomas Dye raises a different sort of concern.
Dye's article "Preventing Sexual Harassment and Preserving Academic Freedom," is distressing from an academic standpoint. There is much to commend in his impassioned appeal to establish reasonable sexual harassment policies and procedures. We have no quarrel with his assertion that care should be taken in defining sexual harassment, in establishing procedures which provide fairness and due process, and in taking great care not to confuse academic discourse (or even an occasional distasteful or thoughtless remark) with either pervasive or severe behavior which would constitute a hostile environment under the definitions the Supreme Court has set forth.
However, much of the article ignores pertinent scholarly research on sexual harassment policy, makes arguments unsupported by empirical data, and thus represents more of a personal polemic than a scholarly contribution to the debate about sexual harassment and/or academic freedom. Thus, while it may be entirely appropriate for featured commentary it is out of place in an academic journal--particularly since there is a great deal of very good relevant scholarly literature on this topic.
For example, Professor Dye comments that "the failure to provide due process in sexual harassment cases encourages frivolous, self-serving, and vindictive charges." Are Universities really acting tyrannically to suppress freedom in teaching and research based on vague sexual harassment policy? How many complaints are made which turn out to be unfounded? Are many complaints made which are vindictive in nature? Are sexual harassment policy processes really used against "weak and/or obnoxious" individuals? These, on the face, are questions which lend themselves to empirical research. Indeed, some have been examined, others need to be. However, none have been supported in the article at hand. Extant research has indicated that rates of reporting sexual harassment are extremely low while self-reported experiences are relatively high, particularly in academia (MSPB, 1981; Fitzgerald and Schullman, 1985; Carroll and Ellis, 1989; Kelly, 1992; Lott, 1993; Kidder et. al., 1995; Reese and Lindenberg, 1999, among many others). If harassment is so pervasive and vague policies and tyrannical processes are used against alleged "harassers," why are rates of reporting so low? Why do so many victims of sexual harassment indicate that they did not file reports because they were afraid that the University would do nothing, that they would be blamed for their harassment, or because of other fears about the policy process (National Council for Research on Women, 1991; Stockdale, 1996; Reese and Lindenberg, 1997). This certainly belies the notion that policies are widely used to process self-serving charges. Is Professor Dye implying that males (who are more likely to be charged with harassment) are historically "weak" parties which need to be protected from sexual harassment policies? If this is the case why are men more satisfied with sexual harassment processes and outcomes than women (Reese and Lindenberg, 1999)? And, why does research suggest that males are more likely to use sexual harassment policies as …