Weisberger denies the suggestion that he forced students to write about sordid or sensational subjects. "They're saying that I crammed these assignments down their throats over their protests? These students uttered not one word of protest the entire semester!" The students, for their part, respond that they couldn't protest, that the impact of the professor-student relationship was too powerful. "Adam thought that because he criticized social hierarchy, and how unfair it was, somehow it didn't apply to him," says Amy Brown. "And that's where he made his major goof. Authority relationships don't dissolve after six weeks of class."

AFTER HE READ the final papers for SO 215, Weisberger called up the aggrieved students and asked to meet with them individually. "I thought we could resolve our differences," he says. But when the meetings seemed tense and unhelpful, he decided to bring the matter to the attention of Terry Arendell, the newly appointed chair of Colby's sociology department. Arendell would not comment for this story, but according to Weisberger, she initially seemed cordial and sympathetic, offering to meet with the students in hopes of "defusing the situation." Weisberger consented. "I asked her to please report back to me about the meeting," he recalls. "I also asked her to notify me of any other meetings she might have" with students from his classes. A week later, Arendell told Weisberger that she had spoken with students in the class. "In her opinion, the problem had something to do with gender issues," he recalls.

Arendell then offered to look over Weisberger's teaching evaluations. When she called him at home that night to tell him she'd read them, and they were "wonderful," Weisberger breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought the issue had been put to rest," he says. Just to make sure, he took the step of appending to his official personnel file a memo in which he acknowledged the student complaints and vowed to rethink his approach to the course. "I recognize the potential for this approach to go awry," he wrote. "In the future, I will adopt a more traditional approach and focus on the texts of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and others."

In fact, Weisberger's relief was entirely unjustified. Unbeknownst to him, Arendell was continuing to meet with SO 215 students, receiving feedback about his teaching method. She had also begun escorting students to see Robert McArthur, dean of the faculty. At these meetings, students complained that Weisberger's approach to SO 215 was unethical and intrusive.

Listening to the complaints, the dean seemed "concerned," recalls Pam Herd. "He didn't like what he was hearing." But rather than asking the students to file an official complaint against Weisberger, McArthur adopted a wait-and-see attitude. "He told us that in about a year letters would be solicited for Adam's tenure review," says Herd. "And that if we were having a problem with someone, well, then this would really be the perfect opportunity to express our concern."

When a student who was sympathetic to Weisberger informed him that Arendell was taking students to meet with Dean McArthur, he was flabbergasted. Far from "defusing the situation," he says, his department chair seemed to be reinforcing the backlash against him. The junior professor called his own summit meeting with McArthur in which he denied any wrongdoing and railed against Arendell: "I said, please tell me you're not going to let her do this. Please give me some guarantee that you're not going to let her run amok and screw up my life." Weisberger recalls that the dean's response was noncommittal. As Weisberger remembers it, the dean said, "I have no position [on the complaints]. I'm merely a neutral conduit for information."

BEFORE LONG, the scandal began to sprout branches. In December 1995, almost eight months after Weisberger's frustrated approach to McArthur, the dean summoned the sociologist back to his office. There, Weisberger learned that a student named Jamie Geier had shown up in the dean's office the previous week, accompanied by her parents, to accuse Weisberger of sexual harassment. Geier's charges, McArthur stressed, were serious. She maintained that in the fall of 1994, when she had been a student in SO 215, Weisberger had pressured her to write papers about the (nonparental) sexual abuse she had suffered as a child. That he had repeatedly telephoned her, saying things like "You look lovely today.... I really like that skirt" and asking her to have "breakfast, lunch, dinner." That he had said, "I have feelings for you I don't know how to deal with." And that when she had finally confronted him, a year later, he had burst into tears, admitted that he had behaved improperly, and pleaded with her not to tell.

Weisberger adamantly denied to McArthur that he had made any suggestive remarks to Geier, that he had complimented her on her appearance or pursued her romantically. He also denied Geier's allegation "that I had forced these assignments down her throat, over her opposition, against her resistance." Geier, Weisberger insisted, had chosen her own topics. Furthermore, he said, it was Geier who had attempted to violate student-teacher boundaries. As Weisberger later put it in his appeal to his tenure committee:

On or around November of 1994, we were walking across campus when she told me she had a dream about me. She said that in the dream I was her doctor and I was delivering her baby. "You were going in but it didn't hurt," she said. I was embarrassed and alarmed by her remark, and said, "I think this might be a little dangerous." To which she said, "Don't think so much."

As a member of the faculty, Weisberger was familiar with Colby's harassment policy, which stipulated that "each reported incident" of harassment would be "investigated carefully, promptly, and thoroughly." Weisberger asked that McArthur conduct a formal investigation into Geier's charges. Such an investigation, Weisberger insisted, would prove his innocence. To Weisberger's astonishment, McArthur declined. Geier, he explained, had asked that her charge be considered "informal" rather than "formal": According to her mother, she did not want her name to appear in a "public forum." As an informal charge, Geier's complaint fell outside the purview of Colby's policy. (Geier would not be interviewed for this story.)

But even if Geier did not wish to issue a formal complaint against Weisberger, she did want to see him punished. On February 5, 1996, she sent McArthur a letter informing the dean that "it is my preference that Mr. Weisberger's employment at Colby be terminated immediately." She urged this course of action for several reasons.

First, she wanted to "send a message to students, staff and faculty...that sexually or other harassing behavior will not be tolerated." Such an action, Geier wrote, was necessary to protect the "other students who have documented their complaints against Mr. Weisberger's harassing and inappropriate behavior"a reference to those students who had criticized Weisberger's teaching method in meetings with Arendell. Geier added that, if the college elected not to fire Weisberger, she believed that at a minimum:

(1) Mr. Weisberger should move off campus immediately; (2) Mr. Weisberger should be required to teach all of his classes on campus in regular classrooms; (3) Mr. Weisberger's contact with students should occur only during regular class and office hours; (4) Mr. Weisberger's presence in the sociology department should be limited to his three weekly scheduled classes and his posted office hours; and (5) a monitor...should sit in on each and every one of Mr. Weisberger's classes.

When McArthur forwarded a copy of Geier's letter to Weisberger, demanding his immediate response, Weisberger became incensed.

In a series of angry replies, he told McArthur he considered Geier's requests beyond the pale. "My job is within the sociology department," he wrote. "The ability to conduct scholarship in my office is at the core of my job.... I am not a threat to anyone, and I refuse to assume the role of a subdued aggressor." Weisberger also made further requests for a formal investigation. "I cannot overemphasize the deep concern I have for the irreparable damage that these false allegations are doing to my career and reputation," he wrote. "Why does the college not intervene to protect me from Ms. Geier's demands?"

Weisberger's consternation was understandable. In her tape-recorded interview with Dean McArthur, Geier had claimed that as a student in SO 215 she had felt "sick, tense, ill, scared, embarrassed" in Weisberger's presence. This claim came as a surprise to Weisberger, who remembered her liking the course. Indeed, by the time of his letter to McArthur, Weisberger had fished out of his file cabinet a copy of Geier's course evaluation. In the evaluation, Geier had written:

I wish I knew that the evaluations were going to be handed out today because I would have prepared something to say. Adam has made social theory interesting and has taught me to apply my major to what happens in everyday life. He is open-minded, well-prepared for class, gives thought-provoking lectures, and respects his students' opinions. I also appreciate the time he gives to his students in and out of class. This class is stimulating and his questions force me to analyze my views and interpretations of the readings. He is a wonderful professor and I hope every sociology major/minor has the good fortune to have him as a professor.

Though Weisberger forwarded a copy of the evaluation to McArthur, the dean did not acknowledge its receipt. Instead, he sent Geier an apologetic e-mail, a copy of which he forwarded to Weisberger. "Dear Jamie," he wrote. "Despite our attempt to find a mutually agreeable resolution, I am sorry to report that I have now been advised by Professor Weisberger that he is unwilling to move from his campus apartment until the end of this semester."

AS WORD OF Geier's harassment charge spread across campus, the student revolt against Weisberger heated up. In February 1996, Weisberger learned from Dean McArthur that no fewer than seven students had now come to his office to complain about SO 215. And there was another, equally disturbing development: In the minds of some students and administrators, Geier's complaint and those of Herd, Brown, and Clay had merged into a single, powerful indictment. Weisberger "made female students uncomfortable," says Laura Schmishkiss, a friend of Adrienne Clay's who had taken the class in '92. "Not physically uncomfortable, necessarily, but intellectually and emotionally uncomfortable. I would certainly call it an abuse of power, which is at root what sexual harassment is."

Several of Weisberger's detractors object to any conflation of their charges with Geier's. Although Adrienne Clay contends that there was an "undercurrent of sexual tension" behind the complaints, she says, "We weren't claiming sexual harassment at all." Amy Brown also "never used the term `sexual harassment,'" she says. "I thought what we were talking about was a more general abuse of power." Even so, Brown says she can understand why some of Weisberger's detractors apparently felt differently: "It would have been a lot simpler if we had had a special term for what happened in Adam's class. We all watched the Thomas-Hill hearings. It's like, if you can't use the phrase `sexual harassment,' then your experience doesn't have validity."

In March 1996, at an "Open Forum with the Administration," a senior sociology major named Beth Wallace stood up and spoke for about five minutes about Jamie Geier's sexual harassment charges against Weisberger, all but naming him directly. Wallace wondered aloud about the right of victims of sexual harassment to discuss their experience. "As far as freedom of speech," Wallace asked administrators, "How much can the victim talk about her experience without being hit with a slander suit?" "That's a very good question," President William Cotter replied. "Our policies don't really say." Though Colby's policies mandate that allegations of sexual harassment be kept confidential, rumors were spreading around campus, says Heather Sprague, a 1996 Colby graduate. She recalls being approached by a male classmate with a particularly distorted view of the facts. "He asked if I knew that Adam was being charged with thirty-nine counts of sexual harassment."

As the talk about him proliferated, Weisberger, once a popular figure, found himself a pariah. "Students would literally lower their heads and walk in the other direction when they saw me coming," he says. The day after the semester ended he moved far off campus. As his ordeal unfolded, Weisberger says, "I kept defining for myself what form vindication would take." First, he says, it was having his name cleared by some sort of investigative tribunal. Then, when Colby refused to investigate, it was receiving tenure. "I felt that if I could get tenure, I would be vindicated symbolically," he says.

IN FACT, Colby administrators had already taken steps that would reduce the likelihood of such a favorable outcome. In August 1996, Weisberger's tenure file was presented for the first time to Cheryl Gilkes, a tenured sociology professor who had agreed to serve as chair of the tenure committee after Arendell had recused herself. Though Gilkes had already been informed by Arendell of the harassment charge against Weisberger, she was nonetheless surprised to find a detailed synopsis of the charge included in her colleague's tenure dossier. The package included Geier's letters to Dean McArthur, a cassette recording of what Geier referred to as her "testimony" to the dean, and a personal plea to members of Weisberger's tenure committee in which Geier outlined her harassment complaint and asked that the committee deny Weisberger tenure. Following Colby policy, it also included more than a hundred solicited letters from Weisberger's former students; several of these referred to Jamie Geier's charges.

Gilkes decided to remove Geier's material, and all references to it, from Weisberger's tenure dossier. She then informed the Dean she had done so. "Put it back in," he said. Gilkes would not be interviewed for this story, but according to two sources at Colby, she received a surprise visit later that day from an agitated Arendell. The Geier material, Arendell said, had to be put back in. Why? Gilkes asked. Because, Arendell replied, students had been told they would have the option of communicating their unhappiness with Weisberger to the tenure committee. Unsure of how to proceed, Gilkes consulted two friends who worked as provosts at other universities. Both confirmed her instinct that these proceedings were "highly irregular" and that Geier's uninvestigated harassment charge, and all letters associated with it, should be pulled out of Weisberger's tenure dossier and dealt with separately and confidentially. Gilkes, confused and upset, visited McArthur in his office. Who, she asked, told students they would have the option of airing their complaints by writing letters to Weisberger's tenure committee? I did, the dean replied. Realizing she had no choice in the matter, Gilkes called up Weisberger to relay the bad news.

Of the 116 letters received by Weisberger's tenure committee, a good three fourths or so are unequivocally positive: "A gifted and brilliant professor with a passion for teaching"; "The finest teacher I ever had"; "Adam's insights became the foundation of my belief system, making me the person I am today." A few are neutral. Then there are the nearly twenty negative letters. Almost all came from female students who were likely to have been aware of the harassment charges against Weisberger; many addressed the myriad complaints against him directly: "Students are not taking his course to be objects of play or a means of voyeurism for his personal use"; "If he is granted tenure I am certain as I can be the behavior I have described will continue"; "A close friend of mine was sexually harassed by Professor Weisberger"; "I just want to state that what I have seen and heard about Mr. Weisberger is a clear example of sexual harassment."


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