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
"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
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
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
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
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
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." MORE
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
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,"
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