Learning about the recent sexual harassment/violence case at Brock did not surprise me. Learning the name of the perpetrator shocked me. I was a Teaching Assistant for him on several occasions. He is both a scholar and gentleman who treated me, a mere Teaching Assistant then, as a peer.
While his behavior obviously cannot be condoned, the students and Brock personnel who want to fire him have over-reacted. These students and their professorial and bureaucratic supporters are rather naive about terms such as “justice”, and “education”. The students clearly do not have a good grasp of the controversial nature of justice and the meaning of the word “education”. This is (possibly) the fault of their professors.
If they had been better educated at Brock they would have learned that the definition of “justice” has been controversial from Plato and Aristotle to John Rawls. They would have learned that moral judgements, especially those regarding justice need to combine facts, principles and elementary logic.
If the University fires him, it is shooting itself in the foot. They will lose a great teacher and scholar of Russian history. He is not at all like a previous Brock History professor in a notorious sexual harassment case in the 1980s. It would also violate the principle forbidding retroactive laws.
Prof. Schimmelpenninck apologized. If anyone wants to be cynical and claim that he did this to save his reputation: how do you know this? What would you have done? I have other questions: what are the opinions of Prof. Schimmelpenninck’s students? Do they think Brock will be better without him?
What did these students and professors mean by “Justice”? Do they know the difference between distributive justice and retributive justice? The former has to do with the benefits or rewards people receive based on desert and/or fairness. The latter has to do with the punishment or penalty that the violator of justice deserves. I do not doubt that what occurred to the victim in this case was unjust since it was undeserved. But I do doubt that anyone else knows what penalty the perpetrator deserves.
Since I don’t know either, I will finish with a dictum of Jesus of Nazareth (one of the first persons to treat women and children with respect) enunciated in defense of a women about to be stoned for adultery. My paraphrase for this case is: “Let her that is without sin, cast the first stone”.
As for the reaction of the faculty and BUFA union, my suggestion for “action” is to look in the mirror if they want to see the source of the problem. The persons most likely to be guilty of harassment, bullying and sexual violence are tenured professors. Lest I be accused of demonizing the entire faculty I will state unequivocally that most professors do not engage in any of the three evils underlined above. But too many do. Why can’t BUFA solve this problem on its own instead of passing the buck since it is their members who are the problem in all three cases? The university should even consider abolishing tenure.
-Dr. Calvin Hayes
**Dr. Calvin Hayes is a retired non-tenured Prof. of Brock University, (1986-2014)
*Ok, it is not a warlock hunt but the principle is the same.