LONSBERRY: Is Seligman's job in danger

I'm no fan of Joel Seligman.

I think he's an often vacuous guy who sits atop the biggest welfare scam and power-rigging operation going -- the University of Rochester. Empowered by progressive orthodoxy, government funding, non-profit status, the prerogative of elitism and the fact a lot of people need hospital jobs, he ends up with an incompetent finger in pretty much every pie in Rochester.

He's a guy with no background here and no ties here, and yet he is undeniably and unfortunately the most powerful person here.

Like I said, I'm no fan of Joel Seligman.

But this bubbling storm on the River Campus, the one that is soon to have him in its crosshairs, has the potential to quickly turn into an illogical and almost savage demonstration of ignorance, naivete and entitlement.

The background is they have a professor there who, according to his critics, pressures students into sex and makes the work and study environment miserable for female colleagues and students. The university did two investigations into him -- one internal, one with outsiders -- and couldn't find justification for the allegations.

Then eight professors and students filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asking for an investigation.

Then the online and on-the-street protests began.

And, for college presidents, that's usually when the crap hits the fan. Young scholars shouting for blood aren't happy until they are empowered by putting someone's head on a pike. It's like the Salem witch trials without the period clothing.

Thus far, the folks in front of the Rush Rhees library want the professor gone, as well as a couple of administrators who dealt with the matter. But the unspoken target is Joel Seligman. When you're having your own French Revolution, you want Louis and Marie, and this little brush fire is only a hunger strike or two away from demanding Seligman's head.

More about that in a second, but first the bottom line: Sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual coersion and anything that's not 100% comfortable and consensual is always, always, always wrong. Every day, every place, every situation. What adults do is their business -- that's why bedrooms have doors. But when unwanted attention persists, or when there is anything whatsoever that creates pressure or discomfort, that is wrong. 

And anybody who disagrees is wrong.

And it is deeply troubling that fraternization is even allowed between faculty and students in American colleges. It is incredible that the ethic of American higher education isn't completely and always opposed to sexual contact between a teacher and a student. Nobody sends their kids to college to be sexual candy for the professors, and no such relationship could ever be truly consensual, given the disparity of power and relationship. 

But back to Joel Seligman and the University of Rochester.

It is inconceivable that anyone in the leadership of that or any institution would look the other way in the face of sexual misuse of students or staffers. People may often be dumb, but they are seldom heartless. The repeated and earnest statements against college sexual abuse are not mere lip service. They are, overwhelmingly, personal and professional commitments by people who have given their lives to the education of America's young.

I don't trust Joel Seligman to plan Rochester's economy, but I do trust him to be diligent in the protection of the young women and men who are under his stewardship. I do not believe for a moment that he, or anyone at the U of R, would imperil students to protect a professor. 

I believe that the two investigations were earnest. I believe that the commitment is genuine.

I don't know if the professor in question is guilty or innocent. But I am confident that no one is knowingly covering for his guilt. Most times, where there's smoke there's fire. But increasingly, where there's social media smoke and clamoring activists, there's more deception than discernment. 

The federal government may look into this matter -- the EEOC hasn't responded to the request for its assistance -- and that may give us more insight and information. The university has said it will convene a group to review policies in this area, to look for possible improvements. 

That seems reasonable.

But in an era where individuals rabidly search for a cause, eager to fight some revolution against some supposedly oppressive power, there is far too much over reach and over reaction. That's how college presidents lose their jobs. That's how things get blown out of proportion. That's how we abandon common sense, fairness and due process.

That's how we empower the mob rule of our day.

I'm no fan of Joel Seligman.

But I have no doubt that he has dealt with this matter with earnestness and capability from the very beginning, and will continue to do so. Not everything can be solved by marching in the quad and shouting invective at TV cameras. Some things require reason and maturity.

And Joel Seligman has provided that.

Let's hope some random retweet doesn't spark the wildfire that pushes him out the door.

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