Opinion: Fuck You, Professor Walsh
I would like to use my platform as a journalist to air a specific grievance I have with someone. That’s okay, right? I don’t care. (My editor won’t notice. I mean, have you seen some of the shit we pass off as news around here?)
Here’s the deal with this guy: He seems really nice. That’s how they get ya. The business college is full of these professors, genial white dudes (and like maybe two genial white women) in their 50s and 60s. They were out there in the business world for a bit before they came to tell us students which of their mistakes not to make. They’ve been here for years, and they’ll be here for years more.
You might try to rationalize the stuff some of these guys say. You might manage to give them the benefit of the doubt when the takeaway from the ethics chapters seems to be a shrug. You might roll your eyes at the page of your textbook that calls social responsibility “moot” if the company isn’t making money, and you might smile nervously when someone tells you a German company is developing a way to sell ad space in the noise your skull makes when you lean it against the window of a train.
But I don’t want to tell you about that today. Today, let’s talk about October 27th, 2020, when Professor Walsh broke down a hypothetical scenario about an employee coming forward with harassment allegations against another company’s salesperson.
Walsh began: “I’m gonna ask you to try to take the emotion out of it for a minute,” he said. A strong start.
Then he doubled down. “Cool down a minute, take the emotion out of it. Let’s not think ‘damn it, sexual harassment is wrong every time, all the time, we have to take strong steps and–’ got it. Got it. Um, it isn’t right, but I don’t know that the first thing that Walt [the sales manager] should do is report the guy. Cause I don’t know that it’s gonna change anything. Frankly, we also don’t know that it’s true.”
He went on: “Let’s do some investigation and find out the rest of the facts. Um, you know, if Thorne [the alleged harasser] pulls the business away from us, then we can go to Commonwealth [Thorne’s company]. I’m torn on this, because my gut feel is to say, ‘report the bastard’. Right? To somebody, whether it’s your HR department or Commonwealth HR or whatever. To me, the biggest thing is, I’m not willing to believe this is a one-time thing with this guy, I think this guy’s a creep. Right? So if nobody ever reports it, there’s never gonna be a paper trail they’ll catch up with. So I’m kinda torn. Again, my emotional reaction is to report the guy. I think my real-life reaction is, I think I’d sit down with Thorne. I think Walt oughta meet with Thorne, tell him there’s been this allegation, and tell him if this ever happens again, we’re dumping you.”
Walsh did clarify that the rep who came forward with the alleged harassment should be supported, and outlined some ideas.
“If she changes her mind and wants to be relocated, she needs to know that we’re supportive of that. And she needs to know that we’re gonna protect her and all that kind of thing, and if she asks to be reassigned, we’re not gonna bring that up in the future whenever there are promotions to be had or whatever. This is not her fault. She is not the perpetrator here, but Walt’s gotta let her know that if anything happens further, then we’ll take action. Report him to his managers or his HR department, and if they don’t chop the guy, then we have to make the decision of whether to assign a new salesperson or maybe we drop the account. Maybe it’s that big a deal to us that we just refuse to do business.”
He added, “But I think that’s about the fifth step. I mean, is that making any sense? Let’s not just freak. I don’t know if I—stop me if I’ve already shared this anecdote but one of the places where I worked I had a subordinate who claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by one of our salespeople. Did I tell you this one already? And we immediately fired the guy. Six, eight months later it turns out it wasn’t true. So….”
He waved his hand for a moment, then pointed back to the scenario printed on the screen. “So far we don’t know. So I think you start with Thorne.”
Walsh then revealed that before giving his opinion, 28 students had submitted that they would report Thorne for harassment, with only 1 not reporting and 3 choosing to meet with Thorne. There was no follow-up poll to see whether the alleged victim’s credibility had taken a hit after Walsh’s spiel. I guess if I had been doing my due diligence as a reporter, I would have asked the female students who were in the room if this was difficult for them to listen to, but you never know if those tricky little minxes are lying.
If there’s anything that eases my mind about this, it’s that I’m sure the students in the class don’t need to be told their professor’s anecdotal evidence is not a justification for doubting harassment victims. If there’s anything that massive campaigns of abuse against women like Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, and Tara Reade have shown us, it’s that the average person understands survivors don’t come forward for their own gain.
I’m taking a moment to be grateful that this isn’t coming during a time when Title IX regulations are being overhauled to protect the accused rather than survivors on campuses like ours. At least we don’t live in a world where an estimated 2% of reported sexual harassment and assault cases are false (the majority of harassment and assault going unreported, of course) and every woman who comes forward risks retraumatizing herself and/or paints a target on her back.
At least the students will take what this respected professor says with a grain of salt. This isn’t a class full of young white men about to enter the business world. The class, entitled “Sales Management”, isn’t explicitly about how to manage a team of people, and no one who heard this lecture will remember it while working in a managerial role. This is the only class this guy teaches and is the only semester he’s ever taught it.
Professor Walsh is only one of many people reinforcing the skepticism toward survivors that is baked into our culture. We say nice words about believing real, proven survivors, good survivors, but somehow the survivor in front of us never quite makes the cut. Maybe next time if she’s a better victim, if there’s more evidence, if the attacker fesses up. Maybe not even then.
But I should have taken the emotion out of it.