Victims orvictimisers?

June 12, 1998

Bosom buddies. Sian Griffiths (box) looks at a how a reader at UCL got into hot water after accusations by two female students

Jane Ussher, reader in psychology at University College London, was last year the subject of a complaint lodged by two of her female postgraduate students.

According to Dorothy Einon, press spokesperson for UCL's psychology department, the students complained, "in a case that contained a lot of innuendo", that Dr Ussher had inadequately supervised their research.

The students, one of whom was conducting research into female pornography, may have felt that personal and professional boundaries had become blurred, said Dr Einon. Ussher, she said, was a lesbian; the two students heterosexual.

The university, which held a full investigation, dismissed the charge that Ussher had failed to supervise the students properly. She had warned them to work harder if they wanted to get their PhDs. "The university found absolutely no case to answer."

One of the students was awarded her PhD, the other left the university.

Jane Gallop, distinguished professor of literature at the University of Wisconsin, was accused of sexual harassment in 1992 by two of her female graduate students. At a gay and lesbian studies conference in 1991 graduate student Dana Beckelman gave a paper on Gallop's own work that was heavy with sexual overtones. Gallop, in the audience, remarked that "graduate students are my sexual preference". Later, at a local bar, the two women exchanged a French kiss.

But when Gallop made Beckelman revise her thesis proposal several times Beckelman interpreted it as sexual blackmail and said Gallop was pressurising her for sex. She brought sexual harassment charges after a second student told her Gallop had made sexual advances to her.

Wisconsin dismissed the complaint, but an investigator concluded the pair had had an "amorous relationship" that violated university policy and a letter to that effect was placed in Gallop's personal file.

Gallop later argued that the teaching relationship is inevitably an erotic one and that women, particularly feminists, cannot legitimately be accused of sexual harassment. That is, she says, a male preserve.

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