Blogconfidential: Behind closed doors

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Behind closed doors

January 6, 2011

I like to feel that I am a reasonable person. I consider myself fairly liberal and broad-minded, but what happened to me the other day has left me feeling somewhat bereft of any sense of "knowing" other people.

I planned to work from home for a few days leading up to Christmas and needed to access some online journals for an article I had to complete during the holidays. As luck would have it, I could not access the journals online. I did, however, have the information in my office. So I went into work early on the day before Christmas Eve. I jogged in with my rucksack so that I could do a little shopping on the way back. When I arrived at 8.45am, the campus was a ghost town. I headed straight to my office, collected the relevant information and went on my way.

As I walked down the corridor, I noticed that the dean's office light was on. I decided to pop in and wish him a merry Christmas. I should have knocked. The phrase "caught with your trousers down" comes straight from the world of tabloid journalism - and here I had the front-page headline. I found our dean, our wonderful and well-respected dean, in a compromising position with one of the cleaners, Ancka.

At first it did not register. I was shocked and disgusted. I have known Ancka for two years, and we always chat when we meet; I gave her a Christmas card this year. I know that she has been having a hard time - she left Slovenia several years ago and finally seemed to have settled in our city. But I have always thought her desperately poor and vulnerable. And to find our dean "taking advantage" of this woman, who is half his age, seems exploitative and abusive. I fled the building.

When I got home, there was a message from the dean on my answerphone asking me to call him. I've ignored the message but I have no idea what to do. Redundancies will be made in our department, and I have the feeling that I am suddenly at the top of that list. I'm in a terrible quandary about what to do.

I know the feeling when someone reveals a side to his life that was not part of the image you had formed of that person. I found myself in a similar situation several years ago. I ignored it and explained to the person concerned that it had nothing to do with me.

This is my advice to you. Stay clear, don't get involved and explain to your dean (if he asks) that what you witnessed was nothing to do with you. His call seems to imply that he is anxious about being discovered.

I suggest that you email him back asking him if there is anything he wants from you. But you should stay well away from making moral or value judgements - no law has been broken, no crime committed, just an image of a senior member of staff shattered.

I also agree that you should have knocked on his door.

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