Blogconfidential: More smoke than fire?

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: More smoke than fire?

August 26, 2010

I wrote to Times Higher Education several weeks ago about a male colleague's possible sexual contact with a female student ("The forbidden zone", May). I was a little surprised my email was accepted for publication and appreciate your commitment to maintaining my anonymity.

The online responses to my submission were upsetting: many indicated I was "stuffy" or "prudish". I was left in quite a state so I referred myself to the university counselling service and had several useful sessions. I acknowledged that I was a little jealous of the man in question. He is charismatic, dynamic, attractive and ascending to dizzy heights in his subject area. I am in my late 50s and face problems that are common to women of my age.

Anyway, it is summertime and the campus is eerily quiet. That said, both the object of my jealousy and I coincidentally took our holidays early and are working throughout August. I went to the office eight days ago and noticed he was in and there were lots of students in his room. Over the next few days his office was a hive of activity. Many of the people are degree-level students who should be at festivals, on holiday or working to pay off their debts.

I noticed there was a strong smell coming from his room. I went down to the ground floor and saw him smoking out of the window with a student. I know it was marijuana - I'm not as prudish as some of your readers think. Most of the students who are hanging around are the type who may be involved in drugs.

In addition, the young woman who was "attached" to my male colleague - the one I wrote about in May - has left suddenly. I was told she had decided that the degree she was doing was not for her, but it is all a little hush-hush. My theory is that he is a lecherous sort who is buying, selling or smoking illicit substances and implicating students in the process.

My husband has told me to stay clear and suggests I'm overreacting, but if my fears are justified this is very worrying.

Do you want to light the blue touchpaper on this firework? The instructions usually go on to state "stand well clear" and you do not have much to go on. This is not the 1970s nor a contemporary version of The History Man.

As I said in my previous advice, I suggest you proceed carefully. As you acknowledge, you may be mistaken. Perhaps you should take a scientific approach: where is the evidence (and I mean clear evidence)?

All you have to go on is a very quiet office, a popular member of your department and some vague assertions about drugs. Yes, I accept that this man may be a bit of a lothario, but you need to be objective about this.

As you acknowledge, you are jealous of this man. I wonder whether you may need to see a therapist over the longer term? This situation seems tricky, and I am being challenging for the right reasons. You are not Kurt Wallander and it is not your responsibility to blow the whistle until or unless you have evidence.

Email your dilemmas to margot.feelbetter@tsleducation.com

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