There is a suspicious circularity to the shape of some sexual harassment cases. They begin and end with the worldview promoted by the Sexual Harrassment Industry. Once one is caught in this vicious circle, escape is difficult. Professor Ramdas Lamb's experience of escalating charges of sexual harassment is a frightening example of this pattern.
Born in 1945 to an Italian-German family living in California, Lamb spent eight years in India (1969-77), becoming a Hindu monk and adopting the first name "Ramdas." Upon returning to this country, he married and attended graduate school, receiving his Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. In the fall of 1991, he took a position as an assistant professor of religion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. One of his tasks there was to serve as undergraduate adviser for religion majors. In this job he was remarkably successful, doubling the number of majors in just two years. His students (many of whom later testified for him) described him as an immensely popular, enthusiastic, and unusually accessible teacher, one who kept his office door open and allowed his students to come and go virtually as they pleased. He had a following — a group of students who often hung out at his office, discussing issues raised in class, and generally drawing on his wide experience and genial personality.
Trouble began in his second year of full-time teaching when he offered a new course, one he realized would, by its very subject, be controversial. Entitled "Religion, Politics, and Society," it focused on contemporary social issues such as homelessness, gay marriage, animal rights, abortion, and AIDS. In February 1993, Lamb asked his class to lead several articles on rape and sexual harassment from the textbook he had chosen for the course. One of these articles sparked a discussion among the students (two-thirds of whom were women) about false allegations of rape. One student said she could see both sides of the issue. She had herself been raped but had also seen her brother falsely accused when he broke off his engagement. Another young woman in the class, Tania Mortensen, who worked as a peer educator for a group called CORE (Creating Options for a Rape-Free Environment), vehemently denied that women ever lie about rape. Women must be believed, she insisted. She stated that data showed that a mere 3 percent of rape charges are false. Two other students, Michelle Gretzinger and Bonita Rai, supported this view. Gretzinger, who the previous semester had told various friends and professors that she had herself been raped in 1989, was evidently upset by challenges offered by other students to Mortensen's views and spent much of the class close to tears.
Professor Lamb knew Gretzinger well. She was a straight-A student who had decided to major in religion after meeting him. He had urged her to become an honors student, had written letters of recommendation for her, had lent her books, and had allowed her, along with others, to use his computer. As tension rose in his class, Lamb tried to mediate according to the ground rules that — so several of his students later testified — he had laid down at the beginning of the semester: Everyone was to be allowed to have his or her say; everyone's views were to be treated with respect; if a discussion was one-sided, Lamb would play the devil's advocate and introduce contrary points of view. As Wanda Dicks later testified, Lamb tried to get his students to understand the other person's point of view; he did not try to convert them. Another student who, as a Christian Fundamentalist, did not share Professor Lamb's beliefs, also testified to Lamb's open-mindedness.
However, for the first time in his teaching experience, Ramdas Lamb found the class getting out of his control that day. Tania Mortensen dominated the class, did most of the talking, adamantly denied that more than one view of women's truthfulness about rape was possible, and generally seemed to intimidate the other students.
Out of that day's conflict issued an extraordinary drama. First, Ramdas Lamb found himself accused of sexual harassment by the three distraught students (Mortensen, Gretzinger, and Rai) who had argued that "women don't lie." They claimed that Lamb had created a "hostile environment" by challenging their position and characterizing them as "man haters."
It is fascinating to see intellectual controversy about a social problem itself become grounds for sexual harassment charges. As famous a figure as Alan M. Dershowitz came close to facing charges over precisely the same issue. Dershowitz considers the notion of hostile-environment sexual harassment a threat to both freedom of speech and equal protection (since it sets offenses to women apart from all other offenses). He recounts how a group of feminists in his criminal-law class at Harvard, objecting to his discussion of false allegations of rape, threatened to file hostile-environment charges against him. "Despite the fact that the vast majority of students wanted to hear all sides of the important issues surrounding the law of rape," Dershowitz states, "a small minority tried to use the law of sexual harassment as a tool of censorship." The significance of this does not escape him: "The fact that it is even thinkable at a major university that controversial teaching techniques might constitute hostile-environment sexual harassment demonstrates the dangers of this expandable concept." Still, in Dershowitz's case the feminist students eventually decided against bringing charges.
Ramdas Lamb wasn't so lucky. When the original accusations began to crumble, Michelle Gretzinger, who by all accounts had until then shown a special, and apparently personal, interest in Professor Lamb, escalated her charges—initially merely hinting at some sexual relation-ship between herself and Lamb; later, when pressed, accusing him of repeated rape. The offense was "serial rape" and "mentor rape," as her lawyer was to call it in court.
Reading through the two thousand or so pages of legal transcripts generated by this case, I noticed a distinct pattern emerging of how Gretzinger proceeded in her accusations against Lamb. First she tried to keep the charges vague, so that initially it was not even clear what precisely was being alleged—perhaps merely some suspicion of sexual misconduct to complement the hostile-environment charges she and her two classmates were pursuing. She repeatedly testified that there had been no specific mention of any rapes in the first few months of the investigation because, she said, she had assumed that the charges the three students had already filed would be "enough."
When the initial charges proved flimsy, Gretzinger began to allege that Lamb had sexually assaulted her during the preceding semester, identifying to different acquaintances different locations for the as-saults, of which she had given no sign at the time. She variously claimed they had occurred in Lamb's office, in his home, and in her apartment. When forced to come up with specifics (months after her initial charges, even though university regulations expressly required that complaints when first filed were to be accompanied by precise details), Gretzinger asserted that Lamb had raped her between ten and sixteen times in her own apartment after driving her home from his once-a-week class. These rapes, she claimed, had taken place between early September and early October 1992.
Unfortunately for Gretzinger's case, when pushed to come up with concrete dates, she named some that proved to be impossible. In the time frame she mentioned, there were not enough class days, Lamb's lawyer demonstrated in court, to accommodate her charges.
Professor Lamb, for his part, categorically denied having had sexual relations of any sort with her and testified that he had never set foot in her apartment. Furthermore, Gretzinger's own actions throughout the period in which the rapes were supposed to have occurred made the story of rape unconvincing. She had failed to indicate to her husband or to anyone else that repeated assaults were taking place; she had continued to demonstrate enthusiasm for Lamb, his courses, and the extra-curricular activities in which he was involved; she had signed up for an elective course with Lamb the following semester — all of which was attested to by many other students. This pattern of behavior was part of the challenge faced by the sexual harassment specialists when they came to Gretzinger's aid.
Confronted by irrefutable testimony of Lamb's innocence — testimony that left the plaintiff's case a shambles — Gretzinger's attorney fell back upon the very claims with which the entire drama had gotten underway: What motive could the plaintiff possibly have for making up such a tale? Why would she expose herself to the humiliation and pain of admitting to being the victim of rape? In short: Women do not lie. The lawyer's closing examination of Gretzinger before the jury in no way addressed the many problems with Gretzinger's testimony. Instead, he merely had Gretzinger confirm one last time (without citing specifics) that she had indeed been raped. Stressing the "painful, humiliating experience" Gretzinger was willing to relive by going to court, and the damage this indignity inflicted on her reputation, he claimed that his client's motivation was nothing more than to prevent other women from coming to the same harm to which she had been subjected." Winding up, he asserted, "There is no motive to lie."
However, this effort failed to persuade the jury to overlook the abundant evidence that Gretzinger had fabricated the charges. Plausible as it is to hold that in some past periods or in other countries the very charge of rape has been so self-vilifying that few women would willingly make it unless it was in fact true, hardly the situation in America in the 1990s, Gretzinger's lawyer's invocation of a prefeminist image of women's disadvantage in legal battles over rape thus proved unconvincing.
The Ramdas Lamb case is a particularly interesting one because of what it reveals about the inner workings of the Sexual Harassment Industry. Here is a professor of religion so profeminist that in class he referred to God as "she," a teacher whom many students described as always treating women with respect and encouraging their work in every way. None of these traits, however, carried any weight once the SHI involved itself in the case. What should have been dismissed at once as an instance of a few angry and vindictive students whose feminist beliefs had been challenged by a professor exercising his right of free speech quickly spun out of control. As Lamb points out, Gretzinger, while constantly alleging her powerlessness, managed, on the basis of mere accusations with no evidence at all, to turn his life upside down very easily — a good illustration of the increasing lag between rhetoric and reality: Victimhood is claimed while the very opposite is demonstrated.
Gretzinger's depositions reveal how thoroughly she knew the typical sexual harassment script. She stressed her vulnerability and "indebted-ness" to Lamb, and for this latter case to be made she had to interpret his typical professorial gestures of kindness and helpfulness as instances of "grooming" (or, as some texts call it, "priming") her." Fortunately for Lamb, many of his other students had witnessed Gretzinger's behavior — that she had phoned him, had sought him out, was always hanging around his office, and so on, all of which she denied under oath. Instead, she turned it all around, sounding well versed in the "how to make a case" literature, whose script she followed in every particular, above all in her psychological portrait of herself as a victim of an unscrupulous professor, whose path toward sexual assault she outlined with care.
All the charges made about Ramdas Lamb's behavior in class were refuted by other students, but to Susan Hippensteele, the university's "student advocate," and to Mie Watanabe, its EEO/affirmative action officer, whose handling of the matter also violated university procedures, they were self-evidently true. Hippensteele suggested reading materials to teach the plaintiffs about sexual harassment injuries and how to be on the lookout for them. In that duplication of functions that often characterizes the SHI's involvement with local cases, she also served as adviser to a student group called SHarP (Sexual Harassment Prevention), in which Michelle Gretzinger participated after making her allegations. Testifying on behalf of the "victim" was Michele Paludi, the same sexual harassment expert whose Ivory Power: Sexual Harassment on Campus was one of the books suggested to the complainant by Hippensteely. What did Paludi know about the case? She had read only the supposed victim's account, not the masses of other testimony produced. But she could affirm that the charges were entirely plausible, her judgment being based on her general familiarity with student victims and predatory professors.
Professor Ramdas Lamb's three-and-a-half-year battle to prove his innocence — which is precisely what he had to do — is thus a scary example of the kind of reality the Sexual Harassment Industry has brought upon us. That his case was an administrative outrage was plain as early as 1994 — before claims and counterclaims were filed in federal court — when a labor arbitrator brought in by the faculty union examined the evidence and, in deciding in Lamb's favor, meticulously dissected the many abuses of due process that had characterized the university's handling of the case from the beginning. These abuses, the arbitrator made clear, resulted from the zealotry of the university's feminist sexual harassment officers. Nonetheless, the university settled with Gretzinger in 1995 for $175,000, citing inordinate delays in dealing with her case, but offered Lamb no recompense for suffering not only the same delays but also mistreatment by university officials. As we saw in chapter 3, Gretzinger lost her federal suit against Lamb.
But legal vindication is hardly enough to compensate the real victim in this case. In early 1998, this is what Lamb wrote about the repercussions of his experience:
I still avoid interacting with women I don't know and trust. I rarely feel good about going to school. I still avoid meeting female students in my office, unless I know someone else will be there. I definitely treat my female students differently now than I do my male students. The case has had clear ramifications within the university, too. A lot of professors are being very careful with what they say. Several have told me they now avoid becoming advisors for female grad students. There have been policy changes, but that really doesn't mean a thing. In my case, nearly every administrator who dealt with me simply ignored the policy, from Hippensteele to the dean of the law school.In June 1998, Lamb was awarded tenure. But he failed in his attempt to save colleagues from an ordeal similar to his. In May 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected his appeal of a district court's ruling that granted qualified immunity to the individual University of Hawaii officials who participated in the flawed sexual harassment investigation against him. These officials, the court declared, were entitled to qualified immunity; they were, in fact, obligated to investigate the sexual harassment charge. What the Court of Appeals declined to define were the "precise contours of the protection the First Amend-ment provides the classroom speech of college professors." The same Court of Appeals, however, upheld the federal jury's verdict against Gretzinger.
Finally, Lamb can put this entire episode behind him. But its effects linger: "I don't think I will ever feel the way I did prior to these accusations," he has said. "There are those at the university who still treat me as guilty even though every investigation has found me innocent."
More recently still, Lamb has written: "I used to love to teach. Not any more. I used to love to interact with students and stimulate them to think critically. Not any more. I used to believe that university campuses promoted free speech and the truth. Not any more. I used to believe students when they would tell me things. Not any more."