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Editorial Board: Let’s hold faculty to a higher standard on sexual assault

Stanford’s Fundamental Standard states: “Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens.” In the years since 1896, the University has expanded on these basic tenets, adding phrases such as “the rights and dignity of others,” “intellectual honesty” and “the integrity of the university as a community of scholars.”

One word that hasn’t changed in the past hundred-plus years is “students.” There exists no similar statement of values for Stanford faculty and staff besides the rigid and somewhat legalistic Code of Conduct, presumably because the expectation that faculty live up to said values should be obvious.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that we were disappointed to learn of the accusations of sexual assault leveled in the past two weeks against former Stanford professors Franco Moretti and Jay Fliegelman. In the case of Fliegelman, whom Seo-Young Chu M.A. ’01 accused of harassing and raping her during her time here, we were especially troubled to find that even after a University investigation resulted in a two-year suspension, Stanford faculty and staff continued to present an award in his name and passed a memorial resolution by the Faculty Senate after his death in 2007.

This is confusing to us. Why would Stanford faculty, regardless of knowledge of investigation details, choose to honor without reservation a member whose two-year suspension was, according to a University spokesperson, “well known throughout campus”?

The language of the memorial is warm and collegial, referring to Fliegelman as “Jay” and extolling “his remarkable devotion to classroom instruction.” It recognizes his contributions to the English graduate program and notes the “extraordinary” and “unique” character of the “Jayfest” conference put on by his former students in 2007, and at no point does it mention that Fliegelman was once physically banned from Margaret Jacks Hall for a span of two years.

Not all deceased faculty are honored with resolutions in the Senate. Memorials like this, a namesake award — these are specific and intentional actions, and to us, they represent a remarkable hypocrisy on the part of Stanford and its faculty and staff. When a student feels compelled to stay silent for years until the celebration of her assailant becomes too frustrating to ignore, it’s hard to read those quarterly emails reaffirming Stanford’s support of survivors. When an investigation of a faculty member leads to suspension but is never publicly recorded, it’s hard to believe that the University’s release of undergraduate sexual violence statistics represents an honest commitment to transparency.

We acknowledge that Fliegelman was recognized for real achievements and contributions, to his colleagues, his students and his field. It’s difficult to determine the extent to which an academic is — or should be — tied to their work; it’s an important question to discuss, especially in light of the recent wave of allegations against well-known actors, producers and others. But to us, honoring Fliegelman’s “countless hours” spent counseling and mentoring graduate students — who take the lesser, vulnerable role in a hugely unequal power dynamic with faculty — without any mention of his investigation and suspension is incredibly disingenuous.

The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) also used to give out a mentorship award named for Fliegelman. After being contacted by Chu in 2016, its executive board voted unanimously to remove Fliegelman’s name from the award and did so immediately, even when no details were public. Stanford has, and has had for many years now, both full knowledge and similar options.

Now that these allegations are publicly known, we ask of the University, its faculty and its staff: Did you make the right choices — ones that reflected intellectual honesty, the integrity of the university and a respect for the rights and dignity of others? Will you, going forward, in this case and others like it?

How do we as students change, when this is the example set?

— Vol. 252 Editorial Board

 

Contact the Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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