Hundreds of thousands of parents are tightening their belts to write out huge college tuition checks. Others are taking money out of every paycheck for their younger children's education.

And part of what they are paying for is the fiasco of sexual harassment policies in academia that act as a hidden tax on everyone's pocketbook.

How?

Sandra Banack was recently awarded $75,000 in damages, and her attorney was awarded an additional $236,804 in fees, for a sexual harassment suit brought against California State University at Fullerton (CSUF).

No sexual touching or language was alleged; no one lost a job or salary. Rather, the university was found guilty of reprimanding Banack about a possible trespass upon private property and violation of a permit from the Department of Fish and Game during a class field trip.

The reprimand was judged to have been both unfounded and directed at Banack because she is a woman. Thus, CSUF has been ordered to pay approximately $312,000, a figure that does not include CSUF's own legal fees.

The university is appealing. But Banack's award earns 7 percent interest a year in the meantime, according to the Los Angeles Times. And Banack's attorney will seek additional fees that could rise as high as $100,000 if CSUF loses the appeal.

The Banack case represents the third time in a year that CSUF has been ordered to pay a six-figure award in a sexual harassment suit. The other two awards combined for more than $500,000 - not counting legal expenses.

CSUF is just one school. Sexual harassment policies, procedures, complaints, and lawsuits are ongoing at virtually every university and college in America. No figure exists on how much money harassment suits have collectively cost academia within the last twelve months. Nor is there an estimate on how much tuitions have risen in response.

Even if the figures did exist, they would indicate only a fraction of how much the average person is paying for the crusade against alleged sexual harassment in academia. The cost is not merely in tuition but in tax dollars, because federal funds have been pumped for almost two decades into what the iconoclastic feminist Daphne Patai calls the Sexual Harassment Industry (SHI).

The SHI includes the researchers, scholars, sensitivity/diversity trainers, university officials, psychologists, bureaucrats (such as those in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), and all others whose pocketbooks are enriched by tax money to fight sexual harassment.

Again, no reliable figures exist on how much tax money the SHI collectively sops up each year. It can only be estimated. Patai reported her employer, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, paid $1,250 to $1,800 per day (each) to sexual harassment prevention trainers, $180 per hour for consultation and over $10,000 for expenses such as hotel rooms and meals.

This was merely one training course at one university, which was part of a much larger sexual harassment program. Multiply this by almost every university or college of any size.

The SHI has a financial interest in expanding both the definition of sexual harassment and the application of policies against it. Thus, the definition of harassment has come to include behavior that seems trivial or unconnected to sexuality.

The influential book Sexual Harassment on Campus: A Guide for Administrators, Faculty, and Students (1997) was co-authored by Bernice Sandler, who may well be the most prominent figure in the SHI. According to the Guide, sexual harassment includes sexual bantering, humor about females or sex, laughing at someone or not taking her seriously when she speaks of experiencing sexual harassment, leering or having what is called "elevator eyes," as well as attempted or actual sexual assault.

The Guide's description of sexual harassment equates having "elevator eyes" with sexual assault. It places trivial behavior under the same heading as a brutally criminal attack and, in doing so, converts something that is inconsequential into something that is legally actionable.

In doing so, the law invites abuse by "victims" whose discomfort over trivial behavior is often used as the litmus test of whether sexual harassment happened. In her book Heterophobia, Patai describes several cases typifying the abuse that occurs.

For example, Susan Hippensteele won a suit against the University of Hawaii because a professor once "grabbed her" and kissed her on the forehead. Describing the experience as so traumatic as to be "life changing," Hippensteele received her Ph.D. in psychology and accepted a job on the same campus as a "sexual harassment counselor/victim's advocate."

In an essay in the Guide, Hippensteele says she looks forward to the day when the "inevitable expansion of the common definition of sexual harassment" in order to improve the effectiveness of "tools for intervention and prevention." In short, she wants sexual harassment to include even more territory.

Lawsuits and university policies that broaden "sexual harassment" ensure that money will keep flowing from public coffers into the pockets of the SHI. It will keep hiking up the amount on tuition checks written by parents who care enough for their children to pay the price.

McElroy is the editor of www.ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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