A male professor who made a joke in a crowded elevator at an academic conference is now facing disciplinary charges after a female professor who was there filed a formal complaint.
Richard Ned Lebow, professor of international political theory at King’s College in London, was in a jammed elevator when someone asked him what floor he needed to get off on, according to a Washington Post opinion piece.
“Ladies’ lingerie,” he joked.
He was attending the International Studies Association conference in San Francisco at the time. Simona Sharoni, professor of women’s and gender studies at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, also present in the elevator, took offense and several hours after the incident, she filed a complaint with the association, which found that Lebow violated the group’s code of conduct.
After Lebow was made aware of the complaint, he sent Sharoni an email telling her “I certainly had no desire to insult women or to make you feel uncomfortable.” He also suggested she may have “interpreted my remark out of context.”
“Like you, I am strongly opposed to the exploitation, coercion or humiliation of women,” Lebow wrote, according to the Post. “As such evils continue, it seems to me to make sense to direct our attention to real offenses, not those that are imagined or marginal. By making a complaint to ISA that I consider frivolous — and I expect, will be judged this way by the ethics committee — you may be directing time and effort away from the real offenses that trouble us both.”
The ISA committee found fault with Lebow characterizing Sharoni’s complaint as “frivolous.” It instructed him to issue an “unequivocal apology,” which he refused to do.
Lebow told colleagues this is “a horrifying and chilling example of political correctness” that “encourages others to censor their remarks for fear of retribution.”
"For decades, women and other marginalized groups in the academy had to put up with white men who decided what counts as a violation and what is ‘frivolous,’" Sharoni told The Chronicle. "As someone who has dedicated her life to confronting sexism (and other forms of discrimination and oppression) in academic spaces, I cannot and will not remain silent when misogyny is at play."
Lebow faces appropriate sanctions from ISA if he doesn’t write an apology by May 15.
ISA did not immediately respond to request for comment.