Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, September 24, 2018

Trustee sexual misconduct allegations exemplify societal problem

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Ross Levinsohn, AU Trustee, chip away at the credibility of the Board

Trustee sexual misconduct allegations exemplify societal problem

Clarification appended.

On Monday, Jan. 22, the AU community was alerted by Jack Cassell, the chair of the Board of Trustees, that Ross Levinsohn had taken a voluntary leave of absence from the board. In a short email, it was revealed that the reason for this leave was due to an NPR investigation that found a history of sexual harassment claims against Levinsohn.

Levinsohn is an AU alum and publisher for the Los Angeles Times. As we have seen in this country since fall 2017, men in power are being exposed for varying levels of inappropriate and upsetting behavior. What once would have been merely regarded as petty gossip in our society is now seeing legitimate actions taken against those perpetrators.

By meeting quickly after NPR’s report was published, the Board clearly wanted to make a decisive move. I appreciate the University’s Board of Trustees for taking speedy action on this issue. Instead of allowing this to simply pass by, there was quick and clear communication from Cassell. None of us know how much pressure the Board members applied to Levinsohn, but I hope they made it clear that if Levinsohn did not decide to step back himself, they would remove him. While he may not have been removed directly, something actually happened to Levinsohn, not just in his professional career. If AU has any hopes of being seen as serious about sexual harassment, this is a meaningful move.

But, is it enough? What does it mean that someone who had litigation for sexual harassment was still able to join the Board? Did none of the members truly have any idea of Levinsohn’s behavior?

The seriousness of someone being able to obtain such positions of power when there was existing evidence is troubling, especially in the context of our University. It is difficult to feel supported when there is someone who, at the very least, doesn’t respect women serving at such a high position.

As reported by The Eagle, it is unclear whether Levinsohn will be reinstated. I would hope that this University would take seriously their commitment to supporting those who have suffered from sexual harassment and assault, both on and off campus, and choose not to reinstate.

The trail of sexual misconduct allegations that has followed Levinsohn’s career connects his story to a larger issue of workplace harassment. Workplace harassment is a step toward disregarding women, which contributes to a broader American culture where rape and sexual assault are permissible. There were 12,428 sex-based allegation charges reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017.

What is especially troubling with Levinsohn’s record is that his behavior is described as being “frat house” in the NPR report. The direct reference to the behavior of college-aged boys is indicative of how slowly we have progressed. As my colleague Sonikka Loganathan wrote last week, “we live in a tragic world filled with 'frat boys' who never grew up.” One of them has been in university leadership.

This is the mentality that must be left behind. These issues have a home on college campuses across the country, including AU. It is time for everyone at this university, fraternity members, administrators and Board members alike, to fully commit to respecting women. It is time that we commit to supporting women, and not hurting women. It is not okay for women to be treated this way, whether it be at a “frat house,” an office or a household.

Rape is part of a culture that hurts women. Ranking “hotness,” as Levinsohn admitted to doing according to the NPR report, is part of a culture that hurts women. Not paying women as much as their equal male counterparts is part of a culture that hurts women.

Women at AU deserve better than one of the people making decisions about their university to be someone with real allegations of sexual misconduct. The Board took this seriously, but there is more to do. Someone like this should never have been on the Board in the first place, and women at AU need to be reassured with concrete action that their voices and their #MeToo stories are heard and respected. Pushing for change isn’t easy, but AU as an institution needs to lead this fight. Whatever the past track record is, now is the time to do better, and do more. Time is, finally, up.

Samantha McAllister is a freshman in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle.

Clarification: Levinsohn has been accused of sexual misconduct and not rape. As of March 21, 2018, these allegations have not been proved. The Eagle has added a statistic from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to emphasize that Levinsohn has been accused of sexual misconduct. It has removed a statistic from the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).

smcallister@theeagleonline.com


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