My friend told me this story that happened to him a few month ago during an interview for an assistant professor position in a north-american university:

I was on a campus tour as a part of a full-day interview program and was accompanied by two members from the selection committee: the department head and one of the senior professors (in his mid-50's). Everything was normal and they were showing me the facilities each building has etc. Now, we are at the gym and out of nowhere the senior professors tells me while pointing at the climbing wall:

This climbing wall is the best place to watch young girls, I like doing that when I come to the gym.

The department head heard him and shushed him right away. He also told him to lower his voice otherwise someone will hear him and he might get in trouble (or something along this line). Honestly, I didn't know how to react, so I just kept quite and didn't comment. It still bothers me so much that I didn't respond to make him know how inappropriate his comment is.

My question has two parts:

  1. Should he try to reach out to someone at the university (and who is this person?) to let them know what one of their professors who deals daily with female students said?

  2. How should anyone react to such comments given that this person is on the selection committee? I know this might be a Workplace question, but I felt it fits here given these circumstances.

  • My first thought, honestly, was that this was a bizarre test to see what your friend's reaction would be.
    – Buffy
    May 11, 2019 at 16:20

4 Answers 4


Although the comment was absolutely inappropriate, it wasn't directed toward your friend and had nothing to do with the selection process.

The department chair took notice of the comment in your friend's presence. We could hope the department chair will have taken appropriate action.

I think that's sufficient, especially since your friend is a candidate for a position. If your friend believes he or she must do something further, your friend could write to the department chair, saying something like, "I couldn't help but hear Professor X's comment. Have any students complained about his comments or demeanor? Should I report his remark, and to whom?" That puts the department chair on notice that you took notice, didn't like it, and are prepared to go further.

  • This makes it seem like this was the first occurrence in the head's presence, in which case they handled it appropriately; but my reading of the story makes it seem much more like this is a known behavior that the head attempts to hide ("shushed him right away" rather than being taken aback and/or clarifying, or awkwardly laughing it off). I lean toward agreeing that the asker should ignore this, but I think the way you phrase it minimizes the fact that by doing so the asker is making a moral compromise. The campus is probably filled with many people that did the same thing.
    – Turch
    May 11, 2019 at 7:12
  • @Turch The asker is, or was at the time, a visitor with know way of knowing whether this was part of a pattern of behavior. If hired, he or she will have an opportunity to observe and, if necessary, act from the position of a member of the faculty. If Professor X's behavior is as egregious as you may fear, there will be complaints from the students themselves. Of course, the asker could act now, and I offered a suggestion.
    – Bob Brown
    May 11, 2019 at 12:16

This comment is clearly inappropriate for a job interview situation, but in this situation the best response is to ignore it or change the subject.

The gym is a public place. In most locations, there is no right to privacy in public places. Anyone can watch anybody at the gym.

If you object to "watching young girls," I would point out that this is perfectly normal. According to Wikipedia, about 10 million people watch episodes of "The Batchelor," which is apparently a show about women of the same age you would see in a college gym. (I don't have a TV.) I'm pretty sure nearly all of those 10 million people also deal daily with females, without any difficulty.

The idea that watching certain people will lead to sexual misconduct is wrong and paranoid.

  • 7
    I think I have to disagree, at least a bit. People on television are being paid to be watched. Undergraduate women are not, most especially by someone who may have the power of grades over them. Brown's rule: You can lust after girls, you can lust after boys, but you can never lust after students.
    – Bob Brown
    May 11, 2019 at 1:16
  • 6
    However, you are absolutely correct that "The idea that watching certain people will lead to sexual misconduct is wrong and paranoid." Th' thing is, the undergraduate women, and men, "deserve some space."
    – Bob Brown
    May 11, 2019 at 1:20
  • 9
    @Allure Professors should not be creepy. A few years ago I asked a woman student what her T-shirt said. (The message was in decorative letters that were hard to read.) She pointed at her chest and I said, "Well, yeah, but it's hard to read and I can't stare there!" She laughed.
    – Bob Brown
    May 11, 2019 at 1:26
  • 9
    Legality isn't the only issue. Lots of things are legal, but also frowned upon by employers and can result in disciplinary action. May 11, 2019 at 2:33
  • 7
    There was some research with special glasses to find out where men looked in social situations... obvious result chest, rear.. etc But then they put the glasses on the ladies... And they were all checking out the "lunch-box" of the men... So both sides do it....
    – Solar Mike
    May 11, 2019 at 6:41

I'm going to just respond to the easier first half of the question. If this is in the US, every university has clearly designated "Title IX" officers whose job description is exactly to deal with this kind of complaint. The name and contact info of the Title IX officers should be easy to find via google. It seems unlikely to me that this remark will result in any serious action, given the typical response to much more serious allegations, but that office will know whether there have been other complaints and can keep this complaint in mind if there are further complaints in the future.

  • 9
    I do not see how this could be a Title IX violation. Inappropriate, but not illegal. May 11, 2019 at 1:03
  • 1
    If it was part of a larger pattern of comments it could be a title IX violation. At any rate, that's clearly the most appropriate person to report to if there's a report to be made. May 11, 2019 at 2:03
  • As the top of the post says « north american univerity » then it must be in the US...
    – Solar Mike
    May 11, 2019 at 6:32
  • 9
    @SolarMike: Researcher Discovers Canada, Mexico, And Other Nations Are In North America! Leading Scientists Stunned!!! May 11, 2019 at 10:58
  • @BobJarvis do you think you should include the dependent territories as well?
    – Solar Mike
    May 11, 2019 at 11:01

Interviewing for a job is a special skill. One must ask questions that elicit useful information and ensure that the candidate is talking most of the time, not the interviewer.

Neither thing tends to happen when academics conduct these interviews. They all believe they are fascinating and incredibly good at everything.

The inappropriateness you report is appalling, but it is just another corollary of academics doing all sorts of management chores they are neither trained for nor good at.

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