HANOVER — A professor emeritus of international political theory at Dartmouth College isn’t backing down after he lost his appeal before the International Studies Association over a comment he made in an elevator.
“The association wants a capitulation, not an apology,” Richard Ned Lebow said.
In a ruling released this month, the association is demanding that Lebow apologize to Simona Sharoni, a professor of women and gender studies at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., over the joke.
The two were attending an association conference held in San Francisco in April. Lebow reportedly asked to be let off at the ladies lingerie department. Lebow maintains he was joking, and most of the people in the elevator appreciated the humor. He was not directing the comment in a way meant to be sexual harassment, he said.
“My oldest son told me, ‘Dad, you’ve made worse jokes,’” he said.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sharoni wrote in her complaint that only Lebow’s friends laughed at the joke and that she and another woman in the elevator took offense.
“I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that we froze and didn’t confront him,’” she wrote.
When contacted, Sharoni declined to comment.
“I am no longer responding to media queries as every article brings with it a new wave of online harassment,” she said via email.
Sharoni reported the comments to the association and Lebow was ordered to write a letter of apology.
Instead, he wrote to Sharoni, attempted to explain his humor, and offered to meet her for coffee so the two could discuss the matter. He wrote that complaints like the one she made about him take away from the serious issues concerning sexual harassment and inequality.
Lebow appealed the association’s subsequent ruling that his email to Sharoni was insufficient and that he must write a formal apology to her. The association is threatening to issue a letter of reprimand if Lebow does not comply.
Lebow said he does not plan to take any further action, though he had contemplated a lawsuit at one point. Now, he said, his case will be brought before the association next year. He wants to see the bylaws changed to reflect common sense and allow for what he considers harmless jokes.
“That would be a victory as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Dartmouth officials declined to comment on the Lebow matter. The school is currently the subject of a $70 million federal lawsuit brought by female students who claim three former psychology professors engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, including allegations of sexual assault.