Yesterday I heard the sad news that Prof. Walter Lewin, age 78 — perhaps the most celebrated physics teacher in MIT’s history — has been stripped of his emeritus status and barred from campus, and all of his physics lectures removed from OpenCourseWare, because an internal investigation found that he had been sexually harassing students online.It is hard to see how one complaint from a long-distance internet student about an inappropriate remark could justify such a response.
It appears that Lewin accumulated some enemies over his 40 years of teaching, and MIT wanted to avoid getting a letter like Princeton got. My guess is that it has some other pending sexual harassment investigations, and throwing Lewin under the bus was the easiest way to impress the feds breathing down their neck.
The comments are amazing, ranging from Nazi analogies, people who were truly inspired by Lewin, and social justice warriors with zero tolerance for anyone who crosses some imaginary behavior line. But see especially the debate between feminist Amy #144 and Jewish liberal Scott #171. The discussion gets personal, with Amy complaining of being harassed and raped, and Scott wanting to buy into the feminist political agenda, but cannot go along with the current level of demonizing men, because he has also suffered in ways that never get any sympathy from anyone. He eventually married a researcher in a related field, but for a long time he was too intimidated to ever show any sexual interest in anyone.
College campuses have become centers of heated and unresolved complaints. The biggest recent one was the Rolling Stone UVa frat party rape story, and that turned out to be some sort of weird catfishing hoax.
I just watched this Bill Maher rant against Feminism (from several years ago):
The feminine values are now the values of America. Sensitivity is more important that truth. Feelings are more important than facts. Commitment is more important than individuality. Children are more important than people. Safety is more important than fun.He is right. The feminists do not seem to care about the facts of Lewin or UVa fraternities. They want attention to their feelings and sensitivity. Even when the facts show that the story is wrong, they say goofy things like “But it doesn’t change my opinion that it may or may not have happened”.
Update: The Aaronson comments degenerate into a bunch of personal comments about rape and other unsatisfactory sexual experiences that most people would not call rape, but Lewin was never within a thousand miles of the woman, as far as anyone knows.
Aaronson really wants to agree with Amy's Jewish feminist politics, but stop short of taking the blame for her confusion about who she wants to have sexual relations with.
Update: One comment says:
If the accuser were an MIT student enrolled in Prof. Lewin’s 8.02 course, or a graduate student working in his lab, or a junior faculty member on whose tenure he was going to vote, then obviously Prof. Lewin would hold a position of power over the woman that must not be abused. But — and please correct me if I’m wrong — a student in an MITx course gets nothing beyond education, apart from some meaningless certificate of completion. That’s probably all that a student should receive, since there’s no practicable way to be sure that the student himself or herself is doing the work.Feminist Amy ignores this, and rambles on about rape is common and how male behavior needs to be changed, but that the rape should not necessarily be punished unless the women demand it.
So, it seems to me, Prof. Lewin had no real power over the accuser and no physical contact with her. Conversely, she had a great deal of power over him, seeing as she was able to end his career and destroy his reputation (while ensconced in anonymity, no less).
Wouldn’t the situation have been satisfactorily resolved if MIT had simply removed Prof. Lewin as the instructor of record for this MOOC, so that the accuser’s meaningless grade was assigned by someone else?
Update: Another unrebutted comment:
Over the last several days I’ve spoken to a dozen STEM professionals, with one or more university degrees each, including a retired dean of science and two department chairs thereof (one retired) and a couple of Fortune 100 executives, in age from 50 to 70, regarding this matter. The overwhelming consensus is that, based on available information, MIT has totally mishandled this situation.I conclude that MIT is doing this mainly for reasons that have little to do with what Lewin actually did.
If Professor Lewin has been misbehaving for a long time, then folks want to know how MIT let that happen. If he’s been misbehaving, why did MIT keep him in contact with students?
And if this development is recent, folks want to know why MIT isn’t graciously showing this legendary eighty-year old man the door with respect ~ for if this is a recent development, then given Walter’s clear faltering on occasion in the later of his available on-line YouTube &c lectures (I’ve watched all of them including all of 8.01, 8.02, 8.03, and all the related videos) and given his long traditional history of placing his students first, recent changes in his behaviour would indicate that he’s simply losing it due to old age.
Update: Dorothy explains:
In broad brush strokes, we would like the attractive men to find us attractive and potentially to hit on us and the unattractive men not to notice we are women.That is clear enuf. The alphas can do whatever they want, while the betas have to be put in their place.
In fact we want a very small percentage of men to find us unbelievably attractive and to hit on us, but in, you know, a nice way. We would like a slightly larger number of men, but still small, to find us very attractive but to do nothing about it (they can talk to each other about how hot and unattainable we are though) and the rest just to completely leave us alone and preferably have no thoughts about us at all. ...
It is of course disgusting when an unattractive man hits on you in any situation.
Update: The feminist attack on Aaronson is sickening.