Full possession of the facts

#Fruitbatgate. If that looks like nonsense to you, read on.

A word or phrase with the hash symbol in front of it, is called a ‘hashtag’. It’s a device used on Twitter to show that you are referencing a scandal, story, company or person. And the scandalous ones almost always have ‘gate’ at the end of them, after the infamous Watergate scandal that toppled Richard Nixon – #Bertiegate, #Willygate, #Climategate, and now #fruitbatgate.

If you’re an avid newspaper or online media follower, you’ll have spotted this one as early as this time last week, when the details – some of the details – of #fruitbatgate became public.

A UCC lecturer has come out publicly to protest against sanctions imposed on him by UCC after a complaint made about his “inappropriate” behaviour by a colleague. The complaint was made after he showed a peer-reviewed article about the sexual habits of the fruitbat to the colleague.

His cause has been taken up by the Irish Federation of University Teachers, and he has started an online petition, signed by high profile academics including the provost of King’s College Cambridge. The issue has even received coverage in the Huffington Post and the London Times.

However, one of the first rules of journalism is to question everything, and, while I’m an avid fan of blogging and social media, not all bloggers (some do) follow the same rules as journalists do. Not all journalists do, either, mind, but usually there is some effort to get both sides of a story before printing, rather than waiting for the other party to get upset and retort.

One newspaper went a strange way about getting both sides of the story – by printing the name and picture of the woman who’d accused Dr Evans of sexual harassment. Granted, it was her own choice not to comment, but this does say something about the way in which sexual harassment cases are treated.

Further thought by some bloggers – one of whom is himself a respected economist, Dr Stephen Kinsella of the University of Limerick – led them to withdraw support from Dr Evans, because they realised that only one side of the story was out there.

Dr Evans’ clever use of social media and campaigning, even PR, has put him in a good position in this case; he appears to be a diligent academic, worried about freedom of speech, and the complainant appears to be just that, a whingeing woman who believes every mention of sexuality, no matter of what species, is an affront to her.

But it’s not that simple. Most workplaces have codes of conduct in relation to these matters – and a workplace like UCC, with a large and diverse staff, has, you can be sure, a very clear policy on sexual harassment and interpersonal relations.

And while some people have a close relationship with colleagues where an article like that might be considered funny, a history of bad relations or of inappropriate comments or contact can sour the joke and make life uncomfortable or downright difficult.

Sexual harassment procedures are in place for a reason. While the team appointed to investigate did not find that Dr Evans’ behaviour in the preceding period was not inappropriate, it upheld the fruitbat complaint.

Perhaps the outcome was wrong; but, without knowing all the facts, it’s not up to bloggers, columnists or commentators such as myself to make a judgment. That can only be done with full possession of the facts.


One comment

  1. What surprised me in this was the absence of anything in writing from the complainant to Dr Evans requesting him to 'cease and desist' which should have been a prelude to any complaint being pursued through official channels. (It may of course be that such a document exists but has not yet to come light) Further that the complainant is leaving the institution without a stain on her character while Dr Evans languishes at UCC under a two-year moral supervision order – somewhat longer than many community sentences handed out to anti-social criminals and indubitably a barrier to his ability to obtain employment elsewhere.

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