The Dartmouth Disappeared

Last week, Stephanie West Allen sent me a link to The Dartmouth, the student newspaper at the tiny Ivy, announcing that three very well-known and well-regarded psychology professors had vanished from campus amidst allegations of misconduct. I didn’t have a clue what to make of it.

Misconduct? Were they running a meth lab? Fixing college football games? A Satanic cult sacrificing virgin frosh to their pagan god?

Psychology and brain sciences professors Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen are on paid leave and under “ongoing investigations into allegations of serious misconduct,” according to a statement from College spokesperson Diana Lawrence.

Dartmouth named the miscreants, all male tenured profs, but why?

“We are engaged in a thorough and impartial process that protects the rights of all parties and promotes the safety of our campus community,” Lawrence wrote.

Campus safety? That sounds . . . serious. But why?

Hanover Police Department captain Mark Bodanza said that the department does not have any active investigations regarding the three professors.

Does this suggest that they’ve committed no crime? Surely, if they had committed some crime, the police would be doing the investigation. Yet, the police know nothing about it. So why are these three profs disappeared?

If the announcement in the student newspaper didn’t do enough damage to the accused, sans charge, then why not name and shame them on a really big soapbox?

Three Dartmouth College professors whose research included studies of sexual desire and attractiveness have been put on paid leave while a criminal investigation of alleged sexual misconduct is carried out, the authorities said Tuesday.

Sexual misconduct? What are they talking about?

Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald of New Hampshire said his office was part of a joint criminal investigation by five law enforcement agencies into allegations of “serious misconduct” by the professors, all male tenured faculty members in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Not to be pedantic, but “serious” and “sexual” are not fungible. So what are these allegations that are so serious that they demand these profs be isolated, named and shamed? And what is this about five law enforcement agencies, after the Hanover police said they know nothing about it?

Details of the allegations were not released, but Mr. MacDonald’s statement said the criminal investigation arose after an inquiry to college officials by the college newspaper, The Dartmouth, which reported last week that the professors had disappeared from their campus posts and fliers had been posted around campus inquiring as to their whereabouts.

So there are no details, the official law enforcement investigation “arose” after The Dartmouth noted the profs’ disappearance from campus, and the New York Times decided this was about sexual misconduct in the absence of any information?

A new panic has begun, where all men are Harvey Weinstein and all claims by women are presumed true enough to destroy the lives of their targets. And the Dartmouth co-eds are good with this.

Maggie Pizzo, a junior math major, said she was concerned that the professors had been put on paid leave during the investigation as opposed to suspended without pay.

“By paying them, it seems to be condoning the acts,” whatever they were, she said, as well as being “disrespectful” toward whoever brought the allegations of misconduct.

Clearly, Maggie can do the new math, where the not-yet-proven-guilty are punished so as not to be “disrespectful” to the accuser.

One female student, a junior who declined to give her name, said she felt “pretty uncomfortable” that the administration had apparently known about the allegations for some time and was only now addressing them publicly.

There may be no information about what was done, no less what was known or for how long, but why should the absence of facts affect what makes a female student feel “pretty uncomfortable”? Not that anything bad happened to her, but what about the PTSD of imagining the harm she might have suffered if her worst fantasies were real?

These three profs were asking for it anyway, doing research into dark and forbidden territory.

Dr. Heatherton and Dr. Kelley were among the authors of a 2012 research study on how images of food and sex affect the brain. As part of the research, 58 female college freshmen underwent brain scans shortly after arrival on campus while viewing 80 images each of animals, environmental scenes, food items and people — some involved in sexual scenes or consuming alcohol. Six months later, they were called back to the lab, weighed and questioned on their sexual behavior.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that the students whose brains reacted to food and sexual stimuli gained more weight and reported greater sexual desire in the follow-up questioning. The study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Whalen was listed as having assisted in that study.

What were these psych profs thinking, conducting studies involving sex and booze with female students? There being absolutely no information as to what the allegations are, notwithstanding the assumptions that this must be about sexual misconduct of some sort, there is no apparent concern that three renowned scholars have been disappeared, had their reputations and lives destroyed,* and remain the targets of hysterical fear from students.

Forget Blackstone’s Ratio. Forget presumption of innocence. These three profs have yet to be charged with anything, no less proven guilty. But their names are prominently displayed, first in the campus newspaper as missing profs, and now in the New York Times as sexual predators. And we still have no clue why.

*As former Secretary of Labor, Ray Donovan, said after his acquittal, “which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

14 thoughts on “The Dartmouth Disappeared

  1. Edward

    Reminds me of the witch hunts President Clinton ordered on the military back in the day. Evidently, every male in uniform was a sexual predator. A big media blitz and almost no convictions at trial, but a lot of careers got ruined. It is rare for anything to go to trial (court martial) in the military if the command isn’t completely convinced they can convict.

    That study sounds rather fun. I would have loved to have taken part! Bragging rights and all.

  2. B. McLeod

    Well, this is sobering. I saw the pieces yesterday saying they were being criminally investigated for sexual misconduct, and (even though I usually take this kind of thing with a whole shaker of salt) it left me with the impression they were basically being charged with raping students. But no. As you point out, not only are they in fact not charged with anything, but even the most recent press accounts are now acknowledging that “the details of the alleged conduct are unclear.” So, they are reportedly being criminally investigated, but nobody seems to know for what, or who the accusers are.

  3. REvers

    “What were these psych profs thinking, conducting studies involving sex and booze with female students?”

    That’s a very good question. In the past, that sort of research was done by male college students. Most of it was peer reviewed, too.

  4. phv3773

    And was the bad behavior the use of students as subjects of research involving pictures of a sexual nature and questions about arousal and desire?

    And should I have put “research” in quotes?

  5. Richard

    The Hanlon statement concerning co-operation with law enforcement in the investigation does include the statement that “I want to say in the most emphatic way possible that sexual misconduct and harassment are unacceptable and have no place at Dartmouth.” That’s a pretty strong suggestion that the allegations being investigated concern sexual misconduct or harassment.

    1. SHG Post author

      “Pretty strong suggestions” like that are a totally cool substitute for actual details, no less charges.

  6. Billy Bob

    This is a dart in the mouth! So glad I chose Haaavd/Yaaale instead. Very bizarre. Disappeared… is this for real? Well, I am available for any open positions in Slychology at DartMouth. I promise to beehave in the most impecunious manner suitable to the position.

    Guilty until proven innocent! We know what tenured profs like, and it’s not chopped liver. Feel free to erase this if i’m out of line, which seldom happens. Ha.

  7. Max Meyer

    Dartmouth imitates Victorian Missouri:

    In March 1929 hundreds of students at the University of Missouri received a questionnaire that asked their opinions of marriage, family, and sexual issues. Several questions were regarded as too intimate for university students, especially females. The so-called Sex Questionnaire, the product of a sociology class project, soon fell into the hands of the university’s president, dean of women, and the local press, which deemed it “A Filthy Questionnaire.” The Missouri legislature soon jumped into the controversy as the ensuing uproar went statewide and attracted national attention; a cry arose for the expulsion of the students and professors responsible. Beyond the questionnaire, rumors also circulated that something “too terrible” to mention had gone on at the university. Investigations followed, including one by the American Association of University Professors.

    See, Nelson Lawrence, “Rumors of Indiscretion: The University of Missouri’s ‘Sex Questionnaire’ Scandal in the Jazz Age (2003)

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