Take the case of James Maas, who has been teaching at Cornell University for more than 30 years and whose Psychology 101 is perhaps the largest undergraduate course in the country (attracting about 1,000 students every semester). He was won numerous teaching awards. In 1994, Mr. Maas was called before Cornell's "Professional Ethics Committee" to defend himself against charges of sexual harassment. The allegations centered around his "overly friendly and affectionate behavior" - which, it turns out, were hugs and occasional social kisses, most often in front of class or family.
The most notable example of a professor who stood his ground against sexual-harassment charges is J. Donald Silva, a tenured member of the English faculty at the University of New Hampshire. A student in his technical writing course had asked for an example of a "working definition." Mr. Silva offered a word-picture that he had used many times before. "Belly dancing," he said, is "like a plate of Jell-O with a vibrator underneath." Within days the professor stood accused of sexual harassment. Shortly thereafter he was suspended from his job, ordered to pay the university $2,000 for a replacement teacher, and directed to undergo psychological counseling with a university-approved therapist.
The current PC climate has also served to chill campus civility and chivalry. There once was a time when hugging and kissing - the polite embrace or peck-on-the-cheek - was as much a matter of civility as the tip of a gentleman's hat. Now any such behavior, especially when it happens on campus, could well stir up litigious visions of a hostile environment, if not outright charges of sexual harassment.
Free Speech Faces Hostile Environment: An Aggressive Hunt for Sex Harassment Leaves Plenty of Wreckage, The Baltimore Sun, February 11, 1996