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The Accusation

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This chilling piece has to be read in full to be appreciated properly. To me, the most horrifying aspect of it is that the attempt to frame the author’s wife for having sexually harassed her students was just transparently obvious from the start, and yet that fact had no apparent effect on what became a months-long investigation:

We found out that Marta was under investigation later that day. The first accusation against her, we learned, had come in via A.S.U.’s anonymous reporting system at 5:21 a.m. on March 14, almost two weeks before we knew anything about it. It was sent by someone calling herself “Rebecca James,” who said she was a graduate student in Marta’s department.

“I have had two undergrads come to me and one fellow graduate student regarding Dr. Marta Cabrero,” “Rebecca” wrote. “Dr. Cabrero has put these students in sexually compromising situations. Inviting them to meet her in her office late at night — when the building is mostly empty — she has offered to help their careers (grad student) or grades and standing in the department (undergrad) in exchange for sexual favors.”

Reading that email, I remembered the year I arrived in Iowa. All the local newspapers were reporting on a professor who was accused of requesting sexual favors from students in exchange for higher grades. When confronted, he drove out to the same woods where I ran each morning and shot himself. I tried to imagine Marta in his place, asking to touch or kiss students in exchange for a grade. But I couldn’t do it. I know many spouses of sexual criminals say this, but I was sure: She just wasn’t the type.

What Marta obsessed over was that “Rebecca James” had referred to her as Marta Cabrero. In Spain, everyone has two last names. Hers are Tecedor and Cabrero. The first last name is the primary one, so people in her department would call her Dr. Tecedor, though most of the time, per her preference, everyone just calls her Marta.

Marta tried to explain the discrepancy to Melanie, the university investigator assigned to her case, during her first interview on March 28, but Melanie seemed unimpressed. “I do think it’s relevant to point that out,” she said, before pivoting back to a long list of questions she had: Did Marta meet with students at night? Did Marta offer alcohol to students? Did Marta ask for sexual favors from her students? Did Marta know anyone named Rebecca James? No, Marta said, no and no and no.

It’s hard to convey this to someone who isn’t familiar with naming practices in Hispanic cultures, but referring to someone by using her matronymic as her sole “last name” means you don’t actually know that person’s name (except in the unusual circumstance in which the person informally uses the matronymic but not the patronymic). It would be like referring to “the great tennis player Rafael Parera,” or the “great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Acevedo.” That’s not the person’s name. A person’s formal legal name always includes both the patronymic and the matronymic (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, hyphenates her family names to ameliorate confusion on the point that people in Hispanic cultures always have two family names). The informal name, if the person uses one — many people always use both family names even in informal situations — is almost always, as in this instance, the patronymic alone.

In other words, the poison pen-email in this case was so inept that the writer obviously didn’t even know the most basic fact about the person he was libeling. He just looked her up on the Internet, and applied American naming practices to a person who has never used those practices, thus revealing that he actually knew nothing about her. But this did nothing to slow down the investigation, which ground on relentlessly.

I also find it disturbing that the legal settlement in this case precludes the author from outing the villain, who remains free to continue to do this kind of thing in the future to other professional rivals.

This reminds me that a few years ago I published a post about similar shenanigans in the legal academic world, but left out the actual names of the guilty parties. I’m reconsidering that decision now.

ETA: “J’s” anonymity didn’t last long once the Internet got going. Prof. Viren prefers to serve a cold entree it seems.

This is what you get when you don’t hire a lawyer.

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