Pauline Bart is an unabashed advocate of feminist, liberal values and no stranger to controversy and political conflict. There is no mistaking her passionate, single-minded orientation: pro-women and against anything hurtful or discriminatory.
The 62-year-old sociologist, who has taught for 21 years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has done pioneering research on how women can fight off rapists, women`s depression, violence against women and acquaintance rape. She is a prolific writer and has lectured throughout the country.
FOR THE RECORD - Additional material published Sept. 26, 1992:
Corrections and clarifications.
A headline in the Sept. 24 Chicagoland sections incorrectly stated that the University of Illinois at Chicago was “firing” professor Pauline Bart. The university has been negotiating with Bart to buy out her contract. The professor, who is tenured in the medical school, had planned to retire in 1995. The Tribune regrets the error.
But last spring, in a class called Gender and Society, Bart ran into a conflict between the sexes she did not anticipate. The result apparently will cost Bart her job.
During her general remarks about rape, Bart apparently disturbed a black social work major, Donald Dixon, who perceived her remarks as discriminatory against men. He especially was agitated during a class discussion after the rape trials of William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson, a class at which Bart was not present.
Later, Dixon reportedly became even more disturbed when fellow classmates told him Bart had characterized him in racist and sexist terms outside of class, an allegation that Bart vehemently denies.
Dixon did not respond to the Tribune`s request for an interview. According to Bart, Dixon alleges that she said he “fit the profile of a male black rapist.” Bart denies having made the statement.
In March, Dixon complained about Bart to the university`s Office of Affirmative Action. In June, Bart was informed that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “does not wish to continue the informal arrangement” under which Bart has taught courses in the women`s studies program and sociology department.
That “informal arrangement” had lasted, off and on, for 21 years. Bart, who is tenured in the psychiatry department at the medical school, has taught her courses in a variety of departments, including sociology, nursing and public health.
The two courses she was scheduled to be teaching this semester were reassigned, and the university has been negotiating with Bart`s attorney to sever her relationship with the school.
“We had some evidence that some students in the class were treated less equally than others or felt uncomfortable in the class,” said John Camper, associate chancellor for public affairs.
Bart views her situation with wry humor and anger. Taking her classes away on the basis of what remained an “informal complaint” by a male student is evidence, she says, of women`s essential powerlessness in a male-dominated institution.
“I speak out about things as I see it and with a certain amount of feeling,” she said in her North Side apartment. “I don`t pretend to be a dispassionate observer. When harm occurs, I take a position against it. It`s backlash-that`s why they think they can get away with it and why some of the men felt free to actually disrupt my class.”
Bart said she believes the university has long been looking for a way to be rid of her because of her outspoken views and style of teaching. Critics have accused her of bordering on the “therapeutic,” Bart said, because she ministers to students who have been victims of rape.
Bart said she surveyed the 90 students in the Gender and Society class at the beginning of the spring semester, and a large number of the women had been raped or were the victims of incest. She was determined, she said, to create an atmosphere that would make these women feel safe and capable of talking about their feelings and experiences.
The harsh tone taken by Dixon and three other students threatened that atmosphere, Bart said, and many of the women stopped coming to class or speaking up. She made it clear to the dissatisfied, disruptive men that if they didn`t like the class, they shouldn`t take it.
“What I study - violence against women - is something people, including women, don`t like to talk about,” she said. “It deals with the harm men do to women, and it`s not symmetrical-there are not as many female rapists as male rapists. It gets men where they live. They find this very threatening. I said I would not let male speech silence women.”
Fellow feminist scholars, such as Harvard Law School professor Catherine MacKinnon, have rallied to her side, as have many students.
Jay Levine, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, refused to comment.
Patricia Gill, head of the Office of Affirmative Action, said the university`s problems with Bart were based on more than one event.
“There were definite instances that were points of concern in racist and sexist issues,” Gill said. She also said Bart indicated that she found the classes increasingly difficult to teach.
Dixon did not set out to see Bart fired, Gill said. “He just wanted the discrimination to stop. He wanted to be able to participate in a discussion as anyone else could participate.”