Belated reprieve

December 2, 2005

It is shameful that it takes a barrage of negative press for the University to finally make the right decision. Penn had one of its students backed into a corner with unreasonable charges of sexual harassment for posting on the Internet nude photos of other students in front of an open window.

But faster than the national media could say "Water Buffalo" — in reference to the free-speech scandal that gave Penn a black eye in 1993 — the Office of Student Conduct dropped the charges.

That was the right decision given the baseless nature of the allegations. The photographer in question certainly acted in poor taste, but did not come close to violating the privacy of the naked couple. Neither is there a substantiated case for sexual harassment under the University’s policy.

That is the conclusion the administration reached yesterday by throwing this case out. But why decide that now? Why could the OSC not glean that same truth from the facts in the first place without having to subject a student to an unwarranted disciplinary process?

Dragging this incident out for more than a month and a half — and creating a public spectacle in the process — was completely unnecessary.

The whole thing could have been avoided with one simple step — asking the student to remove the pictures from his Penn-hosted personal Web site.

Instead, by suggesting the student admit to sexual harassment and privacy violations — and threatening a potentially-damaging disciplinary mark on his record — Penn opened a Pandora’s box. Now it again has a black eye.

At least the right thing was done in the end, but unfortunately it comes a month too late.

Schools: University of Pennsylvania