The world of academia has a small-scale furor on its hands over a joke told in a crowded elevator. It played out last month at a Hilton in San Francisco during the annual conference of the International Studies Association, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. When someone called out a request for floors, 76-year-old professor Richard Ned Lebow responded, "ladies' lingerie," or perhaps "women's lingerie." A female professor by the name of Simona Sharoni took offense and lodged a complaint with the ISA. Lebow, who teaches political theory at King's College London, tried to defuse the situation by writing to Sharoni, who teaches women's studies at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, that he meant no offense. He added that he was worried her "frivolous" complaint might detract from the investigation of more serious offenses.
The ISA then came down against Lebow, criticizing both his original joke and his subsequent characterization of the complaint as "frivolous," and demanded that he apologize to Sharoni. He refuses, saying this is "political correctness" run amok. Sharoni, for her part, tells columnist Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post (who originally broke the story) that the cry of "political correctness" is too often a dodge used by people to get away with offensive behavior. Marcus sees fault on both sides. "She shouldn’t have leaped to file a grievance; he shouldn’t have added fuel by labeling her charge 'frivolous.'" Ultimately, though, Marcus sides with Lebow, calling Sharoni's complaint "counterproductive." It's not clear what happens if Lebow keeps up his refusal to apologize, notes Insider Higher Ed, but he could get booted from the ISA. (Read more sexual harassment stories.)