Ever since California history instructor Hugo Schwyzer’s admission last week that he’d had sex with multiple students over the last several years, it’s been obvious that he could not ethically continue to teach at Pasadena City College. Schwyzer has made it clear from the start, however, that he has no intention of resigning, and in an interview yesterday he explained why. He is remaining in his position, he told the Daily Caller, in an attempt to coerce his employer into offering him a disability settlement payout.
The students he taught and mentored at PCC, meanwhile, face mounting harassment and public humiliation, with a conservative blog openly speculating yesterday as to the names of the women he slept with.
On the day after his initial admission, Schwyzer indicated that he was “looking very seriously” at filing a mental illness disability claim against Pasadena City College, implying that if PCC came to a settlement with him he would be willing to walk away from teaching there. Yesterday he made that quid pro quo much more explicit.
“My goal is to get this disability pay,” Schwyzer told the Daily Caller yesterday. “Once we’ve established that, I can move forward and leave the college and everyone can be happy.” His leverage in this attempt to wring financial concessions? “You know how hard it is to fire someone with tenure.”
This is bald extortion, and it’s unconscionable. PCC wants him out, and he has no intention of coming back, but unless they accede to his financial demands, he’ll stick around to make their lives more difficult.
And what of his students?
Well, in that same interview Schwyzer revealed new particulars of his sexual relationships with them. He never raised the grades of the young women he slept with, he told the Caller, because “the only students I was interested in were already A students.” When he pursues one of his students sexually, he said, “it’s not just a pretty face” that attracts him. “It’s also intellectual ability.”
This pattern of gratuitously disclosing the salacious particulars of his past sexual relationships is one we’ve seen before from Schwyzer, but it’s particularly repulsive in the context of these teacher-student relationships. The more he gossips about his sexual life with these young women, the more detail he shares — and history suggests he’s likely to share a lot more — the more he violates the privacy of those whose expectations of him as a teacher he’s already betrayed, and the more fodder he gives others to violate it.
And it’s not just him. Yesterday a right-wing blog printed the names and identifying details of two of Schwyzer’s former students, hypothesizing that one of the two was the anonymous student who first disclosed her affair with him. The blog linked to Schwyzer’s past praise of one of them on his blog while passing along unsourced rumors about the relationship status of the other.
Each of these two students is now the subject of internet speculation and slander. Why? Because Schwyzer won’t shut up, and won’t quit PCC without extorting a payoff.
The student who revealed Schwyzer’s sexual misbehavior has attracted unwanted attention as well. In a Tumblr post several days ago she complained of harassment by Schwyzer supporters who had discovered her real name, and yesterday she expressed frustration with college attorneys who have been pressuring her to assist with their investigation.
All this is only going to get worse as the fall semester, and the administrative investigation of Schwyzer, get underway. Rumors and gossip will spread, on campus and online. The women Schwyzer slept with, and those who knew, will come under increasing pressure to work with administrators who are (rightly) attempting to remove him from the classroom. Bottom-feeding bloggers will continue to dig, smearing and harassing an ever-growing circle of young feminist women whose only mistake was trusting Schwyzer to be an ethical teacher and a decent human being.
All this is inevitable for as long as Schwyzer continues to fight the college’s attempt to remove him. The investigation will continue, as will the media circus.
When he stops, it stops.
Update | There’s been quite a bit of vigorous and productive discussion of this post on Twitter from the perspective of disability rights, particularly on and around the timelines of @civilwarbore and @Blackamazon. Though none of what follows is a direct response to either CWB or BA, I want to take a moment to address a few of the issues that have come up in my conversations with them and others. These questions are difficult, and these discussions are important. I hope they continue here and elsewhere.
First, I didn’t intend anything in this piece to be taken as a criticism of the concept of disability settlements in general or psychiatric disability settlements in particular. I hope that was clear, and if it wasn’t, I’m making it clear now.
Second, it is absolutely unfair and unjust that in this country health insurance is so often conditional on employment. It’s not right that people lose health insurance when they lose their jobs. But that doesn’t mean that nobody with health insurance should ever be fired. If Schwyzer loses his health insurance as a result of his years of violating the rules of his college and the ethics of his profession, that’s unfortunate. But it’s on him.
Third, I’m not a lawyer, and I have no opinion on the legal merits of Schwyzer’s apparent current strategy of hardball negotiation with Pasadena City College. By all appearances, he is preparing to defend his interests vigorously, as is his right. But PCC has a right and an obligation to defend their interests just as vigorously. Where their interests — and specifically the interests of the students of PCC past, present, and future — conflict with Schwyzer’s, I believe that it is appropriate that the students’ interests, not Schwyzer’s, prevail.
Finally, I think it’s important to reiterate that Schwyzer’s insistence on campaigning for a financial settlement in public is itself deleterious to the interests of the students whose trust he has already betrayed. If he does not have the decency to resign his position, he should at the very least have the decency to shut the hell up.
Thursday Update | Citing “pressure from the public and the PCC community,” Hugo Schwyzer has announced that he is resigning his teaching position, effective January 1. As he is on medical leave for the fall semester, this means he will not set foot in a PCC classroom again.
Schwyzer’s application for medical disability retirement is apparently still pending, and is not directly affected by his resignation. The PCC general counsel said yesterday that the college’s investigation of his sexual misconduct will continue.