By now, most ReaderCon fans and attendees have heard about the sexual harassment that occurred this year.
ReaderCon’s stated policy on harassment is zero-tolerance: violators are banned for life. As one of the more progressive-seeming cons in the field, I was pleased to learn of this and delighted that the perpetrator of this egregious behavior (multiple incidents) would never again be present to so reprehensibly ruin ReaderCon for anyone.
On Friday, the ReaderCon Board of Directors banned this violator not for life but for two years. As justification, they cited his remorse and that the policy felt too severe for cases without intent.
What a gutless move.
If you have a policy, you need to follow it. If you don’t, you are signalling loud and clear that people in the future cannot expect you to keep your word on anything. You are rendering your entire rulebook, all your policies, meaningless.
If you no longer believe that your policy is right, that’s fine, but that’s a separate issue. Reform the policy later, to cover future cases. But for existing cases, you must follow it.
I know this because I’ve been in a similar situation. In a freshman Chem course I taught, my penalty for cheating was an F for the whole semester. Somebody cheated. And I didn’t have the guts to stick to my policy either. I wished in hindsight I’d made the penalty for first offenders an F on that assignment, then an F for the semester only for a second offense. Just as ReaderCon seems to wish they hadn’t made their policy zero-tolerance either.
I was saved from the temptation to make the same mistake ReaderCon has made because the student, before I could meet with them, cheated a second time. That made my stated penalty fit my new opinion of what offense deserved it. I handed it down with no qualms. And the next semester, I changed my policy.
ReaderCon should have stuck to their policy and banned this perpetrator for life, then started changing what they don’t like about the policy. They could allow banned-for-life people to apply for reinstatement after a certain number of years, and at that time consider any remorse. Ironically, such changes would have accomplished the same ends as their gutless current solution did, but without obliterating all trust in the con.
Let alone that this type of behavior seems to happen often in the con circuit; is reprehensible and even criminal; that remorse or intent have no place in any case involving multiple incidents; and that it’s profoundly sad that some peoples’ behavior makes a progressive con and indeed a progressive field need to have such policies at all.
I can only hope the groundswell of discussion will help the ReaderCon board realize they’ve made a huge mistake.