The voice of an arrangement

I may have pointed out that I used to be employed in a project that focused on news. My task was to go through both broadsheet and tabloid news outlets. I looked at both domestic (Finnish) and foreign news outlets. This essay is not on that. That said it is about news in online news outlets. I could write newspapers but that’s a bit old fashioned, considering that there is less and less actual paper involved these days. In this case there is no paper involved as I’m not looking at a newspaper. What I’m going to do is to have a look at an online news story, making use of pragmatics, as discussed in the two previous essays.

It was a while ago that I heard on the radio that, apparently, in Australia they’ve banned sex between university students and staff. As the radio was in another room, I heard this in the background, in the distance. The rest was more or less mumbled. Anyway, to my understanding this radio broadcast was on one of the radio stations of the national broadcasting corporation, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, in short Yle (Yleisradio). I reckon the perception is that it’s trustworthy or at least should be because it is not privately owned. In other words, it doesn’t serve shareholders, it serves the taxpayers. At least you’d think that it has the effect that they, those who work there, adhere to the Cooperative Principle? Why would they do anything but simply communicate information, as is, to you, the listener, the taxpayer? Now, in the previous essays it was established that there is nothing that makes people adhere to this principle. Then again, for the sake of argument, people expect the journalists to be ethical, to follow the Cooperative Principle, so I’ll hold them to that principle this time. That’ll be the benchmark in this essay. Anyway, when I (over)heard the news, it made me raise my eyebrows. While entirely possible, within the realm of possibility, it just seemed somewhat off.

I acknowledged that I may have misheard something, so I set out to have a closer look when I found the time. I did a quick search and found a story on the Yle website. It’s titled:

“Australialaisyliopistot linjasivat: yliopiston henkilökunta ei saa harrastaa seksiä opiskelijoiden kanssa”

It’s dated 1.8.2018 and attributed to Anna Saraste. The title translates along the lines of:

“Australian universities declare: University staff is not permitted to have sex with students”

I guess you could translate that as to ‘may not have sex with students’, but that’s a fairly minor difference. The same with ‘declaring’, which could be translated as to ‘outline’, but that’s perhaps a bit too broad in this context. It’s more of them coming up with a policy. The point here is that it is stated that the universities have come together, to declare that the staff is not permitted to have sex with students.

It is acknowledged that this is based on a media release by ‘Universities Australia’, which, on its website, attributes itself as the “peak body representing the university sector” in Australia, it’s members being the Australian universities, “represented by their Chief Executive Officer – the Vice-Chancellor.” If we look at the title of the press release, dated 1.8.2018, re-presented here without the full capitalization:

“Relationships between academic supervisors and their students are never okay”

Ah, now I am going to explore this further, just wait for it, but already here we can see how there is already a clear difference in the title or the head line. There is no explicit indication of sex in the title of media release. It pertains to relationships between supervisors and those supervised, applying to both doctorates and masters as elaborated in the text. These are deemed not okay. The body of the text clarifies in what sense this is to be understood:

“Sexual or romantic relationships between an academic supervisor and their student are never appropriate, new university sector principles confirm.”

Now, here it is clarified that relationships is used in the sense that they involve sex or romance. It’s still okay to be buddies. That said, there is nothing here, at least so far, that would ban or prohibit members of the staff to have sex with students in general. Instead, this issue is pinpointed as pertaining to the dynamic between supervisors and those supervised. The logic for this is clearly indicated in the press release as having to do with conflicts of interest, not sex or romance in itself. It is stated that, on one hand, such relationship could be used as leverage against the one supervised by the supervisor. On the other hand, it is also implied that it can work the other way around as well. The Chief Executive of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, is cited for further elaboration of this issue:

“These principles make it clear — if a university academic is supervising a student, then they should not be in a romantic or sexual relationship with that student. It’s a clear conflict of interest[.]”


“A sexual or romantic relationship that develops in that context also raises questions about capacity for consent and academic integrity[.]”

And, in summary:

“They have been designed to protect the safety and wellbeing of both students and staff.”

It is then noted that many universities already have such policies on code of conduct in place in order to avoid conflicts of interests and the necessary arrangements how to handle such cases. To my knowledge, typically a member of the staff is not allowed to supervise someone with whom they have a conflict of interest, including sexual or romantic relationship. This also applies to kinship and business arrangements. This also extends to course and degree grading. It doesn’t prevent teaching, but someone else has to do the assessment. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair to others. This is what is known as a conflict of interest. This is what this press release is all about. The President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Natasha Abrahams, is cited for noting this:

“We now have a united viewpoint across the sector that romantic relationships between supervisors and students are unethical[.]”

Why are they unethical? Is it because people have sex? No. It’s about conflict of interest. Others cannot know if supervisors give preferential or detrimental treatment in comparison to others based on this arrangement. If things are good, the supervisor may give preferential treatment over others. This is particularly a risk in a course environment where people are graded. If things go sour, the supervisor may give detrimental treatment to the person supervised. Also, as already mentioned, there is also the risk of the supervisor using the relationship as leverage against the one supervised. Simply put, want better grades, better supervision, be nice to me, put out and the like. Of course it can work the other way around as well. The point really being that it can easily get out of hand and end up in what people might even call extortion, hence it being about conflicts of interest.

I think it’s also worth noting that this has to do with code of conduct, with propriety and integrity. In other words, there is nothing specifically illegal about it, one way or another (albeit this might not be the case in another jurisdiction). In addition, if and when a conflict of interest comes into light, there is no penal action against the people. What happens is that “[u]nder these principles, universities move the staff member from supervisory roles involving that student – and establish alternative supervision arrangements” because it is in the best interest of all parties involved, including other students and members of the staff, as well as the universities. It would be quite odd if instead enforcing this type of policy the universities would start to tell adults with who or whom they can or cannot have sex with.

That said, the document published by ‘Universities Australia’ titled ‘Principles: For Respectful Supervisory Relationships’ is a bit obscure in certain parts. For example, it is stated that (3):

“Staff who engage in a sexual relationship with their student harm the learning and research environment of that student and other students. Such a relationship also compromises the academic integrity of all parties, including the university.”

This is under the main header, the one also used in the press release (the wording is slighly different), ‘A sexual or romantic relationship between a supervisor and their student is never appropriate’. I’m not fond of correcting others, but considering this is supposed to be a principle, it’d be nice if it was actually clear. Did you, perhaps mean ‘… and a student is never appropriate’? The same goes to the bit I cited earlier. Did you mean students, in plural, and those students instead of that student? Also, the problem with that bit is that it is a blanket statement, not specifying that it pertains to supervision.

In the next bit, there is also conflation between students in general and students under supervision (3):

“A student’s academic progress must never depend on consenting to a sexual relationship with their supervisor or a member of staff.”

The problem here is that these principles are supposed to be about academic supervision, yet now it is extended to other members of the staff. Yes, of course they should apply to all members of the staff, inasmuch as they are in a position where a conflict of interest may arise. This is why the policies on conflicts of interest are put to place. Also, the wording here is a bit off as well. A sexual relationship is hardly one of consent if one’s progress depends on it. That’s what having leverage over someone means. That has to do with taking advantage of people, extortion, having to have sex (in order to progress or not be stalled), as opposed to getting to have sex. Now, criticism aside, as pointed out here, it’s good that they’ve come up with these principles, even if the universities probably already have such policies on code of conduct pertaining to conflicts of interest. I’d be really surprised if they didn’t.

Now, back to the news story. So, if we look at the press release and the principles that the press release deals with, the title that indicates that staff in Australian universities are not allowed or may not have sex with students is incorrect. Firstly, the press release focuses on supervisors and those supervised, applying to doctorates and to masters. Secondly, if this is extended to include what is stated in the principles, that members of the staff cannot have sex with their students, nowhere is it stated they cannot have sex with students in general. To be more specific, as one might take for granted anyway, it is indicated in the principles that this applies to students and teachers who actually teach them. This has to do with the potential conflicts of interest. It’s not an issue that someone teaches their lover, their spouse, their child, of their kin (in general), their business partner etc. The issue is with advancement, with assessment and grading. There is a risk that the person responsible for grading might give preferential treatment to their partners and family members. This also applies the other way around. For example, people should be set aside from grading their former lovers and spouses. While there might not be any foul play, one way or another, others cannot know that and they probably prefer that there are no conflicts of interest anyway. Fair game. That said, nowhere in the press release, nor in the principles, is it stated that the members of the staff are not allowed or may not have sex with students. It only applies when it results in a conflict of interest. To make this absolutely clear, for example, a member of the staff at the chemistry department can have a sexual or romantic relationship with a student at the French department. It’d be very unlikely that the member of the staff ends up grading or supervising the student. This also applies to people in the same department, inasmuch as the member of the staff is never responsible for grading or supervising the student. This might well be the case with non-teaching staff, for example various researchers and assistants who have no are not responsible for grading or supervision of anyone. It’d be odd if a university would step between a random person who happens to work at the university, having no influence over students, and a student who happens to study at a university.

As a side note, relating to potential conflicts of interest and preferential treatment, I remember that as an undergrad the local student union advocated for grading based on having no names available to those who grade exams, only student numbers as they are, erm, rather hard to remember, and the data is then fed to the system by managerial staff not responsible for teaching or grading. So, the people responsible for grading should never get to see who got what grade. As a postgraduate I haven’t really done courses to the extent that I could confirm or deny this, so I can’t know whether this works as it should in practice. That’s just what I remember. However, at least in principle it should overcome many issues pertaining to conflicts of interest and preferential treatment. I’m not saying all because, for example, with essays, some people have a certain style of writing, while others choose this or that type of topic, which then gives it away who wrote it.

The problem with the title of the news story is that it is incorrect. It is not supported by what it refers to, the media release and the principles. Simply put, it is false. If we apply Grice’s categories here, it’s evident that the title violates the maxims in the category of Quality. To be fair, it may be that the writer of this story, or at least the title, be it Saraste or not, is not in bad faith, claiming something false to be true but simply misunderstands what the proposition is based on. In this sense it may be that the first maxim in the category of Quality is not violated. That said, the second maxim in the category of Quality still remains unfulfilled. The proposition, that members of the staff are not allowed or may not have sex with students is not backed up the evidence, the press release and the principles. With regards to the maxims in the category of Quantity, the issue is that it violates the first maxim. It simply lacks the necessary information, that this applies only to conflicts of interest. In Gricean terms, it’s just unreasonable to leave it out. It makes a massive difference as to in what sense this is to be understood. One could also say that the title is borderline violating the maxim of relevance in the category of Relation. Yes, it does have to do with sex, students and staff, but it is related to conflicts of interest, not sex. The only maxims it does not seem to violate are in the category of Manner. The title is not obscure or ambiguous. It’s brief and orderly. That said, one could fault it for generically referring to university staff, instead of members of teaching staff in supervisory positions. This makes it unclear to the reader who is to blame here and results in people taking it as having to do with all university staff.

To go in to further detail with this title, I reckon it intentionally violates the first maxim in the category of Quantity in order to cover up that what is proposed in the title is not based on adequate evidence, a violation of the second maxim in the category of Quality. So, what we have here is a clash of two maxims. Having read the press release and the principles it refers to, I find it hard to believe you could propose, with an honest heart, that Australian universities are somehow now, all the sudden, banning their staff from having sex with students, in general, rather than, hey, how you could have stated it, in specific, how they are not to engage in sexual or romantic relationship with students who they supervise and/or grade because it results in a conflict of interest, something which many of the universities in question have already addressed. Of course, now, to be fair, that’d make for, pardon the expression, a shit title. It’s not exactly a catchy title if you were to write it along the lines of:

“Australian universities declare: Members of the staff must declare conflicts of interest and abstain from roles and/or positions in which conflicts of interest may arise, including but not limited to personal relationships with students”

We can’t have that level of Quality now can we? I think we should. I think it’s absurd that Yle, the Finnish National Broadcasting Company, is fine with such news headlines. It’s off. Clearly off. The thing is that Yle should have no need for clickbait stories with catchy titles. Or, am I missing something? Is there advertising that only I’m not seeing on the Yle webpages? Okay, now, to be fair, I have not actually progressed past the title, the head line here. Too bad it only gets better, sorry, worse. But before I move on in the story, it’s worth noting that in the body of the text, there is a link to an Australian news site,, owned by News Corp Australia, a subsidiary of the News Corp (formerly News Corporation). That story, attributed to Ally Foster, is titled:

“Australian universities urged to take part in sex ban between staff and students”

In the body text, following the title and the lead paragraph, the bit that summarizes the main thing about the text (the bit that is supposed to give away what’s what, why one should read the text, albeit without going into the fine details, so that there’s something to read, to get into) it is indicated that:

“SEX between staff and students at Australian universities may soon be banned as part of a crackdown on sexual harassment on campuses.”

The story goes on to note how Universities Australia has released the guidelines, the ones that I already addressed, and to specify that this applies to students and their supervisors, not students and staff in general. I’m not going to cover this story in more detail, but, it’s evident that while the title and the lead paragraph imply that this has to do with a general ban, not a specific restriction pertaining to conflicts of interest, the story does go on to state that it has to do with only certain cases having to do with supervision. This is not the case with the Yle story, which is obscure with the details. I’ll get to that soon enough. Moving on, the next bit, right under the bolded title, is the lead paragraph. It is stated that:

“Kyselyn mukaan joka viides opiskelija Australiassa on kokenut seksuaalista häirintää.”

Right, I have a number of issues with this, but let’s translate this first:

“According to a survey, every fifth student in Australia has experienced sexual harassment.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh deer. Where do I begin? Okay, now, I translated ‘häirintä’, a fairly recent wording used to characterize intentional but unwanted behavior towards others, as harassment. In Finnish there is already ‘ahdistelu’, which is acknowledged in legislation under the criminal code and will land you anything between a fine to sixth months in behind the bars. The problem is that ‘ahdistelu’ translates to harassment. This is the translation used in the official unofficial (as Finnish/Swedish is always the real deal here) English translation. In that relevant bit (section 5a) it is stated (in translation) that:

“A person who, by touching, commits a sexual act towards another person that is conducive to violating the right of this person to sexual self-determination, shall be sentenced, unless punishment is provided elsewhere in this Chapter for the act, for sexual harassment to a fine or to imprisonment for at most six months.”

As you can see, harassment is understood very concretely, as having to do with hands, inasmuch as it doesn’t go further into the act of sex (hence the point made about the applicability of other parts of the relevant chapter on ‘sex offences’ or as I would translated it ‘sexual misconduct’). The criminal code does not recognize anything else, except the types of misconduct that goes beyond this.

The problem with the word ‘häirintä’ is that it’s a fuzzy concept. There is something to it, yet it’s hard to put your finger on it, I guess, because, sorry for the punning here, ‘ahdistelu’ or harassment is a distinct discourse that has to do with physical integrity. I’d go for calling it hazing, but then again, I can see how it clashes with harassment in the sense that hazing, while often mental, it can also be physical. If you don’t know what hazing is, well, it’s certain behavior that is done to be people, intentionally, to mess with them, at times as some initiation rite (think of fraternities) or just because, to break your spirit (the military). I recognize, from my army experience, that it can be physical, yes, but I reckon it’s more about messing with your head. If it’s physical, that’s just a side product. I think it’s more about showing who’s who, making sure you know your place. It’s about the docility of the body, or so to speak.

Anecdotally, to spark your interest, I was one of those … who, when leaving service, when the time was up, pointed out in a survey that there had been any hazing in the army. I don’t know if there were others who wrote that down, anonymously, but, oddly enough, once the papers were collected, the officer there went through those bits and asked us about it. If my memory serves me right, which is at this point a bit questionable, we were asked who wrote down that there had been hazing in the service. Everyone, me included, were just silent. I thought that’s that, for the statistics, but no. Guess what? Now, if I remember this correctly, we were handed out the same survey and told to answer it again (because they were anonymous, so they can’t just hand them to the person in question). I believe that at least I left that part out, just so that everyone could get on with our lives and not have to do this exercise over and over again. This time there was nothing to report and everyone got on with their lives. Talk about docile bodies and breaking your spirit… To be fair here, to my knowledge, times have changed quite a bit and lot of practices that were … ok … back in the day are no longer deemed as acceptable. There’s been pressure to change these things.

Now, getting back on topic here, in the army setting there was nothing sexual about hazing, not that I can remember anyway. That said, I can see how you could give it a twist to that direction though. Then again, I don’t know about others but I’m unsure if that’d be the same as ‘häirintä’ as sexual hazing would still be very evident and manifested, especially in a military setting where rank is as obvious as it gets. You know if you’ve been hazed as it tends to involve a certain degree or verbal and/or physical abuse, something that normally wouldn’t fly, so I reckon it is still closer to actual ‘harassment’. This is also how it is explained in the Finnish ‘Occupational Safety and Health Act’, in section 28 (official unofficial translation again):

“If harassment or other inappropriate treatment of an employee occurs at work and causes hazards or risks to the employee’s health, the employer, after becoming aware of the matter, shall by available means take measures for remedying this situation.”

Now, to be honest, that’s fairly vague. This kind of harassment is basically understood as a form of inappropriate treatment, whatever that is supposed to entail. There was a Supreme Court case on the application of this bit in 2014 and it was noted for something to be harassment, it can’t be one off or random but systematic and intentional, that is to say repeated, as well as actually harmful to health or something that could lead to causing harm to health. In addition, harassment was not deemed as something that, in the court of law, can be simple experienced as harassment. That said, oddly enough, the Supreme Court also pointed out that this is a matter that should be dealt more rigorously, on the spot, by the superiors, rather than ignored as mere subjective grievances against superiors.

I don’t think I’ve done any good, trying to explain what ‘häirintä’ is or how it could be explained. But that returns us to the heart of the issue. If it is to be a thing, a discourse, it can’t be whimsical, just as the courts would likely point out. You can’t make it up. It can’t be subjective, as the Supreme Court pointed out about what I take to be the closest thing you can find in legislation matching this issue. In other words, following Michel Foucault, for something to be a discourse, an object, a thing, it has to be formed by some practice and no, not just by any practice, but by systematic practice. So, for it to be something, it’s not enough that I call it this or that, or that a handful of people call it this or that, but that … I’m unsure how to qualify this … most people qualify it as such. I think it’s an important question to ask, for whatever it is that is at stake, is this a thing or not?

Okay, back to the news story. There it is indicated in the lead that every fifth student in Australia has experienced what I can only translate as to either sexual harassment or hazing. The report in question, which they could have directly linked, but alas no, is titled ‘Change the course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities’ of 2017 by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The problem with this report is that it doesn’t start with the definitions. Then again, I reckon I know the difference between as assault and harassment, so perhaps I’m unnecessarily critical here. The definitions are provided but that’s only after an overview of both sexual assault and harassment. I don’t know about others, but I find that a bit iffy because I’m just supposed to take their word or skip to the definition part and then read the overview again.

The good thing is that definitions are provided (26-28) and that the complexity of the issue is taken into account. On top of that, in the appendices, there is a list of various limitations and caveats (226), including a note on that it cannot be controlled as to who opt to respond to the survey and who don’t (as you can’t force people to take part). Therefore, as clearly indicated (226), “people who are already engaged with the topic” are more likely to respond to the survey and consequently the results “can only reflect the views of those who responded.” Now, this limitation should not be read as rendering the report moot. That said, as indicated (226), you need to be careful with numbers. You need to keep it in mind what the total consists of, at all times, and that, as acknowledged in the survey appendices (226), it obviously undermines a survey if it does not include people who are not willing or interested in responding to the survey. In this case, as duly noted (226), by all logic, this may result in the survey including people who have experienced harassment and/or are invested in the issue, whereas people who have not experienced harassment, aren’t invested in the issue and/or think the issue is not important enough, for them, to warrant responding to the survey. The point here is that when going through the results harassment may appear to be more prevalent than it is as the report does not take into account those who did not participate in the survey, possible for the reasons listed in the limitations.

If you think my wording is disingenuous, the caveats (226) part is very clear on this, acknowledging that “[i]t may not necessarily be representative of the entire university student population”, that, in general, there may be a response bias as “survey respondents who witnessed sexual harassment … may have been more likely to respond” and “that men who had experienced or witnessed sexual assault or harassment may have been more likely to complete the survey” (whereas with women there seems to be none). Now, as pointed out already, this doesn’t make the survey useless or pointless. It only means (I’m so trying to avoid using that word…) that you need to take the results with a grain of salt. Also, even though I reckon that it is rather self-evident, it’s worth noting this is a survey that contains statistics based on reported experiences, not official crime statistics on sexual harassment based on reports to authorities or sentences handed out in the relevant courts (a matter that will be addressed shortly). Of course, such official data may also be lacking as crimes that have occurred may (and do) go unreported and thus go missing from the statistics as well. So, it’s worth acknowledging that they also have their limitations.

In the case of Australia, unlike in Finland, sexual harassment is indicated (26-28) as extending beyond offense to physical integrity. So, verbal abuse is definitely there, as is something experienced as sexually unwelcome, assuming that it is reasonable to assume that the person might be offended, humiliated or intimidated by it. Simply put, it can be physical and non-physical, which is a big difference between Australia and Finland. That said, it seems that there needs to be certain repeated nature to it as well, so one off misunderstanding or misreading of the situation might not be enough. The definition part then moves to what is defined, clear cut, as actual sexual assault, also known as rape. There is, however, a further distinction included, that in some parts of Australia assault extends to mere touching, albeit the examples provided, kissing, touching breasts, bottom and genitals seem a bit off or forced. I wouldn’t consider such as merely unwanted touching. I think all those go beyond mere touching. To my understanding those would be considered as assault rather than harassment in Finland as well.

As insightful as the definitions provided in the survey are, they are not very clear cut. It is also noted that different jurisdictions of Australia, that is to say different parts of the country, define harassment and assault in different ways. I think I can exclude sexual assault from the discussion here though. I acknowledge that the distinction differs between jurisdictions but I don’t think anyone is mixing up assault and harassment. What I’m missing straight up is how the survey applies the definition of harassment, even if we exclude from it what people generally would attribute to being an assault (physical integrity).

So, in short, at a glance, I take it that the report (26) applies the definition that I broadly outlined as being physical and non-physical, unwanted and repeated, pending on the circumstances, which, I take, would be up to a court to decide due to the obscurity of the definition. What I’d like is to this being explicitly stated in the report, rather than listing (26) a range of acts that may or may not be sexual harassment, depending on the circumstances, as judged by courts of law on a case to case basis. I had to cross-reference this section with the survey instrument provided in the appendices (198-199) for the criteria and still wasn’t sure on what they are based on and how they’d be consistently judged in court(s). As I’m not an expert on this, nor familiar with how things are in Australia (as I’m looking at a Finnish news story on the issue, not the issue itself), I’m sort of left to take this on an as is basis.

Now, I reckon I’m known to be thorough as I take pride in paying attention to details to the point that others probably consider it tiresome and tedious, so, yeah, I’m going to take a closer look at this. For the sake of transparency, unlike in the news reports, I’ll cover the ten categories of harassment specified in the survey appendix. I’ll comment on this on the basis of how it is set in law in Finland (as this is on a Finnish news story, not the issue itself). On top of that, I’ll comment whether such has happened to me. One (198):

“Unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing”

This would be harassment in Finland. Quite obviously. I can’t think of a case where this has happened, unless I count the cases in which someone has, unbeknownst to me, approached me from behind and grabbed me from the sides and moved me aside in a crowd of people in order to get past me. This is colloquially known as being manhandled. That’s uncomfortable, unwelcome but not (necessarily) sexual. Two (198):

“Inappropriate staring or leering that made you intimidated”

This would not qualify as harassment in Finland. Too vague. What is inappropriate? What is intimidation by staring or leering? I know someone’s presence can be intimidating but that’d very hard to qualify. Yes, I’ve been stared at, ogled, when I was younger and, I reckon, in good physical shape. Was it intimidating? No. Inappropriate? Well, that’s the thing. I’ve never been offended by such and I reckon I’m often rather ignorant of such. I’m not great on picking up such. Then there’s also the case of shades. They cover people’s eyes, often to the extent that it’d be hard for me to see if someone is enjoying me instead of the view. This is especially the case with mirrored shades. Of course, it might also be that I’m not eye candy (enough), so this doesn’t get to apply to me. One way or another, I don’t know about others but at least I don’t have the time to be worried over such. I don’t mull over what others think of me or my looks for that matter. I don’t lose sleep over such. If they like how I look, well, good, good on them, I guess. Three (198):

“Sexual gestures, indecent exposure or inappropriate display of the body”

In Finland this would fall under the section in the criminal code on indecent exposure, inasmuch as it is deemed as such by those witnessing such acts. I can’t think of cases where I would have encountered this. Gestures are, of course, tricky. Yes, I’ve witnessed some lewd gestures directed at me, but that’s been in jest and I’ve taken them as such. I’ve also witnessed people topless at beaches, but that doesn’t count as indecent or inappropriate in Finland as nudity, in itself, isn’t considered sexual, nor offensive by default. Four (198):

“Sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made you feel offended”

This would not pass as harassment in Finland. Too vague. How do you qualify taking offense to a joke? With regards to comments, I’ve definitely experienced such comments, even demeaning ones or, well, at least meant as such, but, in retrospect, that was rather about my own insecurities. I find those past experiences as rather amusing now. When it comes to jokes, I have no idea how you’d make through life without having heard a dirty joke. Five (198):

“Sexually explicit pictures, posters or gifts that made you feel offended”

I believe there is a segment in the criminal code that pertains to this in Finland, but it’s more in the public setting. It ties with the indecent exposure. I can’t say I’ve been offended by such. Next. Six (198):

“Repeated or inappropriate invitations to go out on dates”

This is included in the criminal code as well. It’s recognized as stalking. Not limited to sexuality. As much as I like to think I’m highly desirable as well as desired by others, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced such. It probably has to do with gender roles, men being the people traditionally expected to ask women out. Seven (198):

“Intrusive questions about your private life or physical appearance that made you feel offended”

I can’t think of anything that would be against the law here, as such, albeit it likely becomes such if it becomes repeated and/or impedes with one’s freedom of movement (deprivation of personal liberty), to go one’s own way and not be hassled. I guess I’m the type of person who doesn’t get offended by personal questions. If I find such inappropriate or irrelevant, I just don’t answer the question. For example, if a superior would ask me such, I might squint my eyes and ask why it is that I’m asked such. Otherwise, I generally don’t shy from any topic. Eight (198):

“Inappropriate physical contact”

This can be sexual harassment, as already explained in the Finnish context. Inappropriate is unnecessarily vague though. For instance, they could have exemplified this with groping, as opposed to, say, tapping someone on the shoulder in order to get their attention (think of someone wearing headphones). This ties to what I stated in the first category. Nine (198):

“Requests or pressure for sex, or other sexual acts”

Again, quite vague. One request, even a blunt one, is likely still only inappropriate (unless you are the type of person who is into such) but not criminal. If requests are repeated, it most likely turns into stalking. If it is about pressuring, it is probably about using something as leverage, which may or may not be extortion. It’s considered extortion when health (physical integrity) is at stake or money (property) is at stake. So, if you use it as leverage in either sense, then it’s extortion, at least in Finland. Then again, I reckon that at that point it’s also about menacing (aka unlawful threat) or coercion (threat of violence). I can’t say that I’ve experienced being pressured into sex. I have, however, experienced requests, to a certain degree of persistence, that I opted to ignore, mainly because in those cases it has had to do with inebriation, the alcohol talking, not the person. That said, I can’t say that I’ve ever taken offense to such, not to mention felt compelled by such. Ten (198):

“Other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature (excluding online)”

Ah, the trash heap category in surveys, aka point out here if there is something that our categorization didn’t take into account category. Not much to say about this as it’s as vague as it gets. One would have to look at the specifics, what people wrote here if the survey made it possible to specify such conduct, to make any sense of this.

These ten categories are then supplemented by four additional categories pertaining to the online setting. One (199):

“Sexually explicit emails or SMS messages”

Again, rather vague. It’s hard to say if such are against the law or not in Finland, unless they are unwelcome and repeated. Yes, I’ve received such but I’ve yet to take offense. Two (199):

“Repeated or inappropriate advances on email, social networking websites or internet chat rooms”

Okay, here we have the distinction and this may well be against the law, considering it’s repeated. Inappropriate is, once again, left open for the person taking the survey to define. Connecting to the previous category, I can’t say it has been repeated if unwelcome. Three (199):

“Inappropriate commentary, images or film of you distributed on some form of social media without your consent”

This would be, to my knowledge, against the law in multiple ways here. Firstly, it would likely be considered as dissemination of private information, especially if it has to do with sexuality. Secondly, it might be considered defamation (aka slander and/or libel). Thirdly, depending on the circumstances, it might be considered, for example, menacing and coercion. Fourthly, if the person in question is a minor or otherwise vulnerable (necessitate a guardian), specific sections of the criminal code may apply. However, in the case of university students, that’s unlike to be the case though as the vast majority are adults. Fifthly, if footage, be it stills or video, is the property of the person in question, it’s most likely in breach of copyright as well. I can’t say I’ve experienced this. Harsh commentary? Maybe. Perhaps at the time, taken as such, but I can’t think such being anything sexual, nor noteworthy, really. Four (199):

“Other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that occurred online”

Again, category ten repeated in the online setting. This is the category where you point out if something doesn’t fit. It’s hard to comment make much of this if the cases are not elaborated.

I wanted to cover these categories because in order to understand quantitative data, like a survey, one should pay attention to how the data is gathered, for example, like in this case, reported by people willing to take part in the survey, and how the data gathering is conducted, for example whether reporting is closed or open ended. In this case, harassment is reported on a yes/no basis in different physical environments, such as the campus area, according to preset criteria (that I just elaborated). Now, the upside of this approach is that you get a ton of data that requires little additional processing afterwards. The downside of this approach is that you work with preset categories that you think are relevant to the issue at hand. The data is as good as your categorization at the base level. If you don’t have raw data, what people themselves would express in their own words, you are stuck with your categories and there’s basically nothing you can do to rework your data anymore. In other words, it’s already refined at this stage. The categories also position the person taking part in the survey in a certain way. For example, inappropriate staring or leering is indicated as to be not only inappropriate but also intimidating. What if the person finds it only inappropriate but not intimidating? Is that a yes or a no now? The same with taking offense to sexually suggestive comments or jokes. Is the offense about it being directed at the person, about the person, or is it just in general, that one might taken offense to it for it being generally speaking inappropriate? In other words, there is bound to be little nuance in this approach as what you get is going to be based on a certain framing of the relevant phenomena.

The alternative would be making the survey open ended, giving people blank space where they can indicate if and how they’ve experienced something (this was also used in the survey but not for the statistics). In this case, that’d be harassment. The upside of this that people get to express themselves the way they choose fitting, not according to preset criteria on a yes/no basis. Unlike with a set of criteria, people are not told what counts as harassment. People are expected to judge that themselves and express it if they’ve experienced it. The obvious downside of this is that if you wish to pool all that data from all the people, you need to process all of that, read it through and annotate it for features that appear frequently across the data. I’d say this is approach is superior in the sense that the annotation is then based on the data, what people actual report on, not on presuppositions as to what counts as this or that, in this case harassment. That said, it’s pretty obvious that the more data you get, the more time it takes to go through it and thus the more resources you need for it. As I already pointed out, with preset criteria you get the data instantly. Boom. Done. No need to read through what people have to say on this or that topic and ground the quantitative analysis on that, going back and forth, back and forth, refining the categorization and making sure it is applied consistently on all the data.

Back to the categories in the survey. Many of them are actually potentially criminal offenses. If you experience such, do report to the authorities. That said, looking at this from a Finnish perspective, these survey definitions for harassment conflates non-criminal behavior with criminal behavior. Of course, it is indeed possible that all count as sexual harassment in Australia, as mentioned in the opening segments (26-28) of the survey. Then again, as also noted in the opening segments (26-28), they are not all clear cut cases and they have to be judged accordingly, case by case, by judges, in a number of jurisdictions within Australia, which may or may not see things differently from one another. In summary, from the Finnish perspective, the criminality of certain categories used in this survey is far from certain.

Now, I went through all this, just so that one can assess what the Yle news story claims in the lead paragraph, that one fifth of the students have experienced harassment. The report (34) confirms this, albeit the lead omits that it’s in a University setting. 21% of the students included in the survey reported that they’ve been harassed in a university setting. To make sense of this, you need to go back and look at the categories included as harassment, including someone giving you a look that you find inappropriate, expressing a joke of sexual nature that may result in taking offense, as well other, unspecified, unwelcome conduct of sexual nature, mixed alongside everything ranging from indecent exposure to stalking, menacing, coercing and extorting, which are all quite serious crimes. If one takes a closer look at the survey (38), it’s evident that people do not fail to differentiate these. This is what gets obscured in the Finnish news story. So, the issue here is that you can put statistics to work, to get the numbers you want by not only picking the data you want but by looking at it in ways that provide evidence to claims that may not necessarily hold if you take a closer look at the data.

If we look at the title and the lead paragraph together, two things get conflated: university code of conduct on conflicts of interest and sexual harassment. Okay, judging by the report on sexual assault and sexual harassment, some of the cases may have to do with conflicts of interests pertaining to sexual relations. Acknowledged. Then again, according to the survey, which has a whole section on this (48), it is stated that in 70% of the applicable harassment cases, in this case “the most recent incident” (n=4852), the perpetrator was identified as a fellow student or students from the same university if both undergraduates and postgraduates are included in the data. This assumes that the harassed student could identify the perpetrator (45% of the cases at a university setting). If postgraduates are excluded from the data, that proportion is 68%. If only postgraduates are taken into account, that ratio is 58%. In other words, in vast majority of the cases sexual harassment, in all of its forms, all included, nothing excluded, the people harassing students are identified by the students as other students. The numbers are even higher if students from other universities are taken into account and even higher than that if people labeled as students (unspecified university) from one’s place of residence are taken into account. Conversely, if both undergraduates and postgraduates are taken into account, only in 7% of the cases the students identified a tutor or a lecturer from the university as the perpetrator. The percentage of cases where the non-academic staff members are identified as the perpetrator is a bit fuzzy as it’s not included in the relevant graph, but it seems to be lower than 5% (that is the indicated threshold for inclusion in the graph). Now, none of this is to say that 7% of all students (n=4852) reporting a tutor or a lecturer as the harasser is not high (n=340, give or take). I’d say it is high, same with the non-academic staff members. It’s worth addressing and I believe that’s what Universities Australia is after.

To make more sense of these numbers, it’s worth going back to the earlier statement, that approximately one fifth (21%) of students have reported as having experience sexual harassment in a university setting. This excludes commuting to and from the university to one’s place of residence, as noted in the survey (36). The total number of students invited to take part was 319 252 students, of which they received 30 930 student responses, as noted in the methodology section (22). If I did my numbers correctly, 21% of 30 930 is about 6495 students. That is not the same as the number of students who were able to identify the perpetrator (n=4852). This subset of data includes cases in which the student identified the perpetrator, thus ignoring any cases where the perpetrator was unknown prior to the harassment (hence cannot be identified). This just so that if you are puzzled by how the totals keep changing.

Anyway, it’s worth noting that only 7% of students who were able to identify the perpetrator identified the perpetrator as a tutor or a lecturer. This is not 7% of the whole student population that took part in the survey (30 930), not to mention of the total student population invited to take part in the survey (319 252). While 7% is arguably still high and worth a closer look, it’s not the same thing as 7% of the whole student population, far from it. You have to keep in mind what the total, your point of reference, is at all times. Oh, and yes, I know, it does keep changing, which is also confusing to me.

As I was checking the numbers and percentages I noticed that the data presented on this issue (48) is indicated as based on the 2016 data. That is 4852 students. I was okay with this but then I noticed that in the running text (48) leading to the graph it is stated that this is based on 2015 or 2016. This is also noted earlier on already (35) as having to do with the “most recent incidents experienced in 2015 or 2016.” In other words, the figure I came up with, approximately 340 cases of student harassment by a tutor or a lecturer, may or may not pertain to one year but two years. The total is 4852 students but that seems a bit high for it to be only for 2016. If the total number of students who reported harassment at a university setting in 2016 is 21% (n=6495) of all the students (n=30 930) who took part in the survey, how can the relevant subtotal here be 4852? That’s about 75% of the students, which is contradictory to an earlier point made about how in 50% of the students did not know the perpetrator of the most recent incident in 2015 or 2016. This is so confusing, thanks to making remarks, here and there, about the 2016 data and then elsewhere about the 2015 and/or 2016 data. Anyway, something is off here. So, it seems to be the case that, in the absence of separate data presentation for 2015 and 2016, the number of cases by year is thus only half of the 340, approximately 170. Now, while that’s now only half of what I initially thought was the case, that’s still something that should be addressed.

It’s also important to take a look at what students reported as sexual harassment at a university setting, which may or may not include the commutes, considering that it is indicated (38) that the number of respondents relevant here is 7444 students. 32% of students reported staring or leering, 19% reported suggestive comments or jokes deemed offensive and 14% reported intrusive questions deemed offensive. It’s worth noting here that in the relevant graph (38) the percentages refer to students who reported as having experienced sexual harassment at least once in 2015 and/or 2016. It took me a while to wrap my head around that but I take this as having to do with students indicating yes or no for both 2015 and 2016. All combinations that contain at least one yes, yes/no, no/yes and yes/yes, are considered a yes in each category. So, if a student reported as having experienced harassment in 2015 and 2016, here it is reduced into a yes. It’s either you did or didn’t. It’s irrelevant which year it was and how many times such occurred. The extra cases are erased here. That’s why I stated that the reports are reduced here. I’m not even sure why whoever is responsible for this graph opted to include both years and synthesize the findings in this way. I find it confusing as instead of elaborating which forms of harassment (the ten categories) are common and which are rare, it indicates what forms of harassment were reported by people on a reductive and/or basis. I’d find it more useful to have the totals for each category, the total of all the categories and then the ratios. A page earlier (37) it is indicated that this part is on the nature of sexual harassment and its most common forms, but for some reason the graph that is supposed to illustrate this does not do just that. Instead it does something else. The problem is that I cannot even work my way back from the graph and I couldn’t even do that if all the categories were listed on it because it pertains to two years on an and/or basis, thus reducing the number of actual cases. This results in me having to go with what they indicate as relevant for 2016, staring or leering at 14%, suggestive comments or jokes at 11% and intrusive questions at 9%. At least I can trust this in the sense that it is based on only one year findings, not a reductive synthesis of two years. That said, I still feel that I’m left hanging on this aspect.

Earlier on it is noted (34) that people were asked to report on their experiences on sexual harassment with regards to 2015 and/or 2016, but then it is also noted (34) that prevalence of sexual harassment is examined by looking only at the 2016 because it was deemed more reliable than the 2015 data. Okay, if that’s the case, then fair enough. Then again, why is the data (38) by the categories presented as including the 2015 data? If the data for 2015 is off, as implied earlier on (35) and the 2016 data is reliable, why is the data presented (38) as including both 2015 and 2016? I am so puzzled by this.

There is also a section (105) that addresses how people reported on witnessing other people being harassed. The numbers are similar to that of the data pertaining to people having experienced harassment, with 25% reporting as having witnessed other people being harassed in 2016 and the most common forms (categories) of harassment being suggestive comments or jokes, staring or leering and intrusive questions. The order is different but the numbers seem to be similar (albeit the graph that further illustrates this is confusing as the percentages do not add up and all the data that I’d like to see isn’t presented). Anyway, the point is that it seems to be the case that harassment of such nature, visual, commenting or suggesting, seems to be most prevalent. This just further confirms it. It still doesn’t give me proportions that I could work with though.

The forms of sexual harassment by perpetrated by staff remains a bit murky. A handful of examples (75) are provided in the section of the survey that focuses on location. For example, tutors were reported as leering at students, hitting on them, asking if they are single, stroking hair and kissing on the top of the head, as well as making suggestions and simply asking for sex. With regards to supervision, senior members of the staff, professors and associate professors, were reported as making comments about the looks of the students, taking photos of them (not anything inappropriate, but the inappropriateness stemming from it being a recurring thing) as well as forcing themselves on the students, by, for example, kissing. The key thing in both cases, with tutors and supervising staff, is that the members of staff in question are not merely teaching the students but also responsible for course assessment (grading). The students are clearly aware of this dynamic but are afraid to do anything in the fear of being marked down in course assessment because the perpetrator is the one in charge of that. That’s exactly what conflict of interest is and how it can be used as leverage.

With regards to postgraduate students, it is added (76) that they reported experiences of harassment perpetrated by senior academics, not only those supervising them, but also those who are prominent in the relevant discipline, people who may have influence or end up having influence over the postgraduate students. This is sort of indirect issue where there isn’t an overt conflict of interest unlike with supervision or grading, but a covert one. I cannot point out any cases where members of staff or senior colleagues would have behaved in such way but, in general, no matter what they claim about one’s work and merits in the field, it has its advantages to know the right people and to rub elbows with them. They may not appear to have any direct influence or leverage over you, yet, for example, who do you think reads through your research funding (grant) proposals? Who do you think are the people who act as external experts that universities consult when they hire people? Yeah, don’t be surprised if they are prominent academics in your field. Now, you might object to this, that they don’t behave like that and that they judge applications according to the merits. Well, maybe they do and that’s great. The thing is that, for example in Finland, there is no transparency on this. You simply cannot know who go through your applications and who got funded or hired on what basis. What I’m getting at here is that it may matter who you are and what your relation to these people is, as indeed noted in the survey (76). Now, as I pointed out earlier, it’s evident that this is not an issue that has to do with relationships between staff and students in general. If there is no conflict of interest, nothing that can be used as leverage, then it’s a non-issue. In all these examples, it’s an issue because there is conflict of interest.

So, in summary, I don’t have the data, but it’d be interesting to slice and dice in a way that would allow me to look at the proportions of the types of reported sexual harassment, applied only to those cases where students identified a tutor or a lecturer as the perpetrator. I don’t have those numbers so I can’t say. Assuming I got this right, all I can do is to taken account the 170 cases, which is about 2.6% of the cases reported as experienced in a university setting. Of all the respondents, including those who reported no harassment, that’s about 0.5%. That’s still something that needs to be addressed, but hardly something that by itself warrants a blanket ban, as opposed to what one might gather from the news story that I’m examining in this essay.

I don’t know if it’s worth working with the numbers and figures to this extent. My point with all this is just to point out how you can work them to your favor quite easily. I think one really needs to dig deeper to the data and the applied methods, otherwise we end up reading only the summary where it is stated that 21% of students in some country are harassed at the university. Even worse, we end up reading a news story about it where it is implied that students are being molested by the university staff and as if it was systematic. Yes, as indicated in the report, in the press release and in the principles, the universities are stepping up in this regard, but it’s hardly the case that the staff in Australian universities habitually engage in some sort of predatory behavior that needs to curbed the universities by banning sex between students and the staff. That’s not the case here, if you just take a closer look at the statistics.

Back to the Finnish news story. I already pointed out that in the lead paragraph it is stated that every fifth student has experienced sexual harassment (to use the Australia specific terms, as used in the survey). I got so sidetracked by addressing terminology that I forgot to point out that this is incorrect. According to the survey (36), half of the students (51%) report being harassed. The claim that every fifth student (21%) reported having experienced harassment pertains to harassment that occurred in a university setting (34), excluding the commutes to and from.

If the title and the lead paragraph are assessed together as one unit, the title functioning as the catchy part, the gist of the story, and the lead functioning to supplement the title, it is implied, as already discussed to some extent, that one in five students (20%) have been sexually harassed by the university staff because the title refers to outlining a policy that prohibits members of university staff from having sex with students. What is implied here, what made me question what I had (over)heard on radio, is false.

To use the terms of Grice’s pragmatics, taken together, the title and the lead fail to fulfill at least the second maxim in the category of Quality. Nothing in the evidence, what the story is based on, supports what is implied. The universities have not prohibited sex between the students and the staff. The body representing Australian universities has indeed taken action and outlined policies that it wishes to be implemented by the universities. If you take a look at the policy, as well as the press release, it is evident that this issue has to do with cases that pertain to relationships between supervisors and those supervised. This has to do with conflicts of interest, how people may end up in situations where the relationship is used as a leverage against the other person. In case such happens, the measures suggested are not drastic either. The supervision of a student is to be reallocated to someone else in order to avoid people using the relationship as leverage. I fail to grasp in what sense this can be understood as a ban or a prohibition. Also, having a closer look at the numbers makes it evident that the number of cases in which a supervisor has reportedly harassed a student does support what is implied here either. With regards to the first maxim in the category of Quality, it may well be that the journalist actually believes this to be the case, so, technically, this is not a lie. It is only claiming something that lacks the necessary evidence to back it up. That’s why I reckon it only fails the second maxim. When these are assessed as one unit, it’s arguably no longer the case that it fails to meet the first maxim in the category of Quantity. The lead paragraph is there to supplement the title. There is enough information alright, and it is relevant as well, but there is a degree of ambiguity at play. It’s not even that wording this as having to do with university staff in general is obscure, not to mention off, but that in the lead it is not clearly indicated whether the data, 20% of the students having reported sexual harassment in the survey, pertains to the involvement of university staff or just in general. According to the data, the latter is the case, yet, it may come across to the reader here that it is the former.

Ambiguity is handy, in the sense that it allows deflecting. For example, in this case the journalist could simply state that what is meant in the lead paragraph is, of course, that the students reported on the issue in general. Now, one could then still fault it for having the wrong figure as half of the students reported sexual harassment in the survey, not only one fifth. Again, the journalist could state that what is meant is, of course, at the university as it is the essential context for them being students. Fair play to you, those are plausible explanations here. That said, I reckon it still fails maxim in the category of Manner pertaining to ambiguity. This could be expressed without the ambiguity. I think there’s no doubt about it. Then again, without the ambiguity, what is implied here, that about 20% of Australian students report being sexually harassed by members of the staff at Australian universities, just wouldn’t come across as such. If the reader was informed in the lead that the figure pertains to experienced harassment of these students in general, not specifically to members of the university staff, then the relevance could be questioned as the actual reported cases pertaining to members of the staff being identified as the perpetrators is evidently much lower. Simply put, why would you indicate that this or that many students report having experienced sexual harassment in general if your topic, as indicated in the title, has to do with sexual harassment by university staff? Well, I reckon you wouldn’t. That’s why instead of clearly indicating that this is the case, you express the same thing with a degree of ambiguity. The alternative here is providing the actual figure which is way lower (0.5% or 2.6%, depending how one looks at it), but that would then severely undermine the title. Reporting something that is statistically marginal (albeit obviously worth addressing, as done by the universities) just isn’t as spectacular as reporting on it as a trend.

What I haven’t done so far, except making brief notes about the sources, is to take a closer look at the body of the text that follows the title and the lead paragraph. The wording used in the title, ‘ei saa’ (must not, is not allowed, is not permitted), is repeated. What is stated in the title is then paraphrased as ‘kielto’ (prohibition, ban). So, if the title was a bit unclear on whether university staff is not allowed to have sex with students, that is to say prohibited from having sex with them, or shouldn’t do so, the paraphrasing in body of the text makes it evident that it is indicated as the former being the case. The problem with this is, even more so than in the title, that this is not the case. It is only the case with supervisors and those they supervise. Moreover, I’d qualify this as a restriction that pertains to conflicts of interest, not something that has to do with obligating people not to have sex and dishing out punishments against those who do. There is nothing illegal about two people having sex, inasmuch as it is consensual. On top of this, it is indicated that the ban or prohibition also applies to postgraduate students. Well, to be accurate, if anything is the case, it is this as this applies specifically to them. Academic supervision usually pertains to postgraduate students, namely those working on their doctorate or their masters degree. That’s where you can get into conflicts of interest. Conversely, indicating that the prohibition also pertains to the postgraduates implies that it is a wider issue, which, well, it just isn’t. It’s rather the opposite as it’s a particular issue that pertains to supervision and conflicts of interest, not the students and staff in general.

In summary, the problem with this text, starting from the title and the lead paragraph, is that the issue is presented as pertaining to sex between university staff and students. The specificity of the issue as pertaining to supervision, as clearly indicated and emphasized in the press release, is erased in the news story. The conflict of interest angle is not entirely erased but it is reframed as having to do with the relationship between teachers and their students. For example, in the final sentence, it is indicated that the measure taken when it is found out that a member of university staff has sex with a student is that the member of the staff will be removed from all teaching duties of that student. Now, due to the ambiguity of what is meant by teaching duties, I can take this in two ways. Firstly, no teaching, at all. Secondly, no assessment. Having read the press release and the policy document, I lean towards it actually being so that, by proxy, members of the staff are not removed from teaching a student if they have or have had sex with some student but that they are removed from course assessment (grading). I noted that as by proxy as the press release and the document primarily deal with supervision, which doesn’t necessitate any teaching (attending courses held by the supervisor). On top of this reframing of the issue that makes it appear as if it was more of an issue than it is, it is linked to sexual harassment, which, in turn, makes it appear that the universities are suddenly scrambling to address widespread sexual misconduct by university staff. Judging by the relevant data, there is no widespread, systematic, sexual harassment by university staff in Australian universities. It appears that there is some and the universities are now addressing it by paying more attention to it and providing clear cut guidelines as to how they should handle conflicts of interest as well as any potential conflicts of interests pertaining to personal or sexual relationships.

So far I’ve looked at this new story from an eirenic perspective, but as that fails, I’ll turn to an agonistic perspective, using the Lacanian maxims that I gave the monikers Reception, Recognition, Imposition, Evocation and Inversion in the previous essay, as elaborated by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in his article ‘The Misprision of Pragmatics: Conceptions of Language in Contemporary French Philosophy’. The first maxim, Reception, is rather self-evident as a news story has an audience, me, you, whoever it happens to be that happens to read it. That’s how writing works. It’s unavoidable. The second maxim, Recognition, is also rather self-evident. From this perspective the writer not only wishes to express this issue, but also to be recognized for doing so, bringing attention to this issue. This is the desire to be desired. The third maxim, Imposition, is fulfilled in the sense that the writer sets the story, frames it, giving it a certain object or a goal. It’s not about truth, examining something and explaining the findings to best of your knowledge. It’s about presenting it in a certain way, in this case implying that staff at Australian universities sexually harass students, to the extent sex between students and staff has to be banned. If it was about truth, to the best our knowledge, that it is not a major issue but obviously something worth looking into it, the title, the lead and the body of the text would be presented differently. The fourth maxim, Evocation, is also fulfilled. This story is not only about informing the reader about the issue, but also evoking the writer’s authority through it. The fifth maxim, Inversion, is a bit more questionable as adjusting these maxims from speech to writing is a bit tricky. In terms of projection, the writer does express the issue as originating in another source, the institutional body representing Australian universities. It is correct that the body, Universities Australia, is the one expressing an issue, but not the issue the writer expresses. Simply put, the desire of the writer, the first body, is projected on to institutions, the second bodies as if it expressed the desire of the second bodies.

Now, I’m not content on explaining the news story from an agonistic perspective, in the sense that similarly to the eirenic perspective it assumes the primacy of the subject, that the behavior of the writer, the journalist, is autonomous and intentional. I don’t think the writer fails to fulfill the second maxim in the category of Quality on purpose. Similarly, I don’t think that the writer goes to fulfill the Lacanian maxims in order to intentionally provide a distorted portrayal of the issue and hides it by projecting it to another body, by attributing to an institution. I don’t think there is ill will to this. Approaching this from the third take on pragmatics, that of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, what we have instead is language flowing through the writer. So, the behavior or the intentions of the writer is not of importance. Instead, we must observe and think how we’ve come to this, how is it that journalists come to express something that doesn’t hold. So, reiterating a point in the previous essay, as expressed by Lecercle (36) who characterizes their take on pragmatics:

“The object of their version of pragmatics is the study of style. … But for them style is not individual: it is the expression of a collective arrangement of utterance. [The writer’s] individual voice is not the voice of an individual, but the voice of such an arrangement, which we will call [by the name of the writer/author] for short.”

This arrangement is what Deleuze and Guattari call a collective assemblage of enunciation in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. So, instead of questioning the integrity or the interests of the subject, the journalist, the writer, what we should be doing is examining the entire arrangement, the assemblages that assembles the world in a way in which journalism actualizes in this way. Simply put, it does little good to call out the journalist for writing a false story, one that presents the issue without adequate evidence to back it up. Instead, we need question why the journalist ended up writing a story that is factually off. You might object to this, considering that I just did explore the issue and pointed out that the story is off and not just a bit, but I reckon one story is not representative of all stories written by the same journalist and, more importantly, this is issue bigger than one journalist.

Let’s assume for a moment that this news story was on a private media outlet, a business (instead of a state owned media house that is supposed to serve the public). What is its number one goal? Profit. Simple as that. How do you make profit? You need an audience, people who read, listen or watch. In this case it’s about the readers. At the moment, the way things are run these days, that does not result in profit by itself. You need people who pay for the news, that is to say for the access to it, either through a subscription or buying access to a specific content. In old fashioned newspaper terms either get your newspaper in the mail at certain intervals, for example daily, or you buy a single issue at a newsstand. The thing is that, I’m being intentionally hyperbolic here, no one pays for their news. What is another source of income them? Advertising. It’s not that back in the day newspapers didn’t have advertising, but people still paid for their news. It’s the same with TV, or at least was. You paid a license fee (or were supposed to pay anyway) and now pay taxes (in Finland) to watch TV and, except for the state broadcasters, TV channels relied (and still do) on advertising. That’s the same thing with the internet. Okay, there’s no license fee or tax for it. You pay the operator for the access. The content is there but for it to be there you need servers as well as people who maintain them. That costs money. On top of that, you need content creators, in this case journalists. That also costs money. If you don’t get money from subscriptions or access, you still need money to cover all those costs and even more money to make profit. The shareholders are not invested in the business for it to make a deficit. Okay, sure sure, I know it’s not this simple and that I’m glossing over running something long term which may require considerable investment that will take quite a while to become profitable but that’s not the point here. Anyway, you then opt for advertising. To get advertisers, you need people who read the stories. To get people to read the stories, you need them to be attractive, in the sense that they must tap into your desires.

I thought I wrote on this already, how media operates according to Deleuze and Guattari, but it seems that I didn’t. Anyway, this ties in nicely with what I read months ago while I worked on analyzing newspaper stories, both domestic and foreign. What I actually wrote was segments of background theory on media representations. Right, chapter five of ‘Media After Deleuze’ by David Savat and Tauel Harper, titled ‘News and information media’, is of particular relevance here. They (99) argue that:

“Watching the news is like plugging back into your family. You listen attentively to father as he tells you how the world really is while mother issues kind of words of assurance and you are rendered dumb and mute, lacking the knowledge they have and the ability to contribute to the discussion.”

They (99) add that this may well seem like nothing out of the ordinary as we’ve come to think that news is about a lack, a lack of information, of knowledge, and addressing that lack, filling a void, if you will. Anyway, what they (99-100) are saying here is that news tend to be Oedipal, relying on a daddy figure who warns us about the dangers of the world and a mommy figure who reassures that it’ll be alright. In other words, to put it crudely, news are presented in a way that is supposed to scare the living … out of you and/or in a way that coddles you. These also work in tandem, like daddy and mommy often do. If we look at the title and the lead of the Finnish story, it has daddy written all over it. It’s even more so if we take the photo below the title and the lead into account. The photo contains young women, that is to say a group of people deemed vulnerable in society. So, taken together, what we have here is a father figure warning about the perils of life, that if you send your daughter to university, she will be preyed upon by older men, and a mother figure telling that it’ll be alright now that these older men are no longer allowed to fuck your daughter. It’s got that danger and comfort in one package. It’s sensational and shocking, yet reassuring. It presents the problem and the solution. Take it on an as is basis and you’ll remain a child. Mommy and daddy will take care of it all for you. Don’t you worry child.

Tying this with the collective assemblages of enunciation (I’m having such a déjà-vu moment right now, by the way), Savat and Harper (100) state that human interaction relies on these assemblages. As they (100) point out, we wouldn’t understand one another without these “little machines or ‘collective assemblages’”. They (100) note that this involves creation of concepts. That said, they (101) add that while in general people engage in this type of collective and collaborative creation of concepts as based on their lived experience, the way news operates is to (re)create and provide those concepts for us. In other words, the media relies on presets and templates, the ones that work … on you, for their gain. This why they (101) state that:

“This is prevalent in all news where stories are consistently ‘framed’ in order to render a story understandable in a certain way.”

If we take yet another look at the news story that I’m focusing on, it does exactly that. It is certainly framed in a way that makes it understandable to a target audience. It simplifies the phenomenon. Instead of running the story as pertaining to academic supervision and conflicts of interest, a niche thing to be honest, largely relevant only to those pursuing postgraduate studies in Finland, it is worded, that is to say framed, in a way that presents the issue as having to do with university staff in general. Why is this? Well, you’d need to write … you know … a nuanced and long, possibly even long winded, story that explains how academics work, how supervision works, what are conflicts of interests, how they are manifested in academia and why it is an issue you should be reading about in the first place. I think journalist could do this, but in general they don’t. It’s way easier to simplify the issue as having to do with … erm … let’s say … staff … like … teachers … as … everyone’s been to school, and know what a teacher is. They don’t have the necessary time for that, nor will their editors let them do that. In the words used by Savat and Harper (101):

“News operates to simplify the world for us, to make it understandable and provide us with the sense that the world is sensible.”

In other words, news is reductive, it dumbs things down for ya’ll, not because you are dumb, no no, but because it is assumed that you are, that you can’t handle complexity. A child doesn’t know how the world works, it needs to be told how it works and that’s where the news comes in. They (101) quote Deleuze and Guattari (79) who state that:

“Newspapers, news, proceed by redundancy, in that they tell us what we ‘must’ think, retain, expect, etc.

They (101) make use of a longer quote, but that’ll do here. The point here is, as you may know if you’ve read my essays that deal with language, as explored by Deleuze and Guattari (or, even better, read their works), language transmits order words. It functions to order the world, to organize it. That obviously applies to news as well. The world is the way it is, the way it happens to be, but the news seeks to tell you how it is and it matters not if these two are a match or not. This is the case with the news story that I’m focusing on in this essay.

To get to the point, to desire, Savat and Harper (101) zoom in on what we should be focusing on when it comes to news:

“What does the news desire? What kind of order does it produce? How does the process of news making mediate the flow of desire? And what kind of order is produced in this process?”

Again, to clarify desire, it’s not to be taken as something that is personal or subjective, hence even news can desire, just as rocks can desire. I like to think it’s about attraction, how one … thing … is attracted to another, well, inasmuch as it is. Then apply this to about everything. This is how you end up wondering what kind of order it all results in.

A while back, I went on to present the news story, to address the motivations behind writing as linked to capital. Simply put, what you get in news is tied to making money. It’s of little consequence what the story is or what it is on. What is important is that it makes money. That requires those clicks to get that sweet sweet advertising money. Hence you get all kinds of click-bait, luring people in with Oedipal titles, leads and photos. Now, in actuality, the news story that I’m focusing on is presented on a state platform. There is no advertising. There is no  need for a metric based on clicks. The journalist gets paid to write stories on taxpayer money. So, the expectation should be that we get news, not fake news, information, not false information. Savat and Harper (109) make note of how state news operates:

“The state news machine – what we call urstaat news – is news that is ‘fixed in place’, channeling flows according to expectation and established format.”

So, as I sort of did explain already, what we have is a template, a format. It’s all predefined. Journalists come and go, both for private and public employers, and they’ve grown accustomed to operating according to the requirements, to get clicks, to be popular. They are aware that people go for the catchy (Oedipal) titles and the editors expect them to get the clicks. It’d be daring to ignore view counts. I reckon if you do ignore the view counts, you’ll eventually end up being replaced by someone who isn’t that … foolish. The expectations also have to do with how we come to organize the world, what we think of it. So, if we are borderline neurotic about whatever is at stake, you betcha it’s going to flow through us. I think Savat and Harper (109-110) manage to explain this better than I can:

“[Centralized and generalized] approach [to news production] needs to begin from a pre-existing notion of what is good for us, which assumes our interest prior to asking us and renders the consumer neurotic.”

As a note here, I left in the consumer bit, even if that may come across as odd. Think of it as consumer in the sense that one consumes news, just as about anything else really. Anyway, to get to the point, again, it’s about presets, about templates. It’s about sneaking in a presupposition. I reckon that’s typically a moral standard that functions as the baseline as what is good for us and conversely what isn’t. In this case, with the news story that I’m focusing on, it’s obviously one about sex, which I reckon is as vanilla as it gets, as Oedipal an issue can get.

I was going to do some comparison on this, how this is reported elsewhere in the Finnish media, but it seems that it sort of hasn’t been reported on, likely because Australia isn’t geographically very close to us. So, I had a look at foreign English language media. This issue is covered much more abroad, but the focus is different. It’s not about the staff. I’m not going to get into the news stories, otherwise this essay will never end. I’ll offer a summary of sorts instead.

What I gather from the Australian media reports, they do seem to have an issue at their hands. I gather the issue is not about the universities nor their staff but about the students. I don’t know how these things work abroad but in the Finnish context all criminal matters are to be handled by the police and the legal system. The universities here have little power over these matters as they are not in the position to do anything. If it happens at the university, during any lessons (lectures, classes, lab work, field work) or meetings (supervision), then I believe the universities can and actually must intervene as the relevant legislation on education, as well as on workplaces, require the education providers and employers to provide safe learning and working environments. If it happens at the university grounds outside lessons or meetings, then the university can’t do much about it. It’s a police matter at that point, just like it is elsewhere, be it in your home, in a park, at a beach, a library, a grocery store etc. Of course, while I can’t say for sure, but to my knowledge the student accommodation in Finland is not organized by the universities. It’s typically private, in the sense that the university has no actual influence over student housing. For example, what is known as student housing where I live is owned by a foundation, originally founded by the local student union. As I read various news stories about Australian student life, a lot of the issues had to do with treatment of fellow students, often outside class (lectures), in student housing, which, in the Australian context seems to be owned or at least be affiliated with the universities.

This is something that is addressed in the survey findings of the report. It is indicated in the section (61) that specifically addresses location that out of the total 6600 students (again, confusingly for 2015 or 2016, mutually inclusive) 14% indicated that the harassment took place at the university grounds (outdoors), 13% in teaching spaces (lecture halls, classrooms, labs etc.), 8% in university social spaces and 6% at a social event either at the university or at residence. It is noted (70-72), with examples, that with regards to the campus grounds, it involves verbal harassment, including “cat-calling, derogatory comments and repeated requests for dates”, stalking (following around), indecent exposure, inappropriate physical contact (touching). With regards to teaching spaces, it is stated (73) the harassment is similar but unlike at the campus grounds the perpetrators are more often familiar faces, the problem really being that if you have to be in class, it’s hard to avoid the perpetrators as they know that you must attend. When it comes to social events, on campus and outside it, it is elaborated (76-77) that the harassment is wide ranging but marked by touching and groping, typically perpetrated by a familiar student, an acquaintance, not a complete stranger (unlike at the campus grounds). Events tied to clubs and societies are noted (78) as being marked by hierarchy led by senior students that contributes to harassment and hazing. With regards to student accommodation, residential colleges are identified (78-79) as being marked by ranging from verbal harassment to unwanted physical contact, as well as hazing in various forms, typically aimed at new students. Moreover, similar to social events, tight indoor spaces (very close proximity to other students) and alcohol consumption, often in excess, are indicated as contributing to that. It is added (79) that the older students employed to cater for the wellbeing of the residents, the Residential Advisors (RAs) sometimes abuse their position and partake in these activities. I don’t think it’s necessary to go through this in detail here, so, in summary, what I find to be a thing with the residential colleges is that the residents harass and haze (and assault) other residents and there’s little the ones targeted can do about it because that’s where they live. There’s a general lack of privacy and, I guess, only one door between you and the others. To put it very crudely, you are stuck with those fuckers, people who you know, mind you. What I find disturbing about this, and likely explains why the perpetrators are overwhelmingly fellow students and why the cases are indicated as having occurred at a university setting (the colleges being counted as part of the universities), is that there appears to be … I’m perplexed by this … no rule of law at the residential colleges. It’s as if anything goes really. It comes across as very similar to the living conditions I experienced in the army but there’s no order, whatsoever. Anyway, approaching this from the Finnish perspective, it’s just baffling reading, how students engage in, no, not giving the odd look that lasted a bit too long or uttering a crude comment, but in hazing, not only verbal but clearly very physical and intimidating, the target usually being fellow students. It seems unreal.

Part of this, me not understanding this, is probably because students organize very differently in Finland. Here undergraduates, up to a Masters Degree, typically join subject or interest specific student organizations that have their own boards, rules and regulations, as well as budgets that allow them to organize events. They are typically member organizations of a student union, which allocates certain amount funds to these organizations but also oversees them. In other words, the organizations report to the student union and they are expected to make sure that things run smoothly, otherwise the student union will intervene (as they are the supervisor that you can complain to about their member organizations). Expect your funding to be cut and the organization toppled if you turn a blind eye on harassment, not to mention assault, of any kind, not to mention if you facilitate it.

The actual issue, the one that the news story could have focused, as opposed to focusing on a niche issue and spinning it into an actual issue, is something that would warrant a better and closer look than what I did here, on the side, or so to speak. Taking cues from Savat and Harper, it should be asked the same questions as news. What does it desire? What kind of order does it produce? How does the process mediate the flow of desire? And what kind of order is produced in this process? I’m not going to address those question, as noted already, but rather summarize what it might be about. As I read the press release, the related guidelines, the report/survey and various other news stories, it seems that this issue has a lot to do with the way the accommodation is organized and how it seems to have a complete lack of discipline. While I’m not fond of discipline, as a concept, and more of an advocate of conscious self-discipline (contra unconscious autodiscipline), it seem like that could be in order there.

Apparently part of the issue is that the residential colleges are, in a way, part of the university, but ran independently, so they are outside the disciplinary jurisdiction of the university, operating under their own rules and regulations, as managed by a council elected by … alumni. Wait what? Imagine in Finland if the alumni were in charge of student organizations. That’d be a terrible idea and just against the interest of the members. I acknowledge that I’m an outsider so I’m not familiar with this and thus might not get this, the logic behind it, but it seems that in a college system you are member of that college, like it or not, yet you don’t get to have any say in the affairs of what you are a member of as you don’t get to vote. On top of that, it seems like you may have to be a member, as you are expected to live in a residential college. I fail to understand this but why would certain form of accommodation be mandatory to students, not merely an option among others? What does that have to do with education? Sure, it’s one way to solve the issue of where students live, I can see why you’d have such a system, but it just doesn’t seem right to me to necessitate it. Anyway, be as it may, I come from a different world and struggle to understand this, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a residential college if what’s described in these various reports and news stories holds, especially if you get to have no say about any of it in order to change things around.

This was actually quite a fascinating essay to write as it went to all kinds of places and sort of morphed in process as it became more evident what the issue actually pertains to once I got past the focus of the Finnish news story, the press release and the related guidelines. It’s not that the indicated issue isn’t important. It is and should be dealt accordingly. Just because the issue seems to be around students and student accommodation, it doesn’t mean that the handful of cases where there’s conflict of interest shouldn’t be tackled. Of course they should be. It’s just that the focus arguably ought to be on the students themselves. I learned quite a bit while writing this and it’s quite perplexing how it seems to revolve around people harassing, hazing and assaulting their fellow students at their place of accommodation, that is to say in their homes. I didn’t really connect this as having to with living arrangements. Initially I thought it was about people harassing one another on campus, as in during, in between and after lectures, which, now that I think of it, is still odd, hence it actually often happens at the place of residence. It’s just bizarre that it seems to be going on, with impunity.


  • Australian Human Rights Commission (2017). Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. Sydney, Australia: Australian Human Rights Commission.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Foster, A. (2018). Australian universities urged to take part in sex ban between staff and students. Sydney, Australia:
  • Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and Conversation. In P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3: Speech Acts (pp. 41–58). New York, NY: Academic Press.
  • Grice, H. P. ([1975] 1989). Logic and Conversation. In H. P. Grice, Studies in the Way of Words (pp. 22–40). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Sarasta, A. (1.8.2018). Australialaisyliopistot linjasivat: yliopiston henkilökunta ei saa harrastaa seksiä opiskelijoiden kanssa. Helsinki Finland: Yleisradio.
  • Savat, D., and T. Harper (2016). Media After Deleuze. London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Universities Australia (n. d.).
  • Universities Australia (n. d.). Principles: For Respectful Supervisory Relationships.
  • Universities Australia (2018). Relationships between academic supervisors and their students are never okay.

References (legislation / preparatory documents / reports)

  • Rikoslaki (Criminal Code) (39/1889).
  • Criminal Code (39/1889). Translation from Finnish: Legally binding on in Finnish and Swedish.
  • Työturvallisuuslaki (Occupational Safety and Health Act) (738/2002).
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002). Translation from Finnish: Legally binding only in Finnish and Swedish.
  • Korkein oikeus (Supreme Court) (KKO:2014:44).