April 23, 2021

"There was almost a celebrity-like aura around him. It wasn’t a normal class. He would go on these long tangents about life and spirituality."

Said Amelia Brown, quoted in "Past Students Say Professor of Rock ’n’ Roll Sexually Harassed Them/Six former University of Michigan students have filed legal papers accusing a former lecturer of sexually harassing them and the school of not doing enough to protect them" (NYT). The class Brown took with the professor, Bruce Conforth, was “Beatniks, Hippies and Punks.”
[One former student] says, according to the court papers, that Mr. Conforth pressured her into a series of sexual encounters, some of them in his campus office, and later, after she had graduated, raped her in his Ann Arbor apartment. A second former student, Ms. Brown, said she was pressured into a sexual encounter with Mr. Conforth after he told her he had feelings for her and pursued her for several weeks. A third woman said he aggressively kissed her. The other plaintiffs say Mr. Conforth propositioned them to have sexual relationships, at times sending them sexually-charged messages or emails and persisting even after they said no. One woman said he gave her a raccoon penis, suggesting it was a talisman.... 
Two women said that as part of the effort to engage with them sexually, Mr. Conforth had employed the ruse of suggesting he was a member of the so-called “Order of the Illuminati,” a secret society whose mysteries were popularized in Dan Brown’s novel “Angels & Demons.”...  The women said they thought Mr. Conforth had the potential to be a kind of spiritual and artistic mentor, but then things grew strange. In legal papers filed in a Michigan court, Ms. Brourman said Mr. Conforth invited them to an arboretum on campus where he engaged in a mysterious ritual that involved cutting off pieces of their hair and giving Ms. Brourman a series of objects, including the raccoon penis, seeds and some kind of medallion. She was warned to keep them with her, or there would be “repercussions,” the court papers said....

He used — in the words of the NYT characterizing the statements of the women — "charisma" and "Svengali-like manipulation."

What's the origin of "Svengali"? He was a character in a 1894 novel, "Trilby." A quote from the novel

He would either fawn or bully, and could be grossly impertinent. He had one kind of cynical humour, which was more offensive than amusing, and always laughed at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. And his laughter was always derisive, and full of malice. 

An actor in the role (from 1905):


ADDED: A raccoon penis bone is not as unusual a keepsake as you might think. From "8 Hard Facts About the Penis Bone":

Raccoon penis bones are considered by some in the South to be lucky charms. The little bones are also known as coon dogs, Texas toothpicks, and Abrahams. Southerners wear them on necklaces, keep them in their pockets, and even include them in bridal bouquets. The trend went Hollywood in 2004, when Sarah Jessica Parker and Vanessa Williams were both seen wearing raccoon baculum earrings.

FROM THE EMAIL: Madison Man writes:
I am struck by the complaint "They allowed him to win awards" by one of the plaintiffs. How passive, as if his skill at being an engaging lecturer so that many students learned material is irrelevant. Should only the unsullied be allowed to win awards?

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