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Prof Claims a Lame Joke Has Endangered His Career

Prof Claims a Lame Joke Has Endangered His Career

“earlier this month was told my appeal had been rejected”

Richard Ned Lebow made a stupid joke in an elevator. It came back to haunt him and threaten his teaching career.

He writes at Quillette:

Warning: Telling a Lame Joke in an Elevator can Endanger Your Career

I am a professor of international political theory at King’s College London and bye-fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. I am a fellow of the British Academy and a member of the International Studies Association (ISA). Several years back the ISA voted me the “distinguished scholar of the year.” This year it censured me, not once but twice. I was guilty of saying “ladies lingerie” in a lift, and more disturbingly in their eyes, of writing a conciliatory email to the woman who had overheard me in the lift and filed a complaint. I appealed against this decision, but earlier this month was told my appeal had been rejected.

During the second week of April 2018, the ISA had its annual meeting in San Francisco. It attracts many thousands of members from multiple disciplines who do research on international relations. The meeting consists mostly of panels at which scholarly papers are presented and discussed. I stayed in the San Francisco Hilton, the venue of the meeting. On the third afternoon, I was going up to my room in a very crowded lift when a male voice asked people to shout out their floors so he could press the relevant buttons.

People named floors and I said: “Ladies Lingerie.” I confess it is an old, lame joke; my youngest son later remarked that it was not the worst joke I have ever made. Upon reflection, I think these words came to mind because I was flush up against the back wall of the lift and feeling slightly claustrophobic. It was a way of releasing tension—or so I thought.

Two days later I learned that a member of the ISA had filed a complaint against me and that the organization would send it to its ethics committee for adjudication.


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I hate people.

If I were in his position, I’d be giving serious thought to whether being a member of this esteemed body of hypersensitive individuals is worth the hassle.