Disparate Impact, Revisited

It will probably surprise no one that “mentoring, committee work, and other campus service disproportionately burden women” at colleges and universities across the country (Chronicle of Higher Education, October 5th online).

But there are exceptions.  

Consider the University of Montana at Missoula.  

Every fall, shortly before the hibernation season begins, the U of M English Department hosts its annual Grizzly Bear Roast.  Featuring Rotisserie Brown Bear, corn on the cob, and candied yams, the Roast has been a department tradition for over 70 years.  

Responsibility for tracking, shooting, and preparing bears for the spit rests exclusively with the male members of the English Department.  

“It’s not fair,” claims Greg Lertz, an assistant professor who participated in his first grizzly bear hunt in the fall of 2021, losing his left arm in the process.  “I had absolutely zero experience with guns before being hired by the University of Montana, and I certainly had never hunted a grizzly bear.  When I came face-to-face with one in the woods last fall, I froze, and the damn thing ripped my left arm right out of its socket and started beating me with it.  Thank God one of my colleagues took the bear out with one shot; he saved my life.”  

Over the years nearly a dozen English professors have died during the hunt, including a few who perished after falling down deep ravines while being chased by bears.  Thus far the most notable fatality has been Grayson Twenge, whose 2006 biography of Vladimir Nabokov won a Pultizer Prize.  Professor Twenge was killed when he accidentally discharged his rifle while stepping out of his Prius at the hunt staging area in the Lolo National Forest parking lot. 

According to associate professor Lance Gepperman, “what makes this males-only tradition so insane is that a number of our female professors are much better than the men when it comes to handling firearms.  Hell, take Arlene.  Three years ago she dispatched both her husband and his mistress with a single bullet.  Granted, the two victims were locked in a tight embrace in bed at the time, so it wasn’t that much of a challenge, but still…”

When asked to comment on the gendered nature of the annual bear hunt, U of M President Seth Bodnar smiled and replied, “this is Montana, my friend, and in Montana we consider men to be the hunter/gatherers.  Every male applicant for a faculty position in our English Department is informed of the expectations that govern the bear hunt.  If a so-called ‘man’ is uncomfortable with those expectations, he should apply for a position at Williams, Princeton, or Berkeley, where baking scones for Sunday salons is the main extracurricular activity of English professors.” 

FOLLOW-UP:  University Life contacted the Human Resources Department at the University of Montana and confirmed the accuracy of President Bodnar’s assertion concerning the English Department’s application process.