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weird situation with professor

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So I missed the original post, but from what I gather, your professor's boyfriend harassed or even assaulted you?! Whoa. I'm so sorry. I don't know how I would deal in your situation.

I don't really have any advice about what steps to take. Do you have a trusted advisor? I hear what folks are saying that because this attack was off-campus by a non-employee, the university isn't accountable. That being said, your department probably wants to know if one of its employees has an SO who is attacking students.

And frankly, I'm astonished that the professor hasn't said anything. Of course, the boyfriend is his own person, but I apologize all the time for the (well-intentioned) politically incorrect things my parents say to my friends of color. Because, I know that while I didn't say those things, I created the scenario in which they could be said, and I am sad when my friends are hurt.

Good luck dealing with this. Just whoa.

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Without the details, I can only write about the general case of "a non-employee-that-is-connected-to-an-employee-in-some-way harasses a student off-campus" because I don't want to speculate on any missing details. This is based on my experience in training and working with some related issues.

 

I think the school can do a few things. First, the school may be able to deny access to campus for the non-employee. This might also depend on public vs. private schools. At my private school, we have a general "open-campus" policy but if someone is bothering us**, we can call security who will ask them to leave or security will call the local police to come and arrest them for trespassing. I don't know if it is possible to "trespass" at a public school though.

 

(** believe it or not, sometimes random people walk into our buildings and demand that we pay attention to their own pet scientific theories, or sometimes vendors make unsolicited visits and try to aggressively sell their product)

 

Also, in general, "workplace harassment" is something that is centered more on the worker rather than the location of the incident (for example, if two employees harass each other via email or at a coffee shop in town, it's still covered under "workplace harassment" policies I'm familiar with). What matters is that the people protected by the policy (i.e. students, staff, faculty, etc.) are protected. The school might be limited in what it can do if it happens off-campus and if the offender is not affiliated with the school but they can take measures to ensure that the student does not face further harassment while on campus (such as, but not limited to, denying access). 

 

Finally, while confronting the professor in private could clear up some details and provide answers, in the general case, once the situation has deteriorated to a point where a student does not feel comfortable addressing the issue (due to the nature of the harassment), the student should not feel any obligation to resolve it privately first. That is, in the case of harassment, the right reporting office (whether or not it's Title IX or something else depends on the specifics) should not have expected the student to try to resolve it on their own first. My past training would tell me to advise the student to just go ahead and report it to the administration and only ever talk to the people involved when there are other people in the room. 

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(** believe it or not, sometimes random people walk into our buildings and demand that we pay attention to their own pet scientific theories, or sometimes vendors make unsolicited visits and try to aggressively sell their product)

Say what?! Is this common? Absolutely wild. I hope you start another thread about this! I'd love to hear about the most absurd pet scientific theory you've heard from a random intruder.

(Edited quote and cleaned up some typos. Posting on my phone is always an adventure!)

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Finally, while confronting the professor in private could clear up some details and provide answers, in the general case, once the situation has deteriorated to a point where a student does not feel comfortable addressing the issue (due to the nature of the harassment), the student should not feel any obligation to resolve it privately first. That is, in the case of harassment, the right reporting office (whether or not it's Title IX or something else depends on the specifics) should not have expected the student to try to resolve it on their own first. My past training would tell me to advise the student to just go ahead and report it to the administration and only ever talk to the people involved when there are other people in the room. 

I agree with this. If the student feels threatened or uncomfortable (which sounds justified from what I've inferred, even if the professor isn't involved), s/he is under no obligation to try to work it out privately first. Indeed, that could backfire legally - it's best to have witnesses or records of anything said from this point forward. I don't think it's out of line to talk to the university when a student feels threatened, but what Telknaru said pretty much sums up my view of the thread.

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I did not read the original post, but I can say that it sort of bothers me that many people here are talking about how the professor is not responsible for the acts of her boyfriend. Certainly she is not, but let's not forget she is THE PROFESSOR and her boyfriend just assaulted HER STUDENT.

 

She should have stopped her boyfriend's actions immediately. It would have been nice to have an apology right there, but even a late, email apology to the student was the professional and right thing to do.

 

She, as a figure of authority in the whole situation, should have been the one worried the most about the acts of her boyfriend to one of her students.

 

I wonder what the school and the people in this thread who dismissed what happened to the OP if the case were "A professor and her boyfriend where having fun at a bar and suddenly, a student (the OP) insulted and dumped water to the professor's boyfriend". Sure, it was not a fight on campus, sure the attack was not to the professor, but I bet that everybody would be on the OPs case for doing that.

 

Moreover, if the OP after being assaulted had, as a reaction to the slander, kicked the professor's boyfriend in the balls. What the school and the people who has dismissed this awful event would say?

 

The OP posted a bad situation that happened to him/her hoping for some support and what he/she finds is a bunch of lawyer-like comments, dismissing what happened because the professor did not directly engaged in the slander (but permitted it and did not show any sign of shame or regret for doing so).

 

Granted, the OP needs to learn how to couple with negative feedback and bad advise (the whole Title IX was totally out of place, and the OP fell in the trap). But I felt that some posters here were just expecting the moments when the OP dropped the ball to attack her and cast a shadow of doubt in her account.

 

This is the  internet, people posts things anonymously all the time and we decide what to believe and what not to believe. But in this kind of forums, for the sake of the functionality and purpose of the site, we need to take the member's posts as true and offer advise accordingly. We do not know what has been left out or not, but can't just assume the worst.

 

When someone posts that his/her GPA is 3.9 and has 2 published papers (in the infamous what are my chances threads) we all assume this is the truth. Why not believe what the OP of this thread said too? This is not a place to set what is true and what is not and if the OP is lying or not about something, it is just about offering the best response to someone asking a question. What the person asking decides to do is up to him/her.

 

That being said, I would definitely recommend the OP to talk about what happened to the Professor AND the Dean. Maybe nothing will happen, but at least the professor is not left with a free lunch (of roasted student with chips on the side) and thinking that she can have her boyfriend to do her dirty jobs to students.

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I did not read the original post, but I can say that it sort of bothers me that many people here are talking about how the professor is not responsible for the acts of her boyfriend. Certainly she is not, but let's not forget she is THE PROFESSOR and her boyfriend just assaulted HER STUDENT.

 

She should have stopped her boyfriend's actions immediately. It would have been nice to have an apology right there, but even a late, email apology to the student was the professional and right thing to do.

I agree completely, but here's a devil's advocate possible alternative explanation. Other posts have mentioned the professor has a history of complaints - perhaps she fears any more complaints or infractions will cost her job. I don't know what it said, but some people alluded to an email OP sent. I'm inferring that it was vaguely accusatory? So perhaps the professor lets off steam about it at her boyfriend [i can imagine unfairly negative things being said about OP here, in private angry ranting]. This gets the boyfriend worked up, maybe he's got a short fuse. He takes this out on the OP when they encounter each other wherever that occurred. The professor is too scared of getting involved and having it held against her, so instead she stays uninvolved. (I firmly believe what I said in my previous post - if she had apologized, somebody else would be jumping on *that* as an indicator of guilt.)

 

Alternatively, maybe the professor did get her boyfriend to do her dirty work. This is all speculation, we have no proof of anything. In any case, I think if the OP felt threatened by a professor (even indirectly), it is worth talking to somebody.

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I agree completely, but here's a devil's advocate possible alternative explanation. Other posts have mentioned the professor has a history of complaints - perhaps she fears any more complaints or infractions will cost her job. I don't know what it said, but some people alluded to an email OP sent. I'm inferring that it was vaguely accusatory? So perhaps the professor lets off steam about it at her boyfriend [i can imagine unfairly negative things being said about OP here, in private angry ranting]. This gets the boyfriend worked up, maybe he's got a short fuse. He takes this out on the OP when they encounter each other wherever that occurred. The professor is too scared of getting involved and having it held against her, so instead she stays uninvolved. (I firmly believe what I said in my previous post - if she had apologized, somebody else would be jumping on *that* as an indicator of guilt.)

 

Alternatively, maybe the professor did get her boyfriend to do her dirty work. This is all speculation, we have no proof of anything. In any case, I think if the OP felt threatened by a professor (even indirectly), it is worth talking to somebody.

 But that makes a stronger case for the apology! If I am in deep Sh*t and my husband slander someone I am experiencing troubles with, the first thing I will do is try to smooth things out with the slandered one, so no need of escalating things to other authorities will be necessary.

 

But I guess you are right, different people react differently to the same situation.

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 But that makes a stronger case for the apology! If I am in deep Sh*t and my husband slander someone I am experiencing troubles with, the first thing I will do is try to smooth things out with the slandered one, so no need of escalating things to other authorities will be necessary.

 

But I guess you are right, different people react differently to the same situation.

Absolutely, I'm not saying she *shouldn't* apologize. I'm just saying that sometimes people are so scared of how their actions will be interpreted that they end up just doing nothing at all.

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I agree completely, but here's a devil's advocate possible alternative explanation. Other posts have mentioned the professor has a history of complaints - perhaps she fears any more complaints or infractions will cost her job. I don't know what it said, but some people alluded to an email OP sent. I'm inferring that it was vaguely accusatory? So perhaps the professor lets off steam about it at her boyfriend [i can imagine unfairly negative things being said about OP here, in private angry ranting]. This gets the boyfriend worked up, maybe he's got a short fuse. He takes this out on the OP when they encounter each other wherever that occurred. The professor is too scared of getting involved and having it held against her, so instead she stays uninvolved. (I firmly believe what I said in my previous post - if she had apologized, somebody else would be jumping on *that* as an indicator of guilt.)

Alternatively, maybe the professor did get her boyfriend to do her dirty work. This is all speculation, we have no proof of anything. In any case, I think if the OP felt threatened by a professor (even indirectly), it is worth talking to somebody.

If I'm remembering the original post correctly then someone in the department had taken the OP aside to see if he/she had a decent experience with the PI bc there had been issues in the past. This came out of nowhere for the OP so he/she emailed the professor with a "hu? What in world was that crazy meeting?" Email. I interpreted it as the OP took the PIs side and had her back. The PI sent back an email that didn't suggest any bad or hurt feelings towards OP. The assault happened the next time they saw each other.

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Hmmm, I had a different reaction in reading through this (granted I did not see the original post). My first thought was one of compassion for the professor. She may not have stopped the boyfriend because she was mortified and ashamed of his behavior. Perhaps the boyfriend behaves erratically often, and perhaps she is caught in the cycle of domestic abuse. Given the pain, secrecy, and element of denial that often haunt persons trapped in that situation, it may be understandable why the professor has not addressed the incident on her own. Or perhaps she has received counsel from the school advising her to not speak wit the OP about it.

 

My point is that we just don't know what is going on in someone else's head. All we have is one person's perceptions of persecution, which seem to be running rampant around GradCafe lately. I agree that the OP should speak with Title IX or the Dean's Office or whatever is the appropriate first step at his or her school. I agree that no person should ever be treated in such a disrespectful and insulting manner as this OP endured in the bar.

 

At the same time, we could all use a reminder to never assume anything. Ever. If the OP were still around, I would advise him/her to step back, be aware of what is your perception, get some input to test those assumptions. Then be willing to take the feedback you've asked for....and remember that when people give you input you don't like, that in itself isn't "disrespectful." It's too bad the OP threw the baby out with the bathwater by saying he/she will not return to GradCafe. I've personally found this place to be a mostly welcoming and helpful community. 

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 But that makes a stronger case for the apology! If I am in deep Sh*t and my husband slander someone I am experiencing troubles with, the first thing I will do is try to smooth things out with the slandered one, so no need of escalating things to other authorities will be necessary.

 

But I guess you are right, different people react differently to the same situation.

 

I do think people will react differently. Again, only commenting on the general idea of "partner-of-employee-harasses-student", if I was in the professor's shoes, I would not apologize on behalf of my partner, unless my partner asked me to deliver the apology. My partner is an independent agent, and when they express how they feel, I don't think I should invalidate their feelings by apologizing on their behalf. 

 

In the specific (deleted) situation of the OP, maybe there is more to it. It would certainly be unprofessional/unethical of me, if I am having problems with someone and then I get my partner to do the "dirty work" for me. But if I (ethically) complain about someone else to my partner (ethically as in not revealing privileged information due to my position) and my partner decides to take matters into their own hands, although I might not condone it, I'm not going to apologize unless my partner wanted to apologize. Especially if my relationship with the other person is already strained, I would feel no obligation to make them feel better. However, as in ProfLorax's example, if the offended person was someone I cared about, then I would care about the fact that they were hurt and try to "smooth things over" (i.e. address the fact that they were hurt, but I would still never "apologize on behalf of my partner" without my partner's permission). 

 

I'm not saying one way or another is right in general (and certainly not trying to comment on this specific situation). I just wanted to respond to Crafter's (and a few others') comments that imply that in general, we should apologize for our partner's actions. I think there are very valid reasons (as I wrote here) to not want to do this. Of course, ideally, all interactions between me and others on campus would be nice and happy, but if I don't like someone, I don't think I should be obligated to ensure that they feel good about every interaction with me. I just have to make sure I'm not responsible for any harassment. And I am certainly not going to be held responsible for what my partner, an independent agent, does and nor should I "police"/control their actions. They have the freedom to act as they wish (within the law).

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If this were about some random people I would totally agree 100% with you, TakeruK.

 

But we have to keep in mind that we are talking about a professor's boyfriend attacking one of her students. That changes things.  Even when she did not directly participate and she is not responsible, she is involved, in a way. It is her boyfriend and her student. And definitely she was the one causing the trouble, otherwise, why would the boyfriend do such a thing if not because of something she said?

 

Regarding the post about feeling sorry for her and the possibility that she is in an abusive relationship... well, I guess we can throw all sorts of assumptions to the very little we know about this, but even when she did not do anything in front of the boyfriend, there are other ways to reach out someone to make things better.

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I agree, Crafter. The student-professor relationship changes everything. There's such a power difference, and now that the student fears for her safety? I can't imagine. What happens if the OP has to take a class with the professor? Or at departmental events in which families are welcomed? What if the professor serves on the OP's committee, and the OP needs approval or a signature for her dissertation? Our careers depend very much on our professors. I can't put myself in this professor's shoes, as if my husband did anything like this, we'd be in divorce court the next day.

Does anyone read Ask a Manager? Gah I love that blog. Last week, someone wrote in about her boss's husband verbally abusing her on the phone. There was no question that this was inappropriate. OP, you may want to dig up that post (I'd do it for you, but I'm on my phone). There was some advice and lots of support in Allison's response and the comment section.

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If this were about some random people I would totally agree 100% with you, TakeruK.

 

But we have to keep in mind that we are talking about a professor's boyfriend attacking one of her students. That changes things.  Even when she did not directly participate and she is not responsible, she is involved, in a way. It is her boyfriend and her student. And definitely she was the one causing the trouble, otherwise, why would the boyfriend do such a thing if not because of something she said?

 

Regarding the post about feeling sorry for her and the possibility that she is in an abusive relationship... well, I guess we can throw all sorts of assumptions to the very little we know about this, but even when she did not do anything in front of the boyfriend, there are other ways to reach out someone to make things better.

 

I agree, Crafter. The student-professor relationship changes everything. There's such a power difference, and now that the student fears for her safety? I can't imagine. What happens if the OP has to take a class with the professor? Or at departmental events in which families are welcomed? What if the professor serves on the OP's committee, and the OP needs approval or a signature for her dissertation? Our careers depend very much on our professors. I can't put myself in this professor's shoes, as if my husband did anything like this, we'd be in divorce court the next day.

Does anyone read Ask a Manager? Gah I love that blog. Last week, someone wrote in about her boss's husband verbally abusing her on the phone. There was no question that this was inappropriate. OP, you may want to dig up that post (I'd do it for you, but I'm on my phone). There was some advice and lots of support in Allison's response and the comment section.

 

I certainly agree with both of you that the professor is involved and a power dynamic makes things complicated. I just don't think she should feel obligated to apologize on behalf of her partner. I'm not saying the professor is not at fault. I don't have the original post in context so I was responding to the general situation and the fact that people here seem to expect a faculty member to be responsible for another person's actions. What I mean is that whether or not the professor is guilty of anything in this situation should not be dependent on whether or not she apologizes

 

Saying that one should not apologize for their partner's actions is not the same as "I think the University should not do anything". I hope that in this case, the University offices responsible for handling this situation finds a fair solution. For the scenarios that ProfLorax brought up, I would hope these solutions might involve something like not allowing the professor's partner to attend departmental events and allowing the student to take a course from another professor in lieu of that course, if that is the appropriate response after considering all the facts. At least, these are the actions that my school's Title IX and Graduate Offices would take in situations that involve something like this.

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Thanks for clarifying, Takeruk. That makes mucho sense.

 

I'm not sure how much this conversation about whether or not the partner should apologize, and I am 100% responsible for steering the discussion to that question. Sorry! 

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The part that bothers me here about the professor's actions, and the reactions here, is that there are a lot of possible repercussions for the student here after this. If the partner is censured in some way, that can cause problems between the professor and the student, and potentially other professors and the student. If something like this happened to me in my current program, where most of the faculty is social with each other, and spouses and partners often attend events, I'm not sure I would want to continue in my program.

 

Did the professor have to apologize? Of course not. No one ever HAS to apologize for anything, especially if it wasn't something they did directly, but that isn't the point here. The point is that the OP was assaulted (again, lets be clear that that is what occurred) and publicly humiliated by a faculty member's partner. There was no prior interaction with the boyfriend, so the only connection between the two parties is the professor. I can't imagine a world with the professor would honestly believe that she didn't contribute to his action in some way (either directly, or with inciting speech), and the fact that she's completely ignored the event makes her even more guilty, imo.

 

Quick criminal lesson, as I understand it: If I say "Man, someone should shoot Richard Nixon, he's going to ruin America" in front of a crowd and no one does anything, that's problematic, but not really illegal. If I say "You should shoot Richard Nixon for me" to my brother and then he does it, it's solicitation. If I spend 30 minutes talking about everything wrong with Nixon in front of a crowd and why he should die, then one of them shoots Nixon, the courts would probably rule that as incitement.

 

What the prof did here is either solicitation or incitement, by my reading.

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The question I have is if the Professor is even aware that their boyfriend went and yelled at the OP in the bar? You would of course think they have to know, but I could imagine a scenario where the boyfriend decided to 'take matters into their own hands' and confront the student, but then either didn't tell the Professor what they did, or played it down ("I just had a quiet word with [OP], said you were upset about what they'd done."). Which might explain why the Professor hasn't responded or commented in any meaningful way afterwards. 

 

Since I didn't get to see the original post, I apologise if I'm misunderstanding what was the OP told us.

 

My advice to the OP would not to confront the Professor in private - from now on everything should kept in written form to ensure it is all documented.

Also, try your hardest not to get drawn into toxic departmental politics. It sounds a bit like somebody in the department is trying to play people (you?) off against someone else (the Professor in focus?). Unless there is a formal disciplinary procedure being enacted and your confidentiality is guaranteed, keep as diplomatically neutral as you can. As a graduate student at the bottom of the power structure, you're the one who will come out the worst in any fallout. If there is no way for you to avoid toxic departmental politics then my advice would be to get the Hell out as diplomatically, swiftly and quietly as you can. It isn't worth sacrificing your happiness, career prospects and personal safety.

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The question I have is if the Professor is even aware that their boyfriend went and yelled at the OP in the bar? You would of course think they have to know, but I could imagine a scenario where the boyfriend decided to 'take matters into their own hands' and confront the student, but then either didn't tell the Professor what they did, or played it down ("I just had a quiet word with [OP], said you were upset about what they'd done."). Which might explain why the Professor hasn't responded or commented in any meaningful way afterwards.

Since I didn't get to see the original post, I apologise if I'm misunderstanding what was the OP told us.

My advice to the OP would not to confront the Professor in private - from now on everything should kept in written form to ensure it is all documented.

Also, try your hardest not to get drawn into toxic departmental politics. It sounds a bit like somebody in the department is trying to play people (you?) off against someone else (the Professor in focus?). Unless there is a formal disciplinary procedure being enacted and your confidentiality is guaranteed, keep as diplomatically neutral as you can. As a graduate student at the bottom of the power structure, you're the one who will come out the worst in any fallout. If there is no way for you to avoid toxic departmental politics then my advice would be to get the Hell out as diplomatically, swiftly and quietly as you can. It isn't worth sacrificing your happiness, career prospects and personal safety.

The professor definitely knows. The three of them were all at the same bar and the professor sat at the bar and watched everything happen.

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Now, I did read the original post and one of my questions to the OP early on was whether she knew that the professor was aware of what her boyfriend had done. I didn't get a response that indicated that the professor definitely knew.

 

I taught high school through this past school year, and I definitely had students who made it a mission to make my life hell. I've often seen students and former students (who've graduated) in restaurants around town. If I saw a former student and explained to my husband who that student was, my husband would never dump water onto her head and curse her out. Yes, he would be acting of his own accord if he decided to do that, but even if I never asked him to (which of course, I would never do), I couldn't just let that go if I was aware of it. I would apologize profusely to that student because it's so inappropriate. I get that my husband is his own person, but that would never have happened had it not been for what I told him. I couldn't be with someone who I had to apologize for strictly because I would feel the need to apologize for something like that. But, as I mentioned before, we don't know if the professor realized it since the OP did not talk with her about it after that.

 

One other thing that might be relevant to people's interpretations and responses of the situation (and others who read the original post please correct me if I'm wrong), but I thought the OP was already moving on to another school. Did I read that she was entering a PhD program and wasn't going to have a lot of further interaction with this person? -that the OP was concerned about moving on to a new department in a small, close-knit field where even though she wasn't in the same vicinity, that the influence of this professor could still reach her?

 

Does that sound familiar to anyone else? It might just be memory reconstruction, but when I read it and was trying to figure out what the appropriate course was, I thought that's what stood out to me as a factor that was considered by the OP.

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Finally Accepted -- my memory is the same. The OP mentioned having graduated and said she was moving to a new PhD program. She was concerned about the professor's influence on this new program. I think it was clear that the OP is not, and will not be interacting with this professor on a daily basis, will not have her on a committee or really in any capacity that could affect her as a graduate student, and she had already gotten into a PhD program, so there is no danger of the professor affecting the OP's admissions chances. As you say, we never got a clear answer to whether the professor knew what her boyfriend did, and certainly there was no evidence that the professor asked the boyfriend to do anything. In any event as has been noted already, even if she knew, apologizing or not is not a measurement of guilt, and how you or I would feel and act if it were our partner is irrelevant. There is a good chance that the professor didn't apologize because that could be taken as an admission of guilt. Beyond that, everything is speculation. 

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FinallyAccepted, I do think you're right that the OP just graduated from the program. This doesn't affect my opinion on whether this issue should be reported. I definitely think it should, even if for no other reason then to let the school know in case similar students experience harressment so they know it's a pattern.

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