Is there a time when someone’s ability overrides their behavior? #DiversityJC

I believe everybody read the news about the professor at University of Chicago that resigned after sexual misconduct. His behavior is totally unacceptable, however, it was not something new in his life. Despite having received information stating that the professor had faced allegations of sexual harassment at previous jobs, the hiring committee voted unanimously to hire him.

An important point to add is that the professor has received millions of dollars in federal grants and currently holds three R01s! Really? Is it all about the money now? In these times of scarce funds for research, of course being funded makes a huge difference when a professor is being hired. But that’s not all that matters! (Or at least, it shouldn’t be, right?). Alright, on top of doing great research and being able to get his research funded, it seems that the professor was also an amazing teacher.

So now it seems obvious that hiring the professor despite the allegations against him was a terrible mistake, but how do we measure the success of aspiring professors? By numbers. The number of publications, the number of grants funded, the number of classes taught. Numbers, numbers, numbers – they are all in our CV’s. But what about the non-quantitative requirements. How to know that the person is a decent human being and not an assh**e? Being a professor and a PI means interacting in an influential way with students, postdocs, technicians and other professors. Being able to mentor properly is super important, and it’s also a big responsibility. How do we know that a person with such amazing credentials and incredible record of publications and grants is going to be a good professor and mentor?

We want to discuss those topics and hear what you have to say! Join us in our next #DiversityJC on February 19th 2pm EST.

Recap: Reporting Structures and Dealing With Harassers.

During this Diversity Journal Club, we discussed the Geoff Marcy harassment case as well as existing structures for reporting and how to deal with harassers. The conversation brought up a lot of good points that likely aren’t discussed enough. The entire discussion can be found on Twitter by searching for the #DiversityJC hashtag and looking for October 26.

One of the things I wrote in the post for the discussion was that the ultimate solution is changing the culture so that people like Marcy are reported early and their behavior isn’t tolerated. Currently, when such behavior does occur, any survivor of it faces a difficult choice. Reporting has consequences as does not reporting; it doesn’t seem as if either option is really a good one. This doesn’t include additional disruptions to departments, universities, and others dealing with a harasser and supporting the survivor. We want STEM workers concentrating on their work. Harassment and other aspects of our culture make that harder for too many in science.

The fact that reporting is hard (often not obvious who to turn to) and that harassment is too often covered up or consequences inconsequential and often take time to implement creates an environment hostile to reporting.

One aspect of the problem is something Emily pulled out of my initial post.

And even though harassment is not part of a mentoring relationship, the culture of academia does have a problem in training mentors as well as truly valuing it. As a recent editorial in Science states, the power dynamics in academia can permit harassment to continue. Part of the cultural change needed is to talk to men about speaking up, learning about reporting structures, and listening to those that are targets of harassment.

Jacquelyn Gill And Doctor PMS had some recommendations for supporting those that are targets of harassment:

There are apparently some programs that do well, like this one Emily cited:

And this for harassment policy resources:

Something several people brought up was the idea that some institutions designate everyone as “mandatory reporters”, where if they hear about harassment, they are obligated to report it to someone else, presumably someone that will investigate the claim. Even though such a policy might be in place, little training seems to have gone along with it for exactly how to support a victim of sexual harassment/assault and just who to report to. It also might make reporting less likely, ironically, as it means someone that might be trusted can no longer be if they’re supposed to report it to someone else.

And not reporting at all may result in the harasser continuing to target others in the future, but many early career researchers feel that they cannot take the risk to their own careers in today’s culture.

As to whether the Marcy story coming to light and him resigning is a sign of progress in changing the culture. The DiversityJC did not really think so:

At the same time, Marcy did keep his job 20 years ago and has been a serial harasser ever since until just this last month due to reporters and social media as well as the astronomy community. The culture may not be where it needs to be, but having a professor resign did not happen even a few years ago (or another example, a blog editor at Scientific American). And that does strike me as progress. Although far from parity and equal representation/inclusivity, STEM is more diverse now than ever. This isn’t a “good job, we can relax now”, but there are some signs of progress. Assessing what might be working is a good thing to do now and again. Now, I may not know what I’m talking about here, as I am one that lives life on the lowest difficulty setting as Wil Wheaton says, but having paid attention to discussions the last few years, things do seem to be slowly moving in the right direction.

Underscoring that we have a ways to go oh harassment/assaul, Jennifer Hoffman noted that those that reported Marcy only did so because they were in permanent positions or had left the field of astronomy:

I hope serial harassers like Marcy are rare. And I hope that men learn or speak to one another about specifically what constitutes harassment and why it’s a problem (in any context, though we’re mostly concerned with the STEM workplace here).

This story isn’t over. And hopefully we see the UC system really change how they deal with cases like Marcy’s:

And enable real consequences (i.e. dismissal) for harassment, not just what amounted to double secret probation.

Unfortunately, changing the culture around harassment isn’t like flipping a light switch. It will take work, reform, and I hope we’re moving in that direction.

Ian Street

Emily Klein


Note: The DiversityJC will be on hiatus for the rest of 2015. We’ll be back in 2016. In the meantime, you can visit old topic posts, re-caps, and use the #DiversityJC hashtag and tag one of us if you run across a diversity-related topic  (@IHSreet, @Doctor_PMS, and @DrEmilySKlein on Twitter). Enjoy your holidays and see the DiversityJC community in January! 

Reporting Structures and Dealing With Harassers.

Buzzfeed (by Azeen Ghorayshi) reported on the internal investigation carried out by UC Berkeley into Geoff Marcy and his at least 9-year history of sexually harassing female students (as it turns out, it goes back almost 30 years). The repercussions for Marcy handed down by UC Berkeley were minimal (apparently constrained by UC policies). Marcy has guidelines to follow for interactions with students that have not been made public that if violated could result in penalties including dismissal from his faculty position. Apparently it was an open secret (that some tried to deal with) that he was a harasser and many have said that Berkeley should dismiss Marcy from his position. He has been asked not to attend an upcoming conference and all of this has generated a lot of discussion (see also #AstroSH on Twitter and this news item in Nature).

An academic culture in need of change.

This seems like a case of an institution wanting to keep an intellectual powerhouse that brings prestige and funding to the university even in light of his harassing activities. A case of someone in a position of privilege getting away with things because of professional success. Part of the story of science in the 20th century is one of increasingly ethical standards. Institutional review boards exist now. The missions of botanical gardens is not colonial anymore, but involves conservation and the people where plants are native (at least more so). These are good developments. They have not extended as much to ensuring that doing science is respectful of scientists themselves– especially in making sure science is inclusive and that early career researchers are protected from those that might abuse their power.

The Marcy case may be the extreme of this. The idea that the Knowledge and experiments matter more than the people doing it or how they behave, no matter how abhorrent. This has become a lot more untenable in recent years. Science is hard enough without the need for the still too few women that pursue degrees in astronomy/physics (and STEM) to avoid a well known harasser while men have safe access to a top person in their field.

What can be done?

The ideal solution may be cultural change that has no tolerance for abusive behavior– that is not our current culture, however. The Marcy case is an example of the old thinking: knowledge, prestige, and funding counts, behavior towards others doesn’t. This is exacerbated by the fact that being a good teacher or mentor is not really incentivized in much of academia, especially at top tier research universities, like UC Berkeley (another open secret in academia). Though it shouldn’t have to be spelled out that being a good mentor/supervisor does not include harassment, a lax culture of how to be a good mentor may exacerbate the problem.

This week in Diversity Journal Club, we’ll discuss the Marcy case. In particular, we’d like to find examples of good anti-harassment policies (from institutions or professional societies like the AAS) to share with others. And second, talk about just what a good reporting harassment/abuse structure might look like and how it should be dealt with by institutions or conference organizers. I know many conferences have a simple statement saying harassment/abuse will not be tolerated, but that seems insufficient, lacking specificity. And what is a decent outcome for the targets of harassment? What are some good systems of support you know of?

And last, we’ll discuss how institutions and academia are often slow. Marcy has resigned his position and UC Berkeley has immediately accepted his resignation. Transitioning out of his job could take time though (likely meaning he’d be around the department still winding things down; unless another institution hires him). Getting out of academia means offloading projects to collaborators, making sure any students or postdocs have labs and new supervisors, etc. Shutting down a research program isn’t as trivial as dismissing someone and replacing them with someone else quickly. In general, academia does not move quickly.

Again, ideally harassment wouldn’t happen to put institutions, departments, and especially victims in difficult positions.

Astronomy will go on and make new discoveries. Hopefully science gets better at taking care of the people that do it as much as the science we do.

Discussion Questions

Here are the discussion questions for Diversity JC. Take a look through any of the links above about the Marcy story and on Monday at 2pm ET, we’ll discuss these questions:

  1. What are some good practices to support targets of sexual harassment/assault?
  2. What are good reporting structures to report harassment? For conferences and Institutions.
  3. What are some best practices or policies for investigating and dealing with harassers like Marcy?
  4. Does the Marcy resignation suggest that culture in STEM is getting better?
  5. After dismissal from a faculty-person, what rules need to be in place while they wind their research program down?

We look forward to seeing you all on Monday at 2pm.

Ian Street


Emily S Klein