Thursday, November 14, 2019

Richard Martin, University of Queensland: A pattern of harassment and university coverup, denial, and now veiled threats against a reporter?

Richard Martin, U of Queensland
Over the past few months I have made a few comments on social media about Richard Martin, a socio-cultural anthropologist at the University of Queensland accused by a number of women of sexual harassment. I have not said too much to date, because it is a sensitive issue involving victims who are still at risk both from retaliation and from perceived personal threats from Martin. Moreover, the university has done everything it can to cover up the allegations.

Many university officials are aware of the situation, including the Head of the School of Social Science, Greg Marston.

Today, however, I received an email from Mr. Anthony Lennon of UQ's Human Resources Division, which I am reproducing below together with my response. I think the communications will speak for themselves for the moment, and perhaps even further discussion of this important case of alleged misconduct. Moreover, the implied threat at the end of Lennon's letter might help explain why victims do not trust UQ to properly investigate cases such as these. But it might also demonstrate that the university realizes it cannot simply ignore the allegations, which is a good thing if true.

Dear Mr Balter

I refer to your two social media posts of 10 September 2019 in relation to a University of Queensland employee, Dr Richard Martin, Director, Culture and Heritage Unit. The posts are reproduced below.

“Richard Martin, cultural anthropologist at U of Queensland, is credibly accused of sexual #harassment by numerous alleged victims. The uni is well aware. I do want to caution Martin not to contact any of them nor to do anything that could be interpreted as intimidation...”

“Also call on Dean @Heatherzwicker to protect students and staff from retaliation of any kind. The misconduct by Martin has a long history and it's long past time #UQ deals with it seriously rather than gaslighting victims.”

I have made appropriate enquiries and have not received any formal allegations of sexual harassment against Dr Martin. The University treats such matters seriously. If you have any information whatsoever that you can provide to me in relation to the allegation you have made please do so as soon as practical. If you do not wish to provide that information you may refer any potential complainant to me, and advise if and when you have done so. If you do not intend to provide any further information or refer any potential complainants to me it would seem appropriate for your communications to cease immediately.

I look forward to your reply.

Anthony Lennon

Anthony Lennon | Associate Director, Human Resources (Workplace Relations)
Human Resources Division |  The University of Queensland  
t:  61 7 3365 3030 |  f: 61 7 3346 3927  |  e:  |  web

This email and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the use of the addressee(s) and may contain information which is confidential or privileged.  If you receive this email and you are not the addressee(s) [or responsible for the delivery of the email to the addressee(s)], please disregard contents of the email, delete the email and notify the author immediately.

Dear Mr. Lennon,

Thank you for writing.

I don’t know whether it is true that you are not aware of any allegations concerning Richard Martin, but other officials at your university certainly are.

I cannot in good faith advise victims of Martin’s conduct to contact your office, that is a decision they must make for themselves. But I would not blame victims if they did not trust your office to investigate complaints in a fair manner.

Your admonishment that I cease communicating about Richard Martin if I am not willing to cooperate with your office could be interpreted as a veiled threat against a reporter who is simply doing his job in exposing misconduct. I hope I am wrong about that.

Finally, I should also point out that despite the notice at the bottom of your emall that it is confidential, communications with a reporter are only considered confidential and off the record if the reporter in question agrees to it beforehand. Therefore I will take the liberty of publishing your email in the near future.

Best regards,

Michael Balter

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Legal threats from @McLNeuro shut down #MeTooSTEM journalism event at @CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan [Updated Nov 8]

BethAnn McLaughlin/WikiMedia Commons/MIT Media Lab
Not so long ago, neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin was a major leader of the #MeToo movement in the sciences, which is often identified with the hashtag #MeTooSTEM and the Twitter handle @MeTooSTEM. McLaughlin's unsuccessful fight for tenure at Vanderbilt University, no doubt denied because of her strong advocacy for the victims of sexual misconduct, inspired many #MeToo activists to get involved in the fight.

But recently, McLaughlin has become at least as well known for dividing the #MeTooSTEM movement, as other leaders and activists have begun leaving the organization she leads (known as MeTooSTEM) in droves. First broken in BuzzFeed by reporter Peter Aldhous, news of the defections has garnered headlines in several other publications:

Science: "Group devoted to combating sexual harassment in science is in turmoil as leaders exit."

Inside Higher Education: "What's Up With MeTooSTEM?"

The Daily Dot: "MeTooSTEM leadership crumbles as women of color resign."

These and other articles described how an imperious style of leadership, combined with an apparent zealous conviction that McLaughlin alone personified the #MeTooSTEM movement, led to division within an important movement that needs unity and solidarity now more than ever. Those not directly involved in the organization often felt the sting of McLaughlin's Tweets, which rightly excoriated sexists and abusers but all too often constituted attacks on individuals who were in reality allies. (Full disclosure: I am among those who got in her line of fire.)

In her zeal, McLaughlin has now done something that only helps the sexual predators of the world: She forced the cancellation of a panel of #MeTooSTEM reporters organized by the Science Writers in New York (SWINY), which was to be held on Thursday, Nov 7, at the City University of New York journalism school.

The event featured myself, a veteran of #MeTooSTEM reporting who has named 31 sexual abusers and bullies to date, and Meredith Wadman, a reporter for Science who has been one of the most active and prolific journalists working in this area (Wadman just wrote about the resignation of NIH's Antonello Bonci in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.)

The event was to have been moderated by Jeanne Garbarino, Director of RockEDU Science Outreach at Rockefeller University in New York City. But earlier this week, McLaughlin, Tweeting under her handle @McLNeuro, began objecting to the event's use of the hashtag #MeTooSTEM in describing the work of Meredith and I (we called ourselves #MeTooSTEM reporters, which indeed we are.) I weighed in to say that this hashtag, like all Twitter hashtags, could be freely used by anyone, and in fact is used by thousands of people on social media to identify with what is a movement and not just an organization. And Jeanne repeatedly tried to assure McLaughlin that we would make it clear at the event that we had no affiliation with her organization.

But that was not enough for McLaughlin. Last night she wrote to the event's organizers, threatening legal action if the event took place, on the grounds that we were appropriating a hashtag that belonged to her and her organization (McLaughlin claimed that a trademark application on the hashtag was pending.) SWINY's leaders, not sure of their legal position and not being able to find out before the panel tomorrow evening, cancelled the event. I expressed my disagreement and disappointment with this decision, but I understand why they felt they had to do it. **

But the key thing here is McLaughlin's destructive, negative actions. She argued that people would be confused and think that we were claiming we were acting on behalf of her organization. This is patent nonsense, and McLaughlin presented no evidence that it was true; nor did our assurances that we would make the distinction clear to people attending the event make any difference to her.

In other words, McLaughlin preferred to see an event that could provide valuable guidance to science journalists and writers--and perhaps even inspire more of them to join this reporting beat--cancelled at the last minute. She had the choice of admonishing us over the use of the hashtag, if that is how she felt, and accepting that we would assure the audience we were not her and her group. She had the choice of allowing his important event to take place. But that's not the choice she made. And in threatening us with legal action, she hurt the #MeTooSTEM movement she claims to champion, and privileged territoriality and personal ego over the needs of victims and survivors to find ways to tell their stories.

BethAnn McLaughlin should be thrilled that the #MeTooSTEM hashtag has spread throughout the sciences and become a banner for everyone fighting sexual misconduct and abuse, just as the #MeToo hashtag has spread throughout the world and become a rallying cry for justice and equity. Instead, she regards it as some kind of brand, a trademark, with her as the proprietor.

I regret very much that an event we spent many weeks organizing and publicizing will not go forward. And I hope that #MeToo and #MeTooSTEM activists, as described above, will reject divisive leaders who apparently care more about their own priorities than the movement they are supposed to be spearheading.

** I've tried to go easy on my friends and colleagues in SWINY, because they were in a tough spot and felt vulnerable and exposed to possible legal action. However, they made the decision to cancel the event without consulting with me and Meredith Wadman, and before they had any chance to consult with an attorney. By caving to pressure from McLaughlin, SWINY did not set a good example for the science writers, journalists, and students who were planning to attend. #MeToo reporting requires a certain degree of mettle and courage in the face of threats. I have been threatened with lawsuits a number of times, although no one has followed through on them (so far.) And the victims and survivors who talk with reporters, usually as a last resort when their institutions have failed them, take far more risks than the journalists helping them to tell their stories.

Afterthoughts, Nov 8:

If anything good comes out of this sorry episode, it might be a renewed realization of the important role that journalists have played in the growth and development of the #MeToo and #MeTooSTEM movements. I recounted some of this history, briefly, in a recent piece about my own reporting on these issues for the Columbia Journalism Review. A huge amount of credit goes to reporter Azeen Ghorayshi and BuzzFeed, who broke the first major #MeTooSTEM story--about astrophysicist Geoff Marcy of UC Berkeley--in October 2015, more than two years before the Harvey Weinstein exposes made #MeToo a household word and won Pulitzers for the New York Times and The New Yorker. This was followed by #MeTooSTEM scoops by Jeff Mervis at Science (astrophysicist Christian Ott of CalTech; Azeen did an important followup on this story), Amy Harmon of the Times (Jason Lieb of the U of Chicago), my own story for Science about paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond of the American Museum of Natural History, and many others down to the present day.

All of these exposes of sexual misconduct shared a central feature: Courageous victims and survivors, fed up and disillusioned by the failures of their institutions to take action despite complaints, turned to journalists as a last resort to get their stories out and try to prevent further abuse by these predators. And the resulting stories led to concrete results: In every example above, the abusers were forced to resign from their institutions, thus making students and other colleagues just a little bit safer.

Are there journalists out there who have reported on #MeToo issues for money, fame, or self-aggrandizement? I'm sure there are, but there are not many. These investigations are difficult, depressing, and often thankless. And any reporter who cannot earn the trust of victims and survivors will not last on this beat for very long. I've been doing it for four years now, and I really wish I could quit. But nearly every week I am approached by new victims, survivors, or their friends and supporters, who have seen what the power of publicity can do to shine light on abuses and bring justice about. That's why #MeToo and #MeTooSTEM reporters do it, and that's why we will keep on doing it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

An egregious case of bullying and unethical behavior: TAMU anthropologist Sharon Gursky [Updated Nov 3]

Sharon Gursky
Last month, I reported on a litany of allegations of abuse by some faculty members in the Texas AM anthropology department. They included sexual harassment, bullying, and various kinds of unethical behavior including the stealing of student work and ideas and forcing students to participate in experiments in possible violation of international law. The accused faculty included the current chair of the department.

The response from some department leaders was to tell students and fellow faculty that I had no real sources other than a few disgruntled students who had left the department. And a dean (Pamela Matthews, College of Liberal Arts) reportedly told a meeting of the faculty that they had nothing to worry about because the allegations had been published by just one reporter.

But the current grad students themselves set their faculty straight in a letter urging them to take the allegations seriously. Nevertheless, one accused anthropologist, Sharon Gursky, hired an attorney who threatened to sue me if I did not delete the allegations against her. Of course I have not, for the simple reason that the accusations of bullying and unethical behavior against Gursky are well substantiated via multiple witnesses over a significant period of time.

In this post, I will elaborate on those accusations to make the case clear. As always, I do not report rumors, but information based on actual witnesses to the behavior I am describing. The behavior represents a pattern of bullying, retaliation, pettiness, self-dealing, plagiarism, theft of intellectual property, and other violations of student rights. To quote one faculty member, Gursky has engaged in a "reign of terror" against her own and other students. To make matters worse, much of the anthropology faculty has long been aware of Gursky's misconduct; so has the university administration.

Belittling, bullying and threatening students

The abuses testified to by students include belittling their field skills and their writing; retaliating against students who advise prospective students not to come to TAMU; forcing students to take her classes so she can have a full head count; violating privacy by telling a group of students that she intended to fail one of their colleagues; forcing a student to drop a class taught by another faculty member who had advocated on behalf of abused students; belittling a student who won an award by saying it was not deserved; and intimidating students who complained about the behavior by calling them into her office for interrogations.

To protect the brave students who have shared their stories, I have given just a few examples above out of many, and I have been circumspect with the details. But there are so many episodes along these lines that Gursky is a clear and present danger to the mental health of those junior colleagues the university has entrusted to her care, in a very negligent fashion given TAMU's knowledge of the abuses.

Egregious mocking of a student with a disability

One of the most widely discussed abuses by Gursky involved a student with an eating disorder, a situation described to me by several witnesses. As one put it: "Over the years [Gursky] often made disparaging comments about this student regarding her eating habits (she was aware of the disorder.) She noted that she wouldn't invite her to Thanksgiving because the girl wouldn't eat anything, made a comment following a study on caloric restriction on primates that this student 'would live forever' [see image below], and a number of other things. On Valentine's Day, 2017, she gave all the students in her lab boxes of chocolate...[but] she emptied the box and replaced it with celery sticks" for the student with the eating disorder.

Students reported this abuse to TAMU's human relations department as well as to the then department chair, Cynthia Werner, but nothing was done. Again, this abuse was observed by multiple witnesses.

This image illustrates Gursky's direct naming of the student in reference to the eating disorder. Her name is blacked out here.

Unethical behavior: Misappropriating a student's thesis project, plagiarizing a student's thesis.

In the letter to me threatening a defamation suit if I do not take the allegations down, Gursky's lawyer refers in some detail, using six points, to an allegation that she misappropriated the thesis project of one of her students for her own research. That ethical breach eventually led to the student leaving the TAMU anthropology department, despite entreaties from other faculty who knew he had been wronged and almost begged him to stay.

Let's call this student "Thomas," not his real name, to protect his privacy. Thomas filed an ethics violation report with the university about the stealing, describing it in detail. He had come to TAMU to work with Gursky, and they had agreed ahead of time on a thesis project that involved primate ultrasonic vocalizations. Thomas had many discussions with Gursky about this, along with conversations with other researchers who were advising him and offering help. In the fall of 2017, Thomas proposed a more specific version of his thesis, involving how insects responded to the ultrasonic calls of tarsiers and bats. Thomas was convinced there was convergent evolution at work. Gursky had, in fact, helped Thomas to write grant proposals on this research.

But the following spring, according to Thomas's ethics complaint, he laid out to Gursky the experimental approach he intended to use. "That's when I was told, 'You can't do that,'" Thomas wrote. "Not really understanding why I asked how things had changed, as we had been sharing ideas about this research since I had arrived to the program. Her response was, 'That's what I'm doing.'"

Thomas's relationship with Gursky degenerated after that, as might be expected, and he eventually chose to leave TAMU despite urgings by other faculty that he stay (including offers to pay his tuition.) Before he left, however, Gursky promised to include him as coauthor on a paper she was preparing if he helped her with some of the graphs (a paper that was within Thomas's area of expertise.) But when the paper was published, she was sole author, with no acknowledgement at all of Thomas's role (she did acknowledge others.)

The six points laid out by Gursky's attorney, including the statement that she knew about the ABR (auditory brainstem response) system and how to use it (there is documentation that statement is false), and the statement that "all complaints were found to be unsubstantiated," are not accurate. Gursky was cleared by the university of procedural violations, but not of the actual ethical violations. Even that finding is suspect, given TAMU's long history of sweeping complaints under the rug, as illustrated in my earlier posts.

There is a lot more to this case, and there are witnesses, including former department chair Cynthia Werner and university administrators who were involved in "investigating" the ethics complaint.

In a second case of alleged theft of intellectual property, a student turned in chapters of her dissertation to Gursky, only to see them written up verbatim in a poster Gursky presented at a meeting months later. I will not provide further details to protect the privacy of this student, but the lawyer's letter clearly includes a retaliatory warning to all such witnesses (he makes the statement that Gursky is "well aware" of the identity of my sources.)

As I mentioned repeatedly above, Gursky's abuse of students is well known within the department and by the university administration. Yet she continues to terrorize students without restraint. The threat of a lawsuit against me is just another aspect of that bullying behavior, because ultimately the intent of such a threat is to further intimidate students into being silent. But it's not working.

Amazingly, in January 2018, during a search for a new department chair to replace Cynthia Werner, Gursky submitted a letter nominating herself for the role. "My vision for the department is for it to become a more collegial environment," she wrote without apparent irony, "where all individuals feel welcome and can thrive."

Gursky did not get the job. Instead it went to anthropologist Darryl de Ruiter, who, at the time he accepted it, had been found guilty in a Title IX proceeding of conduct unbecoming a faculty member in the wake of a sexual harassment complaint who alleged misconduct during field work in South Africa. Most of the faculty did not know this when they voted for him--the findings were kept secret, although Werner reportedly knew all about them.

Thus does the toxic culture in the TAMU anthropology department get perpetuated, with some of its leading faculty fully complicit in the abuses. Perhaps Gursky's attorney should get to know his client better before he issues any more threats against the reporter who has, with the help of numerous brave current and former members of the anthropology department, revealed the truth about her.

Addendum: As I mentioned in my original post about Gursky's legal threats, her lawyer, Daniel R. Warner, is serving two years' probation in a plea bargain with the Arizona bar over serious allegations of fraud.

Update Nov 3: After a number of anthropologists shared this post on Facebook and social media, Gursky began commenting on their posts and denying the accusation that she stole a graduate student's dissertation. That is her right, but in doing so, she has deliberately outed the student who was forced to leave the anthropology department as a result of her unethical behavior (I stand by my reporting on that.) This appears to be an attempt to get revenge on his whistleblowing by trying to wreck his career. Also, Gursky refers to the university's inquiry into the matter as having cleared her; this is not at all true. In fact, TAMU, as in so many cases of alleged misconduct, failed to conduct a serious inquiry and did not deal with the ethical issues.

This Twitter thread includes a screen shot of one of Gursky's Facebook comments.

Further update: An interesting Facebook exchange between Gursky and me:

  • Sharon Gursky He signed his name on the complaint. It was never confidential.
    • Michael Balter Is this seriously your excuse for outing him? Every complainant is known to the administration and often to the abuser. He did not ask to be outed to the entire anthropology community in which he must now work. You are really something.
    Write a reply...

  • Sharon Gursky I was cleared of EVERYTHING. All allegations occurred as a bullying attempt on me within 6 week period. I did tell a student she could not have someone on her committee if she wanted me to chair it. We have different perspectives on evolution. I didSee More
    • Michael Balter First you were not cleared of ethics violations. A letter from a TAMU dean is worthless given how long the administration has covered for you and other abusers in your department. Second, I have a pile of witnesses about your bullying and unethical behavior. Sharon, you hired a lawyer accused of fraud and on probation with the Arizona bar to threaten to sue me if I did not take the allegations down. So I did not, now go ahead and sue and let's take depositions and do legal discovery and see how you fare. I'm very happy to debate your behavior in a court of law if that's what you want. But those in your department who know all about your behavior and have helped cover it up, and members of the administration, will all be part of that process.
    • Sharon Gursky If it would not cost me 200K I would sue your ass. But since you have no assets from which I could recoup the costs...i have to let you use your first amendment rights.
    • Sharon Gursky Please note all this happened Fall 2018
    • Michael Balter Sharon Gursky That's great, sorry you had to waste your money on a lawyer accused of fraud. Did he tell you he was on probation with the bar when you hired him?
    • Michael Balter Talking about Daniel R. Warner, Arizona attorney, for those who are curious.
    • Michael Balter Sharon Gursky Relevance of when it happened? Your misconduct goes back years.