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Monday, March 23, 2020

Chief of international archaeology field schools has long history of alleged sexual misconduct, bullying, and racism. [[Updated March 30, 2020]]

IFR executive director Ran Boytner
Archaeologist Ran Boytner is the Founding Executive Director of the Institute for Field Research, based in Los Angeles. The IFR was established in 2011 by Boytner, who previously served as the Director for International Research at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

Boytner came onto my radar earlier this month, when I published two reports on serious misconduct by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin and her partner, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque. The first report dealt with misconduct at Kurin's 2015 archaeological field school in Peru, and the 2016 Title IX findings against both her and Gomez for retaliation and sexual harassment, respectively.

The second report concerned Kurin's 2018 field school, also in Peru, where Gomez ended up sexually assaulting two female students. The 2018 field school was sponsored by IFR, which conducted an investigation after students complained about the misconduct there. After the investigation, IFR severed its relationship with Kurin. On the face of it, that seemed to shed a good light on IFR's seriousness about misconduct at its field schools. But as it turned out, the only reason Kurin was able to conduct the 2018 field school at all was because Boytner had covered up--and later, blatantly lied--about what he knew about the 2016 Title IX findings. Joining Boytner in the coverup was then UCLA Extension dean Kevin Vaughn, now a dean at UC Riverside and an IFR board member.

As I pointed out in that second report, Vaughn and Boytner were informed right after the June 14, 2016 Title IX findings came down from UCSB that Kurin and Gomez had been found guilty--and they immediately cancelled a Kurin field school in Peru that IFR had sponsored, just about 10 days before it was supposed to begin. The field school students were told only that "health and safety" issues had come up that required the cancellation; some of them were already in Peru, and all of their lives were disrupted seriously.

As I prepared the report about the 2018 field school, I wondered why Boytner had lied about what had happened. Boytner told a number of colleagues that Kurin and Gomez had been cleared by the UCSB investigation, a blatant lie. I could understand that Boytner and the IFR board (or at least those board members who were in the know) might want to protect the institute from legal action from the assaulted 2018 students, who had been courageous in asserting their rights to a safe field school experience. I did not have to wonder for long. Shortly after the second report, sources began to approach me to fill me on Boytner's long history of misconduct.

Here are the results of the latest turn in this investigation. As always, I have relied only on direct witnesses to events or to authenticated documentation, never on rumor or second hand information. To protect sources, many of whom are fearful of retaliation from Boytner and his allies--including some members of the IFR board--I have been circumspect about where the information below came from. But I think readers will quickly see how credible it is.


An accusation of sexual harassment at Boytner's field school in Peru. Did UCLA let him off?

On July 24, 2009, Michael Clark, an equal opportunity consultant in UCLA's Staff Affirmative Action Office, wrote to Boytner to inform him that a student from the University of Southern California (USC) had filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. The allegations, Clark wrote, were that "while in Peru, you engaged in inappropriate and offensive sexual behavior towards her." (Other documents in my possession indicate that the alleged misconduct took place between June 22 and July 3, 2009.) Already, while still in Peru and before the formal complaint had been filed, Boytner had been put on "investigatory leave" from his position and required by UCLA to return to the United States, according to UCLA documents in my possession.

The student's accusations were outlined in a three page document that was provided to Boytner. There were 15 specific allegations. (I am not identifying the student to protect her privacy.) Some of the key charges were:

--That Boytner had extensively photographed the student, many times more than any other field school participant, including several photos of her mounting and dismounting a horse. Some of the photos were allegedly taken directly up the student's skirt.

--That Boytner had taken the student aside telling her that he wanted to talk to her, whereupon he told her that he "had fallen in love" with her and "could not keep quiet about it any longer."

--That Boytner told the student that he didn't "give a shit" about the fact that he was married and that he thought the feelings might be mutual.

--That Boytner told the student he had "an understanding" with his wife and that he did not believe in monogamy.

--That when the student reminded Boytner he had been her professor for a class she had taken at USC, he told her that they were "just a man and woman with desires."

--That Boytner told her he had never felt this way about another student, but that she was "so mature and strong" and that he had never met someone as young as her who was so strong.

--That the student continued to remind Boytner that he was an authority figure and in control of the situation.

--That Boytner took her hand and "creepily started to pet it," whereupon the student got up and left.

--That the next morning, on the pretext of telling her she was not wearing her walkie-talkie properly, he "grabbed her 'ass' and groped her," despite her protests.

--That Boytner repeatedly tried to get her alone after that, despite her resistance.

--That the student reported the conduct to others involved in the UCLA program and was quickly transferred to another field school near Cuzco, Peru.

In conclusion, the student wrote in her complaint that an "acceptable resolution" would be an apology from Boytner, and that while she did not want him to be fired for the offenses, "I also do not believe that he should be allowed back in the field with female students who are unaware of his prior inappropriate behavior."


On November 22, 2009, Charles Stanish, then director of the Cotsen Institute, wrote to Boytner to discuss the findings of the Staff Affirmative Action Office's investigation. This letter (which came from sources other than Stanish himself) confirms the "inappropriate" behavior. Remarkably, however, UCLA did not find Boytner guilty of sexual harassment, which normally would have required his immediate termination.

The office "found that you did not violate the University's policy, but that you engaged in inappropriate conduct in your interaction with" the student, Stanish wrote, adding that "This incident is very disturbing." Stanish pointed out that while Boytner's formal position was director of international programs, he also had an appointment as a Research Associate which sometimes involved teaching students (such as the class at USC.) "Consequently the students perceive you as a professor, and that perception places an extra burden on you to maintain a professional relationship with the students..."

After citing the relevant provisions of the faculty code of conduct, Stanish went on:

"By your own admission, you discussed matters of a very personal nature with Ms. ___________, and told her that you loved her. Although you were found not to have violated the sexual harassment policy related to your appointment as Director, I agree with the findings that your behavior was entirely inappropriate and must not be repeated." Stanish concluded by telling Boytner that he could not act as an instructor in the program "for the indefinite future, and you are not to have contact with undergraduate students without a third party present." Boytner was also instructed to attend sexual harassment training "at the earliest opportunity."

Contacted for comment on these events, Stanish told me that he was instructed by UCLA at the time to keep the matter confidential, and that "university policy demanded that I not say anything." Nevertheless, Stanish says, "I did not do anything wrong."

Nevertheless, rumors have continued to swirl about this episode in the archaeology community over the years, in part because the student told other participants at the 2009 field school parts of what she alleges happened, including the allegation that Boytner had told her that he was in love with her (which he later admitted, according to Stanish's letter.)

Moreover, sources reliably inform me that the student eventually sued both Boytner and UCLA, but the suit was settled quietly for an undisclosed amount of money. Several witnesses associated with the case were required to sign nondisclosure agreements. Either just before or after the settlement--the timing is not entirely clear--Boytner was obliged to leave UCLA. The story at the time was that there was a funding issue with the field programs, although some sources insist that Boytner was fired.

A couple of editorial comments here. First, I think many would agree that had this misconduct occurred today, in the so-called "#MeToo era," Boytner would have been found guilty of sexual harassment. It does not even seem like a borderline case of any kind. Second, if he was not guilty of sexual harassment, then why did the university require that he take sexual harassment training?

The facts of the case could, indeed, support the feeling of many with knowledge of these events that UCLA covered them up at the time. Whatever the case, Boytner would go on to found the IFR, which put him in the position of damaging many students and staff both directly and indirectly.


Boytner at IFR: Sexual harassment, bullying, racism, and attempts to debunk misconduct research.

The following is based on a large number of sources who have worked with Boytner over the years in various ways, including former IFR employees. As brave as these sources are, archaeology is a small world, and most of them fear retaliation.

All of the sources, however, described a routine pattern of blatant sexism on Boytner's part. He would comment openly and critically on the role of women in archaeology, telling female archaeologists repeatedly that they had to choose between having a family and having a career. Boytner also habitually tried to corner women into discussing sexual subjects, a behavior that was described to me by a number of colleagues. He also routinely bullied employees,  often yelling and screaming at them if he thought they were not doing their jobs properly, or even if something went wrong that they could not reasonably be responsible for, sources say.

I spoke at length with a woman I shall call IFR Employee No. 1. She worked at IFR during 2014 and part of 2015. One hot day, Employee No. 1 was wearing a sleeveless shirt with a shawl around her shoulders. She says Boytner asked her why she was wearing the shawl, to which she responded that she was just trying to be professional. "He demanded that I take my shawl off," the employee recalls. Boytner then started talking about the "open relationship" he and his wife had. "He asked me about my partner and did we have an open relationship."

Employee No. 1 says that she was "desperate for this job" and tried to keep her distance from Boytner, to no avail--the harassment, along with severe bullying, continued. Finally the employee made a complaint to Willeke Wendrich, current director of the Cotsen Institute and chair of the IFR board of governors (Wendrich's behavior is a subject of my second report on the Danielle Kurin matters.) Employee No. 1 and other sources say that Wendrich attempted to "mediate" between her and Boytner, despite clear evidence of abuse. Wendrich suggested that the employees have a "safe word"--which they could use if Boytner went too far--and that was agreed to. The safe word was "motorcyle," the sources say, and in one case it actually had to be employed. Again, to no avail.

In the end, Boytner fired Employee No. 1, as he had done with other staff members during the years who would no longer put up with his abuse.

Former employees also described Boytner's reaction when, in 2014, a group of anthropologists published a pivotal study demonstrating an alarming degree of sexual misconduct at field schools. The Study of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE), which appeared in the scientific journal PLOS ONE in July of that year, found that 64% of survey respondents had experienced sexual harassment, and that over 20% had been subjected to sexual assault. But according to Employee No. 1 and other witnesses, Boytner did not believe these results. He told everyone that he was going to disprove them, and assigned Employee No. 1 to design a new survey that could be used in the IFR field schools. But Boytner, unhappy with the survey questions, made changes which several sources told me seriously biased the questionnaire. After he consulted an expert on the methodology who tried to set him straight, sources say, he dropped the whole idea.

Finally, there is the issue of Boytner's blatant racism. Former IFR employees say that Boytner routinely rejected students from Africa. "Why would someone from Africa want to go to a field school?" he would ask. One source says that Boytner seemed to be concerned, in part, that African applicants were really hackers trying to get into IFR's servers. As with many aspects of Boytner's misconduct, Wendrich was aware of the discrimination as well: When an Ethiopian student she had discussed the field schools with was rejected, she wanted to know why.


The consequences of Boytner's behavior, over many years, has been in some cases severe in its effects on other people. He sexually harassed a female student at his field school in 2009 (despite UCLA's determination, there is no question that his behavior as described would today be found in violation of Title IX); he harassed and bullied IFR employees and fired them without just cause; his lies about the Title IX charges against Kurin and Gomez allowed the couple to host a 2018 field school at which students were sexually assaulted, causing trauma they are still suffering from; and he has actively engaged in sexist and racist behavior according to numerous sources.

Wendrich, and possibly some other IFR board members as well, have been aware of this behavior for a long time. Boytner did not respond to several requests for comment on these accusations, and Wendrich--who sources tell me has been aware of Boytner's misconduct going all the way back to the 2009 sexual harassment case--has declined to comment as well.

But it seems that a reckoning by IFR board members about the suitability of their executive director to continue in his job--one that affects the well being of hundreds of students each year--is long, long overdue.


Update March 25, 2020: There's been a lot of discussion of these revelations on Instagram and other private chat venues. Some of the comments are not very complimentary to IFR. Some examples:

"I did an IFR field school and the leader was highly abusive. This does not surprise me in the least."

"I was in Peru. There wasn't any sexual misconduct, but the lead was verbally abusive to the point where some of the students would cry in their bunks." 

"Any time one of us got injured or felt unwell, the lead would tell us to suck it up 'because it's a major pain to get to a hospital from here.'"

"To add insult to injury, nobody learned anything because we were treated as grunt labor rather than students. One of the worst experiences of my life."


I also hear that some of the IFR field schools have been excellent, so it obviously depends on the director a great deal. But the quality control is clearly poor. Sources say that both Boytner and IFR board chair Willeke Wendrich have limited sympathy about complaints. And former employees have talked to me at length about Boytner's obsession with how much money IFR is making through its running of the field schools. "We want to make a million dollars!" he reportedly said, repeatedly.


Update March 30, 2020:  IFR has now cancelled its summer field schools, a sensible move announced on its Web site. This may buy its governing board some time to deal with the serious accusations against its executive director, and to repair the damage that his long-known, serious abuses of students and staff has done to the institute's reputation.


















Wednesday, March 11, 2020

UC Santa Barbara kept misconduct findings against an archaeological couple--a sexual predator and his enabler--secret from students, faculty, and the scientific community, allowing further episodes of misconduct (including sexual assault) and new victims. Did a leading archaeological institute fail to do due diligence as well? [Updated March 24, 2020: New Title IX complaint against Kurin]

Sexual predator? Enmanuel Gomez Choque
Last month, I posted a report concerning two archaeologists, Danielle Kurin of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Enmanuel Gomez Choque, a Peruvian archaeologist based in Andahuaylas, Peru. Based on documents I had received from UCSB, and corroborating evidence from witnesses, I was able to determine that this couple had been found guilty in June 2016 of Title IX offenses by the university.

Kurin was found guilty of retaliating against students who had filed Title IX complaints against her partner (and later husband), Gomez, in connection with sexual harassment that took place during a 2015 archaeological field school directed by Kurin in Peru. Gomez was found guilty of the sexual harassment charges. In addition, I talked to victims of serious sexual assault at the hands of Gomez who were not part of this particular Title IX case.

I also reported that UCSB had kept the matter almost entirely secret, even though Kurin was put on three years' administrative leave as a sanction for the misconduct. As a result, very few faculty in the university's anthropology department, where Kurin is based, knew why she was on administrative leave, including the fact that it involved Title IX charges. Those who did know were sworn to secrecy by the university.

Within 24 hours after my February 28 report, a number of students and teaching assistants who had participated in Kurin's 2018 field school in Peru contacted me to describe misconduct which took place during that season--including, again, sexual assault and harassment by Gomez. They also detailed the efforts by Kurin to cover up these events, including telling the students blatant lies about the past history of misconduct. Some of these students have bravely decided to go on the record, despite Kurin's long history of retaliation against anyone who has reported misconduct involving her and Gomez.

My updated reporting also raises troubling questions about the role of the sponsor of Kurin's 2018 field season, the Los Angeles-based Institute for Field Research (IFR.) IFR officials knew, prior to sponsoring the 2018 field school, that Kurin had been on administrative leave beginning in 2016. Those officials claim, however, that they did not know why, and after reviewing positive evaluations from students who attended her 2017 field school, decided to underwrite the following year's season. My reporting, however, suggests that they did know, or should have known, raising troubling questions about whether IFR did all it could to protect students. As for UCSB, the facts leave little doubt that protecting students was not the university's highest priority.

What follows is based on interviews with direct witnesses and participants in these events. As always in my reporting, I do not rely on rumors or second hand information. Where I speculate or editorialize, I have made that entirely clear. (Gomez's defenses against the 2016 charges were outlined in the previous post; Kurin has not responded to multiple requests for comment.)


Sexual predator's enabler? Danielle Kurin



Secrecy at UC Santa Barbara and misjudgments (or outright negligence?) by IFR created still more victims.

Kurin and Gomez were found guilty of Title IX offenses in June 2016. Kurin had been put on administrative leave a few months earlier, and that was extended until last year after the findings against her. There is no indication that Gomez, who is based in Peru, was sanctioned in any way, and he remained on the UCSB anthropology department's bioarchaeology Web site until shortly after I began this investigation last year. He then disappeared, although I have retained a printout of the page.

I've communicated with a number of members of Kurin's department. They tell me that the anthropology faculty were kept in the dark about the reasons for Kurin's administrative leave, including the fact that it was due to Title IX charges. When anyone would ask, they would simply be told that it was something being handled by the UCSB administration and not the department; on occasion there would be a mention that "lawyers were involved," as one colleague put it. (Kurin did sue the university, unsuccessfully, for denying her a promotion.)

That something might be amiss did, however, come to the attention of IFR officials in 2016. Willeke Wendrich, director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and chair of IFR's board of governors, tells me:

"In summer 2015 UCSB offered a field school (nothing to do with IFR). In 2016 Kurin requested that the field school would be offered through IFR. At that time UCLA extension was the school of record providing academic credit for IFR field schools. Ten days before the 2016 field school was supposed to start, UCLA extension cancelled the field school, with no reason given."

It would be fair to surmise, from the timing of events (Kurin's Peru field school normally began in July) that UCLA extension cancelled the field school because it had been informed about the June 2016 Title IX findings by the UCSB administration, or by someone in the UCSB anthropology department. I do not claim to know. Wendrich continues:

"In preparation of IFR's 2017 field school season we asked UCLA and UCSB to give some information on what the reason of the 2016 cancellation was to determine whether IFR would offer the Peru field school. We only received information that this was an 'administrative leave'. We decided after a long discussion to offer the field school (without UCLA extension credit, which was withheld by UCLA for reasons they would not share). During that year two IFR academics visited the site to check on the quality of the living circumstances and the education, as we do with all our field schools from time to time. The reports were good. In 2018 the field school was, therefore, offered again."

As it turned out, the students at the 2018 ended up reporting allegations of serious misconduct by both Gomez and Kurin to IFR, which eventually launched an investigation. After some months, that investigation led to IFR severing its ties with Kurin. As Wendrich describes events:

"Then, in the last week of the 2018 field school, we received word that there was a problem at the Peru field school. This was the first time allegations of improper conduct at the Peru field school came on our radar and it was the reason to terminate this field school indefinitely and discontinue IFR's relationship with the [Principal Investigator, ie, Kurin.]"

I asked Wendrich if the "adminstrative leave," and the fact that neither UCSB nor UCLA would tell IFR the reasons for it, should not have been a red flag for the institute's sponsorship of Kurin's field school. Wendrich replied that the Peru field school was very popular with students, there was a lot of disappointment when the 2016 season was cancelled, and that two IFR representatives had visited the field school in 2017 with no indications of problems. "If we had known that 'administrative leave' in this case represented a Title IX complaint and sanction our decisions would have been different," Wendrich told me, "but it's always easy to decide what should have been done in hind sight."

There are several problems with this stance, and it's true that some of them might have the benefit of hindsight. Some might argue that no matter how good the reviews of Kurin's field school, they should not have sponsored it without knowing why Kurin was on administrative leave. By 2018, reports of misconduct in field situations was very well known, thanks to a widely distributed study by a team of anthropologists and reporting by myself and other journalists. Wendrich and other officials and board members of IFR would certainly have been aware of this evidence. Also, if they had insisted on knowing the reasons, and been provided the details of the Title IX findings, they would have known that Kurin's habit was to retaliate against students who reported misconduct. Indeed, after she and Gomez were charged with misconduct, Kurin made a big plea to her current and former students to produce statements defending her. It is quite possible that participants in the 2016 and 2017 field schools would have put a positive face on things. But in fact, as I relate below, in 2017 a student was again harassed by Gomez, even though she did not report it at the time.

Yet there is an even more important reason to question this excuse by IFR. My reporting indicates that IFR did almost certainly did know about the 2016 Title IX allegations. Sources tell me that IFR board member Kevin Vaughn, an Andean archaeologist and dean at the University of California, Riverside, was tipped off about the accusations at the time (he was then a dean at UCLA Extension.) It stretches credulity that he would not have told other IFR board members and officials, including IFR executive director Ran Boytner. Unfortunately, Vaughn has not responded to multiple messages asking him to confirm or deny whether he was told about Kurin and Gomez and who in IFR he might have relayed the information to. Nor has Wendrich responded to multiple queries about this.

I can only speculate about why IFR officials are now denying that they knew what my sources tell me they did know. "Bullshit," says one UCSB faculty member, when told of IFR's denials. One possibility is fear of legal action from the students who were victimized during the 2018 field school. As I relate below, IFR's investigation of the 2018 events took an extended period of time, suggesting that lawyers might have been involved.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that UCSB, UCLA, and IFR let the students down badly, and put them in a position where a sexual predator was free to prey again.

But now, in the light of this background, let's have the students tell their stories.


The 2018 field school at Wari, Peru: Multiple incidents of sexual harassment and assault by Gomez.


In the course of this investigation, I have heard from women who were harassed or assaulted by Gomez going all the way back to 2011, and very often in the same way (see the previous report for some of those details from 2015.) Those students (or former students) who wish to remain anonymous I have identified by numbers.

Student No. 1: "Hi Michael, I've thought a lot about reaching out after I saw your article about Danielle Kurin and Manuel Gomez. I was on their project in Andahuaylas in 2011 and Manuel forcibly kissed me in a club on that trip. There were also several witnesses, whose names I've blurred [on a contemporaneous messenger thread she attached] since I don't know how they feel about being involved."

Student No. 2: This student describes going to a club with Gomez and a group of students during the field school in 2017 (the year after the Title IX findings.) "We were dancing in a group when Enmanuel came over and started dancing with me, pretty close up onto me. I thought he was showing me how to dance a particular dance, but he was way too close and touchy...I felt uncomfortable and asked another woman from the program if I could dance with her because he kept pushing himself at me....The rest of the program I felt very uncomfortable being alone with Enmanuel and and tried to avoid being alone with him as much as possible."

These are just some examples of the kind of behavior which I have tracked between 2011 and 2018, thanks to witnesses who nevertheless fear retaliation by Kurin and want to keep their identities as hidden as possible. But during the 2018 field school, now two years after the Title IX findings, things seem to have hit a new level of misconduct, and some students finally took a stand.

Taylor Johnston is a student at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. She told me that early in the 2018 field school, which began in June of that year, she had a lot of contact with Gomez. "Manuel was always around me and trying to get me alone," she recalls. At first she thought it was because she speaks Spanish well, and Gomez speaks English very poorly. About 10 days into the field season, Johnston says, Gomez took a group of students to an archaeological site called Tukri. "None of us brought alcohol," Johnston says, but "Manuel was pushing that we needed to go into town and buy beer. He was pushing all of us to drink." Johnston says that Gomez told them it was disrespectful to refuse, just as he did during the 2015 field season.

Johnston says that they were accompanied by another academic from a university in Peru, and that both of them behaved towards her in ways that were "totally inappropriate," including "grabbing my ass." After they returned to Andahuaylas, Johnston says, Gomez would drunkenly try to get into the house where the students were staying, banging on the door and asking for her early in the morning. After that she began to distance herself from Gomez, she says.

Johnston also told me about a day trip the group took to some nearly ponds, where the students went bathing despite the cold of the Peruvian winter (which is summer in the Northern Hemisphere.) In an incident reminiscent of one described by the 2015 students, Johnston says she was wearing a sweater over her bathing suit to keep warm. "Take off your sweater, I want to see your body in your bathing suit," Johnston recalls Gomez saying.

After Johnston began to keep her distance from Gomez, she and other witnesses say, Gomez began to take an interest in another young researcher I will call Student No. 3. On the night of July 13/14, shortly before the end of the field season, the students and Gomez went out to a club (Kurin normally did not join these outings.) According to several witnesses, Gomez began plying the students with drinks, especially Student No. 3. "He was bringing us shots every twenty minutes," Johnston says. "He kept pushing them on [Student No. 3.] He was with her all night at the club, dancing with her." Suddenly, around 1:30 am, the students realized that Gomez and Student No. 3 were no longer there. They began a frantic search for her, calling Gomez's cell phone and leaving messages but getting no answer.

At 5:30 am, Gomez returned to the field house with Student No. 3 in a taxi.

When Student No. 3 saw my initial report from last month, she contacted me directly.

Hello Mr. Balter,
I saw your article on the bio anthropology Facebook news page. I’m saddened and dismayed to learn Daniel[le] Kurin still works at UCSB.  I attended the 2018 Wari field school and was personally assaulted by Manuel. Two days before leaving on a night out Manuel fed me drinks all night and then forcefully kissed me. There’s time missing from that night where I was with him alone and other members from the field school could not find me. This is very painful for me to write and think about, but I cannot fathom not saying something. Daniel[le] victim blamed me for the situation saying I was a consenting adult. Manuel came to the field house later in the night once I had returned, banging on the door demanding to see me and the other students sort of hid me away in a room. The whole situation was very traumatic and I wish I had pressed charges, however this all happened two days before we were leaving and I wanted to get away as soon as possible. I’m hoping the more people speak out the higher the chances of her not working with students are.
Thank you for bringing attention to this.


In a followup email, Student No. 3 added:

Hi Michael,
I can tell you a bit more, but there really is a lot of time missing.  We started at a karaoke bar and after that I tried to go home. I remember Manuel saying no no we are staying out and putting me in a cab with him. I believe we went to a different night club after that but I’m not really sure. It goes pretty blank after that. The last thing I remember is being put into a cab by Manuel and him telling me “not to tell anyone” and when I got back to the field house everyone was panicking and scared about where I had been. If I’m being honest with you, there’s no doubt in my mind non- consensual acts happened. I had bruises and aches the next morning but the fact is that I do not remember more than the kiss and then being put in the cab by Manuel.


In a final email, Student No. 3 told me:  "I've prevented myself from attending other field schools because I felt so jarred from the experience with the two of them."


The students confront Kurin, who gaslights them and blatantly lies about past events.


A number of students involved in this episode talked to me about it, including the ones already named. They say that after Student No. 3 got back into the house, Gomez, very drunk, continued to try to get at her. Gomez was confronted by a male student, Ruben Garcia Diaz, who almost got into a fight with the Peruvian as the group tried to get him to leave. (Garcia Diaz was a former student at the University of Puerto Rico, who graduated in 2013 with a BA in anthropology. He told me that had to quit archaeology after he injured himself doing paid archaeological field work to pay his bills for the Peru trip.)

Finally Kurin heard the noise and came into the student house (Gomez and Kurin lived together in a home nearby that belonged to Gomez's family.) There was an angry exchange between Kurin and the students, which one of them surreptitiously recorded, in which she blamed the students for what had happened, arguing that Student No. 3 was a "consenting adult" and had to take equal responsibility for what happened. Finally it was agreed that they entire group would meet later that afternoon.

During that meeting, the students say, Kurin kept her cell phone in her hand, and claimed that her sister, a lawyer, was on the other end of the line. Johnston then began recording the session on her iPhone as well, not trying to hide it from Kurin; the session was also surreptitiously recorded by another student, creating two digital files, both of which I have listened to.

During this meeting, Kurin made a number of notable and contradictory statements:

--Kurin at first apologized, and announced that Gomez had been banned from the archaeological project, even though she had not heard all the evidence. "I am taking your side," she told the students. (This statement would turn out not to be true, as sources say that the couple were still working and living together in Peru as of late last year.)

--Kurin implored the students to reflect upon their positive experiences, and asked them what more she could have done. "He is being punished," Kurin said. "He is banned from the project, forever! What do you want me to do, cut off his dick?"

--When the students told Kurin that they heard rumors about previous incidents of misconduct, she blatantly lied and said that this was "defamation" and not true. Later she said that any allegations had been "investigated and resolved." (As we know, in June 2016 both Kurin and Gomez were found guilty of Title IX charges.) The vehemence of Kurin's denials on the recording are remarkable, given their untruth.


Nicole Fiorino, the curator at the Sitka Historical Society & Museum in Sitka, Alaska, was also present at this meeting. "I can tell you about the fear everyone experienced that night," she told me, "and I can tell you about the aftermath and how Danielle tried to sweep it all under the rug. I can speak to how she blamed the entire event on us and on the victim [Student No. 3]. I can tell you how she screamed at us... she and Enmanuel are predators and I need to make sure she never has the opportunity to hurt more people." (Nearly all of the students who have described their experiences to me at field schools run by Kurin over a number of years have remarked on what they viewed as her extreme mental instability.)

That same afternoon, some of the students, led by Garcia Diaz, began composing a letter of complaint to send to IFR executive director Ran Boytner. Garcia Diaz believes they sent the letter to Boytner the following day, which would have been July 15, 2018. "We were afraid of Danielle retaliating, "he told me, "so we sat down for hours listening to [the] recording and taking notes to send them to IFR." But while Boytner quickly acknowledged the communication, IFR did not interview any of the students for more than two months, leaving them frustrated and feeling ignored. Nevertheless, the institute did appoint a committee of inquiry, made up of board members Willeke Wendrich of UCLA, Julie Stein of the University of Washington, and Fred Limp of the University of Arkansas.

Finally, on September 20, 25, and 27, 2018, the committee interviewed three of the students who were witnesses to Gomez's behavior with Student No. 3 at the club. They declined to interview Garcia Diaz, who was a witness to the aftermath and Kurin's handling of the situation, on the grounds that he had not been at the club. Why it took them so long to interview the witnesses is not clear. But on October 17, Boytner wrote to the students to tell them the findings:


We have completed our investigation into complaints of alleged inappropriate behavior during the night of July 13-14 at the Peru-Wari field school. Our investigation was conducted promptly, thoroughly and confidentially, as is our practice.  In our investigation we did substantiate that inappropriate behavior occurred. Such conduct violates IFR policy and standards of conduct.
The IFR will no longer work with Dr. Danielle Kurin, the director of the field school.    
At this point, we consider the investigation closed.
Sincerely,
Ran Boytner
Executive Director


On March 4, as part of our email exchange, Willeke Wendrich told me the following:

"...we took a very public stance when we terminated the field school and ended all collaboration with Kurin and Gomez. Other than that, we have a duty towards our students to keep their information and privacy protected."

I then asked Wendrich where that public stance had been taken, and, if it had been published somewhere, if she could send me a link or copy of it. I asked her that because no one I have talked to had ever seen or heard of the "public stance."

At that point, Wendrich lost her temper, and responded:

"I've addressed your barrage of questions promptly, in spite of my overstuffed schedule. Let's agree that I will read any piece you want to publish to check on factual inaccuracies and leave it at that."

We did have one more email exchange, in which Wendrich reiterated IFR's anti-misconduct policy. On receiving that I again asked her if she could clarify her statement about the public stance. Again, she did not respond.


So where does this leave us? I've discussed the issues in some detail in the earlier report, so I will not repeat them all here. Suffice it to say that we have public university, UCSB, which for reasons of its own has kept its own faculty and the archaeology community in the dark about serious misconduct by one of its faculty members and her partner--thus leading to more victimization of students who were not warned about the earlier abuses. (Recall that neither UCSB nor UCLA extension would tell IFR why Kurin was on administrative leave; other than providing me with the Title IX documents under the California Public Records Act, which they were required to do by law, UCSB has refused to make any other comment about this situation.)

We also have the IFR, whose failure to raise serious questions about Kurin's administrative leave contributed as well to the continuing abuses. In other words, we have institutional failures all around; or, should I say, institutional negligence, because prioritizing the safety of the students would have led to very different decisions about how all this should have been handled.

Kurin is now up for tenure. But her days at UCSB may be numbered. Last month, she was scheduled to speak at the Stanford Archaeology Center about her work in Peru; but when faculty there learned about the 2016 Title IX findings and read my report, they cancelled the talk. Then, earlier this month, a student who was planning to work with Kurin on her PhD starting this fall changed her mind after being warned by anthropology department faculty and after reading my original story. That is good, but this student's time, and possibly her dreams, have been wasted.

Now there are no excuses, because there are few remaining secrets. All of UCSB's attempts to guard Kurin's reputation, and protect its own, have evaporated into thin air--thanks to a number of brave young researchers, who, frustrated by the failure of the community they are part of to protect them, turned in desperation to a reporter willing to help them tell their stories.


Important update, March 12, 2020: Did IFR officials lie when they said they did not know that Kurin and Gomez were subject to a Title IX proceeding at UCSB?

Before I posted this updated story, I did a few social media posts in which I suggested that IFR officials knew about the 2016 Title IX allegations. I received the following email from IFR board chair Willeke Wendrich, questioning my journalistic ethics:


Michael,
I am thoroughly disappointed with your lack of journalistic ethics. You are publishing falsehoods. IFR was not aware of any title IX investigations and accusations prior to the 2018 field school. I made this very clear in our email conversation.
Willeke

As we know from the above report, board member Kevin Vaughn did know about this (at the time he was UCLA Extension's Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.)

The email below, sent to the students who had signed up for the 2016 field school and citing "a health and safety issue," was sent on June 16, 2016, which was two days after the Title IX findings were secretly published.

The only remaining question is whether Ran Boytner lied to Wendrich about the reasons for the cancellation, or whether Wendrich lied to me. Meanwhile I have submitted a California Public Records Act request to UCLA for all correspondence between Kevin Vaughn and Ran Boytner about the cancellation of the field school.




Further update March 12: I am now starting to hear from archaeologists who tell me that Ran Boytner told them that Danielle Kurin had been cleared by the UCSB Title IX proceeding. That was a flat lie, and, as indicated above, Boytner had to have known it was.

Late update March 12: Based on new information, I now have reason to believe that the chair of IFR's board of governors, Willeke Wendrich of UCLA, is lying about what IFR knew about the 2016 Title IX findings, along with Ran Boytner who has lied repeatedly to colleagues about it.

Update March 24: New Title IX complaint against Danielle Kurin. One of my sources from the UCSB anthropology department has recently disclosed making an anonymous report to the UC Santa Barbara Title IX office, citing the details I reported about the 2018 IFR field school as information sufficient to require mandated reporting. The fact that reporting misconduct is mandated by law and university policy makes it very likely that other UCSB anthropology department members have done so as well.




















Friday, February 28, 2020

At UC Santa Barbara and in Peru, an archaeological couple accused of engaging in sexual misconduct and retaliation against victims [[Updated March 6]]

Danielle Kurin
Danielle Kurin is an anthropological bioarchaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB.) She conducts most of her field work at archaeological sites around the Peruvian city of Andahuaylas, covering the period from about 200 BC to 1600 AD.

Enmanuel Gomez Choque, Kurin's partner, is a Peruvian archaeologist who has long worked in the area; he is also the executive director of the Andahuaylas Museum. Until last year, he was also listed as a member of UCSB's Bioarchaeology and Biogeochemistry Lab, which Kurin directs. (He was removed from the lab's Web site shortly after I began to make the inquiries described below.)

On June 14, 2016, UCSB's Title IX office found, based on the standard of a preponderance of the evidence, that Gomez had sexually harassed students working with the couple at the field school they ran in the Andahuaylas region. On the same day, Kurin was found guilty, under the same burden of proof, of retaliating against students who had filed Title IX complaints against Gomez. She had been placed on administrative leave the previous April, and remained on leave for a total of three years, according to sources inside and outside the UCSB anthropology department.

During the investigation, and even now, the faculty of the UCSB anthropology department have been kept largely in the dark about the allegations, the investigation, and the findings. That made it impossible for them to have any input into Kurin's status in the department and decisions about her academic future.

Last September, I was contacted by a source familiar with these events. The source told me that victims of the misconduct by Gomez and Kurin--along with other archaeologists who were friends of the victims--were concerned that Kurin had recently returned to teaching at the end of her administrative leave, and also that she was reportedly now up for tenure. The concern was greatly amplified by the fact that Gomez and Kurin were still recruiting students from UCSB and other universities to work with them at Andahuaylas. The sources were afraid that female students might be in danger of sexual harassment, and even sexual assault, at the hands of Gomez, and that something needed to be done about it.

Shortly after learning of these allegations, I submitted a California Public Records Act request for all documents in UCSB's possession related to these allegations. In the meantime, I began my own investigation, speaking with numerous witnesses and other sources. It turned out that the alleged misconduct by Gomez had begun much earlier than the events UCSB investigated, and included at least two cases of sexual assault. The same was true for Kurin's habitual efforts to cover up Gomez's misconduct and to threaten students and other witnesses likely to report them. Some sources told me that Kurin often invoked the name of her father, Richard Kurin, a powerful and well known figure at the Smithsonian Institution. Kurin allegedly implied that her father would interfere with the student's careers if they spoke out or made complaints.

On February 20 of this year, UCSB finally gave me a redacted version of the 50 page investigative findings against Gomez and Kurin. Those findings, along with the results of my own reporting on these events, form the basis of what follows. (I reached out to Kurin to comment for this story, but she did not respond. Gomez's responses to the allegations are described below.)

Enmanuel Gomez Choque

Enmanuel Gomez Choque: Accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The 50 pages of investigative findings from UCSB are redacted in parts, mostly to shield the names of victims and witnesses. Yet while Gomez's name is not redacted, the university somewhat foolishly redacted Kurin's name throughout. I say foolishly, because both the context and my own corroborative reporting make clear in every one of hundreds of instances of redaction that Kurin is being referred to.

The events covered by the Title IX investigation took place during the 2015 field season at Andahuaylas. A number of students had complained that Gomez's actions that season "created a hostile and learning and working environment for the female participants, several of whom are current UCSB students," the report states. At least one other complainant was a student from a university in another state; although that university is named in the report (and also in court papers from a lawsuit Kurin filed against the university when it failed to promote her), the student in question has requested that the university not be identified to protect her privacy. I have agreed to do so.

There were several allegations against Gomez: That he had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a female student at a dance club, including forcibly kissing her; that he had made inappropriate sexual jokes in front of the students; and that he had engaged in sexually hostile behavior against a female student during a trip to a pilgrimage site. The allegations also included charges that Gomez had tried to get the female students to adopt "sexy poses" so that he could photograph them.

My own reporting revealed allegations outside the scope of the Title IX investigation, that Gomez had sexually assaulted at least two students during other field seasons. To protect the identity of these victims, with whom I discussed the allegations directly, I am not giving details of those sexual assaults at this time.

While Kurin eventually declined to cooperate with the Title IX investigation, Gomez did attempt to defend himself, submitting statements to the investigators claiming that he had not engaged in the alleged behavior, and that the alleged victim of the forcible kiss had actually tried to kiss him instead and he had turned his head to avoid it. Gomez also claimed that the accusations of sexually inappropriate jokes were misunderstandings based on a differences of language and culture between him and the female students (as described below, Kurin would later claim that the allegations arose because the students were racist "gringas" out to get her and Gomez for reasons that remained unclear.)

The allegations against Gomez were based on eight witnesses. On page 27 of the report, the investigators conclude that the accusations, based on a  preponderance of the evidence, were "substantiated."


Danielle Kurin: Accusations of retaliation against students who filed Title IX complaints.

As mentioned above, one of the students who filed a Title IX complaint was from a university in another US state. After Kurin became aware of the complaint, she sent an email to the student asking for the name of the chair of her anthropology department, where the student was working on her PhD. "I'm planning on sending some correspondence his/her way regarding your work on the project," Kurin wrote. Authorities at the out of state university immediately became suspicious, in part because it was very easy for Kurin to figure out who the chair of the department was simply by Googling, if she did not already know. The authorities shared their concerns with counterparts at UCSB,  including the chair of the UCSB anthropology department, who at that time was Stuart Smith (Smith, contacted by email, declined to comment.)

In a later, lengthy email, Kurin accused the student of making "outright fabrications" to her professors and told her that she had retained legal counsel "regarding some of the more slanderous and defamatory accusations..." Kurin concluded by writing that "Bioarchaeology and forensic archeology are small fields and your achievements will certainly precede you."

Another witness, identified as Witness 6, told investigators that Kurin had pressured her to tell Kurin everything she knew about the accusations against her and Gomez. According to Witness 6, Kurin said that if she didn't tell her everything she knew, the student would be forced to tell Kurin's lawyer. In addition, according to Witness 6, Kurin stated that if she and Gomez were fired from UCSB all the work at Andahuaylas would stop and the UCSB bioarchaeology lab would shut down. The implication was that none of the graduate students involved in the work would have PhD projects if they pursued the complaints. Kurin also told Witness 6 (and, in similar words, other students) that she and Gomez would "sue everyone who got us into this mess."

Another witness, identified as Witness 2, told investigators that Kurin had put very similar pressure on her and that she was very afraid of retaliation. The investigative report describes the extremely upset emotional state, including profuse tears, of the witnesses as they talked to investigators about what had happened. Several other witnesses testified along similar lines about their fears of retaliation by Kurin.

On another occasion, according to the Title IX investigation, Kurin texted everyone in her lab asking them what they knew about the allegations against her and Gomez.

On page 50 of the report, the Title IX investigators find that the claims of retaliation by Kurin had been substantiated.


The evidence seems clear that Kurin and Gomez are a continuing danger to students.

As I mentioned above, before receiving the Title IX findings earlier this month, I spoke with a large of number of sources including numerous direct witnesses to the events covered by the university's own investigation, as well as other episodes that it did not cover. To protect the identity of those witnesses, who still fear retaliation by Kurin and other archaeologists who might be sympathetic with her, I am not giving details of their personal situations. But everything in this report is based either on the Title IX report or direct discussion with sources; no second hand information or rumors were considered without full corroboration, as is normal journalistic practice.

Some additional context which I hope will be helpful to the archaeological community and Kurin's UCSB colleagues:

--One of the cases of sexual assault by Gomez I describe above has been corroborated by numerous other witnesses, including colleagues in the US the victim contacted immediately after it happened. This serious accusation was outside the scope of the Title IX investigation for reasons I must leave undiscussed, to protect the victim.

--I shared the Title IX report with some of the witnesses so they could comment on it, especially the defense that Gomez mounted and the declarations that he submitted (Kurin did not cooperate with the investigation.) Gomez told investigators that the women at the site were constantly trying to get him to provide them with alcohol and take them dancing. 

"While I never expected Danielle or Manuel to be truthful, the blatant lies throughout are really shocking," one student told me. Gomez "purchased an entire carton of beer and was enthusiastically trying to ply us all with alcohol the entire night, despite many of us declining and stating we did not want to drink more. He was upset we were refusing the alcohol and said it was disrespectful."

--A student who had known Kurin during a period preceding these events told me that her use of the name of her father, Richard Kurin of the Smithsonian Institution, to threaten others with retaliation had a long history. A member of the UCSB anthropology department told me that colleagues widely discussed their understanding that Richard Kurin had put pressure on the university. While I have not found any direct evidence that Kurin actually did intercede, Danielle Kurin's earlier threats to use her father as a cudgel made colleagues believe that he had. (R. Kurin did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

--In Facebook posts since deleted, Kurin accused the complaining students of racism, a charge that both she and Gomez would repeatedly make over the course of these events. In one such Facebook post, Kurin referred to the "unyielding, unwarranted, and racially-tinged actions and attitudes of a few culturally-insensitive, but nevertheless powerful, privileged American students, scholars, and staff on a 'sanctuary' campus."

In another Facebook post, Kurin claimed that the students had mocked Gomez and taken photos of him while he was asleep by a riverbank. "Upon being warned that their egregious behavior could be reported to their respective universities," Kurin wrote, "this group of participants admittedly colluded to proactively file a number of false complaints involving alleged harassment, retaliation, and other forms of misconduct against myself, Manuel, the Gomez family... and others." In the same post, Kurin says that she and Gomez were banned from the UCSB campus in spring of 2016 (corresponding with the leave of absence) shortly after the couple were married in Santa Barbara. "He was informed that his 'latin' and 'indian' manners made people 'uncomfortable' and for that was banned from the campus of a public university." (In my own reporting, I have not found anyone to confirm that these statements were made.)

--Last week, I received an anonymous email from an ally of Gomez, responding to social media posts I had made in anticipation of this report. The email defended Gomez and stated that he was the victim of racism by the American students. Attached were declarations, heavily redacted, which I took to be statements submitted to the UCSB authorities during the Title IX investigation, but which were not included in the files given to me by the university. They were basically character witness statements, which also denied that Gomez had harassed anyone or behaved inappropriately. I asked the email writer to identify themselves or to otherwise authenticate these declarations, but so far have received no response. Until they can be authenticated, I will not reproduce them here.

--In November 2016, several months after the June 2016 Title IX findings, Kurin filed suit against UCSB in the California courts, arguing that she had been unfairly denied a promotion and salary increase (while she was on administrative leave, she was not fired.) The following April, the court ruled for the Regents of the University of California and further actions on the lawsuit were taken off of the court calendar.


As I mentioned above, over the course of several years now, members of Kurin's anthropology department at UCSB have either been kept in the dark about the allegations against her and the Title IX findings, or prohibited by the university from discussing them with others. "There was complete silence by the administration," says one faculty member, adding that "it was extremely frustrating to be kept so wholly out of the loop." Indeed, most of Kurin's victims feel that her threats of retaliation against them were so clear and unambiguous that she should have been fired at the end of the Title IX investigation. The university declines to comment on the case, so its reasons for not doing so cannot be reported here; nevertheless, it is unfortunately common practice for institutions to protect their own reputations at the expense of student safety.

But isn't it pathetic that most members of a university department have to find out the details of misconduct findings from a reporter, rather than from their own institution? Who does that help in the end? Certainly not the institution's reputation, which it worked diligently but ultimately unsuccessfully to protect.

Now that Kurin is off administrative leave and back to teaching in the department (a fact confirmed by both the course schedule and a university spokesperson), Kurin appears to be trying to convince her colleagues that she has seen the error of her ways. "She is saying all the right things now," one colleague tells me. For example, she is telling department members that she and Gomez are now divorced; however, other sources tell me that as of several weeks ago, Kurin was still working with Gomez at Andahuaylas and still living with him in the house the couple occupies there.

Some colleagues have privately suggested to me that Gomez has had a "bad influence" on Kurin, and indeed a couple of archaeologists who have known Kurin for a long time told me that she had changed for the worse after she met him. I do not claim to be privy to the dynamics of their relationship; but I think many today, in this so-called "#MeToo Era," would not consider them to be exculpatory of Kurin's clear acts of retaliation against students who were trying to become archaeologists and never asked to be harassed or assaulted.

It remains to be seen whether Kurin will be given tenure, and whether, now that the truth about the couple and their actions has been revealed in this provisional report (there is more to come), she will continue to have a career at UCSB. However, there are already signs that the archaeology community is frowning on her history of enabling sexual misconduct and retaliating against students. Kurin was scheduled to speak about her research earlier this week at Stanford University's Archaeology Center; but upon learning of the allegations against her, colleagues there cancelled her talk.

As I have argued in other reports of this type, serious consequences are necessary if #MeToo and bullying abuses are to be stamped out and the culture is to be changed. I will update this report as new information becomes available and/or as witnesses feel encouraged to speak out publicly.


Afterthoughts, March 1, 2020:

 Is there something odd about the facts related above? Note while members of the UCSB anthropology department were kept in the dark about this situation--with the possible exception of the department chairs--I was able to get the 50 pages of investigative records via the California Public Records Act. Any citizen can do this. But it's routine for institutions to caution everyone in academic departments that everything must be kept confidential, and only administrators (deans, etc.) are privy to the information. A similar situation unfolded in the case of archaeologist Deanna Grimstead at Ohio State University: Anthropologists there were kept ignorant about the allegations of sexual harassment against her and the findings of the Title IX investigations into them. (I hope it was just a coincidence that these records were released in the cases of accused women.) Yet again, I was able to obtain those documents through Ohio's Public Records Act.

The question arises whether academics are truly barred from knowing what is going on in their own departments, and how their own students have been affected, or whether they are simply too quick to accept what they are told about the necessity of secrecy. While there are concerned faculty members who do try to protect students, over 4+ years of covering #MeToo cases I have found that they are very much in the minority. Sad to say, the overwhelming majority of academics are happy to find excuses to stick their heads in the sand and pretend it is not their business. This is a real betrayal of students who come to them, enthusiastic about their studies and the possibilities of having careers in their chosen fields. Even worse, it many cases it smacks of pure complicity. This must stop if the culture of abuse is to change.


Update March 6, 2020: New allegations of sexual assault by Gomez and attempted coverup by Kurin at the 2018 field school at Wari, Peru.

After the publication of this preliminary report a week ago, I was contacted by a number of students who had participated in Kurin's field school at the site of Wari in Peru. Two of them told me of being sexually assaulted by Gomez during the 2018 season, two full years after the Title IX findings described above. The students also detailed, including in audio recordings they had made of the events, Kurin's attempts to mollify the students and cover up for Gomez's behavior. Kurin's statements to the students went back and forth between pleading with them for understanding, attacking them for their own behavior, and lying about the earlier Title IX findings (Kurin told the students that they had been "investigated and resolved.")

I am still talking with these sources and will be reporting this new evidence in detail next week. Meanwhile I am reproducing here an email I sent this morning to a member of the UCSB anthropology department, one of several members of that department I have been talking to in confidence. In what follows, IFR stands for the Institute for Field Research, which sponsors field schools in archaeology and other areas throughout the world. Willeke Wendrich, whom I have known for a number of years, is the chair of IFR's board of governors.


Hi _________,

After now talking with about a half dozen of the 2018 field school students and TAs, including almost everyone who was involved in trying to get Danielle to take responsibility for what happened towards the end of that season, I am having second thoughts about encouraging them to file Title IX complaints with UCSB. Here are my reasons:

1. Almost all of these new sources contacted me after they saw my blog post about the 2016 Title IX findings. They were amazed, to say the least, that the university has allowed Danielle to return to work, thus resulting in considerable trauma and stress for them and--in a few cases--considerable alterations to their lives and careers (in one case, quitting archaeology entirely.)

2. Their anger at UCSB is compounded by the actions of IFR, which I have documented, including direct communication with Willeke Wendrich about this. The organization at first dismissed their concerns, and only after the students' insistence conducted an investigation. While IFR did end their sponsorship of the field school as a result, they broke their promise to give the results of the investigation to the students, and they are refusing to share it with me.

3. The students feel very let down, and, in what they see as a last resort, they have turned to a journalist to help get their stories out. As you know, this is almost always the reason that victims and survivors contact me; I am never their first choice. They contact me when they have lost hope that the system will protect them.

Under these circumstances, I can't in good faith suggest to them that they contact UCSB in hopes that some kind of justice might be done here, and that UCSB would do the right thing--having already done the wrong thing, demonstrably.

As you also know, my #MeToo reporting is an example of a long and proud tradition in journalism, called advocacy journalism. Practitioners of this kind of journalism use exactly the same standards of proof, accuracy, and ethical reporting that all other journalists do; but they go further and draw conclusions about what measures should be taken as a result of their reporting.

I do not know where things are right now with Danielle's efforts to get tenure, but I hope you will tell me that, in confidence. But my position as the reporter on this story is that Danielle should be terminated, based on the earlier Title IX findings, without any further official proceedings. It is my hope that my reporting on the 2018 events, which I will do publicly next week, will help convince the department and the university that they must take this course.

In contrast to our earlier communications, I would encourage you to share this one with as many colleagues in your department as you feel comfortable doing, including the department chair.

I look forward to hearing from you further, and I greatly appreciate your own commitment to the safety of our students and young researchers.

Best wishes,

Michael



Just one more thought about all this for now. Members of the UCSB anthropology department have complained to me privately, and rightly, that the administration kept them in the dark and insisted that the disciplinary proceedings against Gomez and Kurin had to be kept secret. So then, nearly four years later, an outside journalist comes onto the scene and makes a straightforward California Public Records Act request and gets all the findings. Why couldn't anyone in the department do that? What were they afraid of? It seems that no one wanted to rock the boat, or worse, no one really wanted to know. With that lack of knowledge, otherwise well intentioned colleagues absolved themselves of all responsibility. This is the head in the sand attitude that must stop if students and others are to be fully protected from sexual predators and their enablers.

Further update on IFR's role:

After today's update was published, I received the following email from Willeke Wendrich, the chair of IFR's board of governors:

Michael,
I am thoroughly disappointed with your lack of journalistic ethics. You are publishing falsehoods. IFR was not aware of any title IX investigations and accusations prior to the 2018 field school. I made this very clear in our email conversation.
Willeke

What's odd about this email is that I had not yet published any claims that IFR was aware of the 2016 Title IX cases. I was planning to include Wendrich's denial that they knew--stated in email correspondence between us earlier this week--in a planned update in the coming days. But in fact, my sources tell me that IFR leaders almost certainly did know, because a member of the IFR board (someone who would have been very aware of rumors circulating in the Andean research community) was informed about it at the time. I have always known Willeke to be an honorable person, so I have to consider the possibility that she was misled by her colleagues, including IFR executive director Ran Boytner, who has ignored all of my requests to speak with him about this. I will have more to say about IFR's role next week, and questions about the role that UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall may have played in returning Kurin to teaching despite all of the above.


Update March 11, 2020: I have now published a new report based on misconduct that occurred at Kurin's and Gomez's 2018 field school in Peru.






















Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bullying, racism, unethical behavior: The long and "successful" career of Australian archaeologist Michael Westaway [Updated Dec 9, 2019]

Michael Westaway
As nearly every archaeologist in Australia must know by now, over the past months I have been investigating a large number of misconduct allegations concerning Michael Westaway, currently at the University of Queensland. As I explain below, the investigation has been long and complicated, and new sources and leads have continued to appear along the way--including some in recent days while I have been writing up my preliminary report. Meanwhile, with several important conferences coming up this month, including the all important annual meeting of the Australian Archaeological Association, many colleagues in Australia have been urging me to get this report published so that it can be discussed openly, instead of in the hallways and behind closed doors, as has been the case with so many cases of bullying, harassment, and unethical behavior in that country. So, I have decided to do something I have not done before during my past four years of reporting on misconduct in the sciences: Publish my investigation of Westaway in installments. This will also have the effect of encouraging other witnesses to Westaway's abusive behavior--whom I know are still out there, trying to decide whether to answer my queries and get in touch--that this long overdue expose really is going to see the light of day. This somewhat unorthodox approach to reporting a story is just another example of the advantages of independent reporting on misconduct, which I discussed in a recent Columbia Journalism Review article.

One final thought: Although Westaway and Cooper have apparently become the poster boys for bullying and other abuses in Australian archaeology, they are far from the only ones. During the course of these investigations, I was given credible evidence for misconduct by a number of other archaeologists, some of whom I may eventually be able to name. We are looking at systemic abuse, the result of a culture of abuse. Rooting that out will take a massive cultural change, which some, fortunately, are already fighting for--including the colleagues whose testimonies form the basis for what follows.


Last spring, after my involvement in a controversy over the Society for American Archaeology's mishandling of a sexual predator who came to its annual meeting, I was approached by several leading archaeologists in Australia about patterns of misconduct in that country. These colleagues mentioned a number of men to me, but two of them stood out for the seriousness of their alleged abuses: Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide; and Michael Westaway, an archaeologist now at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

With the help of researchers in Australia and elsewhere, I began investigating the accusations against both men. In Cooper's case, the reporting was fairly straightforward. Several dozen colleagues came forward to supply testimony about his long pattern of bullying students and postdocs at ACAD, while others talked to me about the earlier unethical behavior which had forced him out of the University of Oxford (Adelaide, eager to host Australia's first major ancient DNA lab, hired him anyway.) This reporting, combined with the prodding of some senior researchers behind the scenes, led Adelaide to begin its own inquiry, which has resulted in Cooper's suspension. His final fate has not yet been determined, but the episode shows that misconduct can be successfully fought, even in Australia, where a culture of toxic masculinity is deeply entrenched.

The case of Michael Westaway proved to be more challenging, and the investigation into his alleged misconduct took much longer. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, over the years, Westaway has made the rounds of many of Australia's most important research institutions, leaving behind a trail of victims (including a suicide) and a nationwide reputation for bad behavior. The accusations against him, which my reporting shows to be well founded, include physical violence and intimidation; chronic bullying of colleagues; racist attitudes towards Aboriginal peoples; and unethical collection of samples for ancient DNA work, including unethical handling of Aboriginal artifacts.

Westaway's bullying behavior is particularly pronounced, and is almost exclusively targeted at two groups: Women, and Aboriginal colleagues (both women and men in the latter case.) "Michael has caused immense pain to almost everyone he has had dealings with," says one researcher who knows him well. Investigating these allegations required talking to dozens of researchers across Australia, some of whom agreed to share their painful experiences only reluctantly.

Another factor complicating the reporting: While Westaway, unlike Cooper, is not himself a senior figure in Australian archaeology, he has been able to attract a significant amount of funding from the Australian Research Council--and also a significant amount of support from senior white male scientists who have served as his protectors, despite complaints against him at nearly every institution he has worked at. This means that most Australian archaeologists and anthropologists, including many whose reputations far exceed those of Westaway himself, are reluctant to publicly accuse him. Australian archaeology is a relatively small scientific community, and the fear of retaliation for speaking out is great, in many cases intense.

Then, of course, there are the highly intimidating effects of Australia's defamation laws, which are some of the most draconian in the world. This was recently demonstrated in the case of the actor Geoffrey Rush, who successfully sued the Sydney-based Daily Telegraph (a Murdoch publication) for publishing allegations of sexual harassment against him. The court's decision has helped put a damper on journalists who might want to publish other claims of sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse.

One important reason that complaints about Westaway's misconduct usually go nowhere is that he is a master of the art of what University of Oregon psychologist Jennifer Freyd has called DARVO: "Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender." We have seen this strategy deployed frequently in the United States of late, in a variety of contexts, by abusers ranging from Harvey Weinstein to President Donald Trump. Westaway, too, routinely plays the victim whenever he is accused; and since most (although not all) of the real victims are women, the largely male Australian establishment has often been quick to accept his excuses.

This strategy worked well for Westaway at Griffith University, for example, where he was employed before coming to the University of Queensland and where his unethical behavior and bullying of colleagues was legendary. There, sources say, his main protector was Rainer Grun, director of the Australian Research Centre of Human Evolution (ARCHE) and an internationally known expert in dating methodologies (Grun is retiring soon, and the search for a new director is currently underway.)

Grun's protection of Westaway was reportedly regularly backed up by Andrew Smith, Griffith's Pro Vice Chancellor for science. Moreover, Westaway was not the only researcher at Griffith known for bullying and unethical behavior. Several men there, says one colleague, "have a very flexible approach to ethics and morals, and are so self-interested that they don't care who they harm in the process. This in itself is bad enough, but what makes it worse are the Griffith University enablers. They all knew what was happening, yet turned a blind eye."

Indeed, Westaway has long been able to attract the backing of senior male academics. Earlier, when he was curator of archaeology in the Queensland Museum's Cultures and Histories Program, his attempts to undermine other colleagues had the backing of the museum's director at the time, Graeme Potter. And at the University of Queensland, Westaway was hired despite warnings from colleagues familiar with his pattern of misconduct (more on that below.)

What follows is based on interviews with, by last count, 37 researchers, museum curators, heritage authorities, and others with direct experience with Westaway. They include a number of Aborginal colleagues, along with many senior figures in Australian archaeology and anthropology. As always, I rely only on direct witnesses to facts and acts, not on rumors or second hand information. However, due to fears of retaliation, nearly all of these sources asked not to be named, and I have respected their wishes. This also means that I have had to be brief and/or circumspect about some of the episodes I describe, so that the details will not give away the identities of the sources.

I hope that one day soon, Australian researchers will feel that they can speak openly about the abuses they have suffered or witnessed. It is outrageous and unjust that abusers are allowed to live openly in the light of day, while their victims have to hide in the shadows.


PART TWO: Westaway's history of physical violence, bullying and physical intimidation of women, including during his first tenure at the Queensland Museum; the origins and nature of his unethical dealings with Aboriginal communities; and the intensification of his bullying behavior during his second tenure at the Queensland Museum, which played an important role in the suicide of an Aboriginal colleague and led to Westaway's ban from the museum's indigenous collections.


A history of physical violence and physical intimidation of women.

On paper, Michael Westaway might appear to be just the kind of archaeologist any institution would want to hire. And indeed, he has worked at many of Australia's most prestigious institutions, in some cases returning to take up more prestigious positions. Westaway did his undergraduate work at the Australian National University beginning in 1990, an honors year at University of Sydney, and then went on to work with the Heritage Services Branch of Aboriginal Affairs in Victoria; the National Museum of Australia in the repatriation unit; the New South Wales National Parks Service; the Queensland Museum (twice); Flinders University; Griffith University; and finally, the University of Queensland, where he is currently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

Westaway's research has focused on bioarchaeological investigations of the origins of Australia's first inhabitants, and he has a long publication history--including papers in prestigious journals such as Nature, Science, and PNAS--which has also made him an apparently attractive candidate for the many jobs he has held.

But there is another, dark side to Westaway's reputation. It's hard to determine exactly how far back that dates, but a key episode took place in early December, 2011. Westaway attended the annual meeting of the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) in Toowoomba, Queensland, hosted by the University of Southern Queensland. Westaway and an American girlfriend he had lived with for a couple of years had recently broken up, and his ex shortly afterwards began a relationship with another man.

According to witnesses who were present at the meeting, Westaway turned up at the opening welcome event already drunk. After the welcome event, the archaeologists headed to a hotel pub a short distance down the road. As he entered the foyer of the hotel, Westaway spotted an archaeologist whom he mistakenly thought was his ex's new partner. Westaway took a drunken swing at him, although he apparently made minimal contact. But the bouncers at the venue immediately grabbed hold of Westaway and dragged him outside. Westaway fought with the bouncers, as the altercation spilled out onto the road. The bouncers soon subdued Westaway and the police arrived. Westaway ended up spending the night in jail.

The episode even got some media coverage, although the reporter got certain things wrong. The ex-girlfriend was never married to Westaway, although they lived together, and the separation was not due to her having an affair, although he may have thought so at the time. I also suspect that some archaeologists will not appreciate the reference to Indiana Jones, as if this is somehow a model of how archaeologists should act.

I had a long conversation with the ex-girlfriend as part of my reporting for this story, and we agreed that to protect her privacy she would not be named here, although some in Australian archaeology know who she is (she is currently on the faculty of a university in the United States.) She says that while Westaway did not physically abuse her, and that he was "not abusive over the normal course of our relationship," Westaway "did become verbally quite mean as it was clear the relationship was ending. I chalked it up at the time to desperation to keep things together."

While they were together, Westaway's ex says she did witness some of his interactions with Aboriginal Australians in the course of his archaeological work, and that they seemed respectful and even warm and that she did not observe any ethical breaches. These observations will be helpful to understanding some of the allegations that have been made against Westaway in this area, which I will discuss later on.

However, the "dust up" did leave a lasting impression on the archaeological community. A number of archaeologists, mostly men, have told me that one reason they refrained from speaking up publicly about complaints against Westaway was fear that he would physically attack them at a meeting or other venue (Westaway is a regular attendee at meetings, including the AAA meetings. The next one which will be held Dec 10-13, 2019 on the Gold Coast, and Westaway is scheduled to speak; more on this below.)

But the greatest fear is expressed by female colleagues, some of whom have experienced Westaway's anger first hand. Thus I spoke directly to three women who recounted a very similar scenario. In each case, Westaway had become angry with them over an issue, had entered their offices or work spaces, closed the door behind him in such a way that they could not escape, and begun yelling at them in an intimidating and threatening manner. These episodes span multiple years and institutions, and the accounts are not second hand: They were told to me by the victims in each case. And while Westaway did not actually hit the women involved during these incidents, all three told me that they nevertheless felt physically threatened. As one put it, "Men and women might have different takes on how threatening it is to be angrily yelled at in a small confined space without access to an exit."

One concluding remark on this section of the report. This blog post has already received a number of "Anonymous" comments, and I received some anonymous emails, taking Westaway's side and arguing that there is no real evidence for his misconduct--even before that evidence had a chance to be presented here. A common refrain is that Westaway's accusers are acting out of professional jealousy or other petty motives. We are now up to 37 sources in this investigation, including some of Australia's most respected archaeologists. Even if a few might be professionally jealous, it is hard to imagine that all of them are. Moreover, the charge of professional jealousy closely echoes one of the main arguments Westaway has made to his superiors and protectors every time he gets into trouble--which, as will be clear below, has been very often.

On a more positive note, however, the AAA--on Twitter and Facebook--has already invited colleagues attending the Gold Coast meeting to contact officers if they have concerns about anyone who might be attending. Many archaeologists are assuming that this refers to Westaway; although that may or may not be the case, the meeting could turn out to be eventful.


At the Queensland Museum: A pattern of bullying and unethical behavior, allegedly leading to the suicide of an Aboriginal colleague.

(Reporting note: To protect identities, I have not distinguished whether the sources below are current or former members of the museum staff. Both categories of individuals helped with the reporting for this section.)

In 2008, Westaway was hired as curator of archaeology at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. By this point in his career, numerous sources say, he had already gained a negative reputation among colleagues. There was "a pattern of disrespect for colleagues, particularly women," one colleague who knew him well at the time says, and a "poor track record in relation to working with Aboriginal people."

One example, according to multiple colleagues who worked at the museum at the time, concerned Westaway's attitude towards his boss, who was the head of the Cultures and Histories program at the museum from 2008 to 2010.

Westaway began to complain about his supervisor very soon after his arrival at the museum, sources say, taking his issues to her own superior, Graeme Potter, who was at the time reportedly enamored by Westaway. (Westaway was, all agree, capable of being very charming in certain contexts. Potter, who later reportedly became disillusioned with Westaway, was just one in a long line of white males who served as his protector only to regret doing so later.)

Westaway frequently complained that his supervisor was undermining his own research and failing to fund it properly, even though, as was repeatedly explained to him, the museum actually had little money for research.

In 2010, Westaway left the museum for a brief stint at Flinders University in south Australia, but later that same year returned to the museum in his supervisor's old job. Now, as head of the Cultures and Histories program, Westaway had considerable power. He quickly began to create problems for the museum, sources say, especially in his attitudes towards the rights of indigenous people to have control over their own artifacts and human remains. Another attitude which Westaway quickly demonstrated, several colleagues at the museum told me, was his belief that the Aboriginal workers at the museum were lazy and did not want to do any work (this was confirmed even by a colleague who defended Westaway and his behavior to me.)

Around this time, the Queensland Museum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee (QMATSICC), a group of prominent indigenous community members that met with museum officials regularly to guide them on management of indigenous collections, had become growingly reluctant to give permission for researchers to work on indigenous collections, arguing that the local indigenous groups--often called Traditional Owners--should be making those decisions. But according to colleagues closely familiar with the situation, Westaway strongly resisted this suggestion, arguing that it was too time consuming and that no research would get done if Traditional Owners had to be consulted.

But the most serious episode at the Queensland Museum concerned an Aboriginal curator whom Westaway stands accused of bullying to give him access to Aboriginal collections, actions which allegedly helped trigger that colleague's suicide.

Although I know this curator's name, out of respect for her Aboriginal colleagues, who refer to her after her death as simply T.C., I shall do the same. (Aboriginal traditions prohibit the naming of the dead after they are gone, or require changing the name of the deceased.) T.C. was the museum's senior curator for Cultures, Customs and Country, and in that capacity had a lot of responsibility for indigenous collections that were considered spiritually significant to Aboriginal peoples. These included both artifacts and human remains, many of which were kept in what is called the "Secret Sacred Room" on the fifth floor of the museum.

I have spoken to seven individuals who knew T.C. well. They all describe her as a lovely person, who was very excited when she took on the curator job. However, she was nervous about the responsibility involved and her capacity to handle it. "[T.C.] was a warm and friendly individual," says one colleague, "outwardly cheerful and positive." But, this researcher says, "she clearly voiced how she felt the pressure of representing indigenous interests in a cultural institution dominated by public servants."

Nevertheless, T.C. was an energetic curator, taking on projects designed to educate the public about indigenous issues and struggles. In March 2012, for example, she presented an exhibition called "From Little Things Big Things Grow," an exploration of the fight for indigenous civil rights that took place in Australia between 1920 and 1970. Using photographs, objects, personal stories and protest material, T.C. helped visitors experience this largely forgotten story.

Yet while T.C. "was an inspiration in some many ways," another colleague says, she "also had a complex and difficult life." There was a family history of suicide and violence, a tragic legacy with which T.C. had struggled for many years.

Enter Michael Westaway. Eager to expand his research into Aboriginal origins, and to gain access to samples of human remains for genetic work, Westaway persistently bullied T.C. and other curators at the museum, trying to pressure them into giving him access to the Secret Sacred Room. Sometimes he would simply take action on his own. On one occasion, a colleague says, he examined women's sacred objects that were supposed to go back to Traditional Owners, contending that they were not really sacred; he made similar statements about other artifacts.

But much of Westaway's bullying was directed at T.C., whom he tried to get to intercede with Traditional Owners on his behalf as well as allow him access to the Secret Sacred Room. Says one colleague of T.C., the pressure from Westaway was so great that "T.C. used to come and sit in my office on the floor and cry."

In November 2012, T.C. took her own life. While everyone who knew T.C. well acknowledges that her family history and vulnerability created a background context for her action, many of her colleagues at the museum felt strongly that Westaway's bullying had provided a final trigger that led to her suicide. Even those who are not sure about that say that his bullying of her did not help, given how vulnerable she was. (In fairness, I did talk to one researcher, a man, who knew both T.C. and Westaway and did not feel that he was responsible for her death.)

However, the general feeling against Westaway, especially among Aboriginal colleagues, was so strong that, after he left the museum the following year to take a position at Griffith University, museum management allowed staff to work from home whenever he returned to the building. "Some had adverse physical reactions when they thought he was coming or he wrote to them," one museum colleague says. Soon afterwards, Westaway was banned from having any access at all to the staff and collections areas of the Queensland Museum.


PART THREE: Westaway's tenure at Griffith University, the continuation of his unethical and racist behavior towards Aboriginal peoples, which may have contributed to the death of another Aboriginal colleague (and also led to his removal from the Willandra Lakes scientific advisory group;) his fall from the grace of his protectors at Griffith; and finally, his move to the University of Queensland, which hired him despite numerous warnings from colleagues.


Westaway's long history of questionable relationships with Aboriginal communities.

I referred above to my conversation with Westaway's ex-girlfriend, which included her observations of his interactions with indigenous communities she visited with him. One reason opinion about Westaway in Australia's anthropology and archaeologist community is divided--he has some fierce defenders, as can be seen in the Comments section of this blog post--is that he is widely described as capable of great charm, exuding charisma and great enthusiasm for his work.

I spoke to a large number of Australian researchers about Westaway's relationships with Aboriginal communities, and a common theme emerged: Westaway's modus operandi is to make contact with those members of indigenous communities that he finds easiest to approach, and to make them promises about what he might be able to achieve by sampling their DNA--in many cases, the promise to help them trace their ancestral origins and/or to determine the provenance of ancestral human remains housed in museums and collections, so that they might be eventually repatriated to their communities of origin.

But Westaway's colleagues point out that in doing so, Westaway often bypasses traditional groups of Aboriginals, or organizations of elders that represent Traditional Owners, to make deals with other members of the communities who are not necessarily representative of the entire group. In a number of cases, Westaway's critics say, he took advantage of divisions with indigenous groups to approach those more favorable to DNA sample taking, at the same time generating anger among other parts of the community. Even worse, according to some researchers familiar with Westaway's conduct, Westaway has often misrepresented a number of aspects of the ancient DNA sequencing process to communities, promising quick results that were completely unrealistic. In at least one case, such false promises may have led to tragic consequences, as I describe below.

And this strategy, which in a limited context can make it appear to some that Westaway has warm relationships with indigenous peoples, is behind a number of episodes that have gotten the archaeologist in trouble with colleagues and have caused some of his protectors to eventually tire of defending him. As for indigenous communities, over his career, Westaway's divisive tactics have managed to make him enemies in a number of Australian regions, including the Torres Strait Islands in northern Queensland, Cape York on the mainland just to the south of the islands, the Willandra Lakes in the Far West of New South Wales (where the famous Lake Mungo human remains were found), and among the Mithaka people of southwest Queensland.

Nevertheless, Westaway's approach has helped him to win a great deal of grant funding from the Australian Research Council. That too has made him attractive to his superiors, and often led them to dismiss complaints about unethical behavior and bullying.  Moreover, especially after Westaway moved to Griffith University, his superiors, including David Lambert (who was instrumental in recruiting him to Griffith) and Rainer Grun became increasingly dependent on him for obtaining the human samples that fueled the grant funding machine, according to a number of researchers familiar with the situation.

Since 2010, Westaway was either a principal investigator or co-investigator on ARC grants worth at least $3 million Australian dollars; Westaway's ARC Future Fellowship, which he took with him to the University of Queensland when he left Griffith, is funded at $936,468.00 (an explanation, according to some colleagues, for why UQ ignored warnings about Westaway; more on that below.)

In discussions with a large number of researchers based in Australia, it seems clear that Westaway's ethically questionable methods of gathering and handling human samples dates back at least from when he was a graduate student at the Australian National University, and continued at Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, the National Museum of Australia, in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, and at the Queensland Museum, as previously discussed. But this behavior appears to intensified as he found protection from powerful men at Griffith University; during his tenure there, a number of episodes well known to the Australian archaeological community took place.


The tragic death of Tapij Wales
Tapij Wales

According to a number of sources familiar with the situation, Griffith University evolutionary biologist David Lambert was instrumental in recruiting Michael Westaway to the university and helping him obtain the grant funding that allowed him to move there from the Queensland Museum. "Much of the archaeological community were absolutely astounded that it happened," says one leading Australian archaeologist who asked not to be identified. "We couldn't understand why anyone would give him another chance given all his history, which was common knowledge in the archaeological community."

But Westaway had the one thing that Lambert, always eager for human and ancient samples for his ancient DNA work, found very valuable: Connections with the indigenous communities that could supply them (although Lambert had connections of his own, they were not nearly as extensive as Westaway's. Lambert did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this report.)

Yet during his time at Griffith, Westaway managed to alienate a number of Aborginal communities and individuals, which soon made him a liability for Lambert and for the university. Moreover, some sources familiar with Westaway's strategy for getting Aborginal samples say, he often misrepresented or exaggerated the benefits the research could bring to indigenous communities. "He would make comments about the research that were unethical or untrue," says one colleague who witnessed this behavior. "He will say to an Aboriginal group, if you let us do research, we may find a cure for early onset diabetes or kidney failure. People had the impression that if they did not approve the study, they were interfering with a possible cure. But it's a very remote possibility, if not entirely fabricated."

Tapij Wales was an elder of the Thaynakwith people of Cape York. Wales had long been concerned that the remains of members of his ancestral homeland were housed in museum collections, and that, according to Aboriginal traditions, they could not fully rest until they were repatriated and reburied. During the early 2010s, members of Lambert's research team, including Westaway, had met Wales during their research work; other archaeologists in Australia came to know him as well.

What follows is based on the accounts of several researchers who knew Wales well, and others who knew him more casually.

Wales had asked members of the Lambert team if their ancient DNA work might help identify which communities and regions human remains in museums had originally belonged to. Some members of the team agreed to test the idea, although they made clear to Wales that the project would be a challenge and there was no guarantee of success.

By that time Westaway himself had known Wales for several years, dating from the time when Wales' community group had found the ancient remains of an Aboriginal women on a dirt road in far north Queensland. The finds, according to an archaeologist who asked not to be identified, were presented at the 2012 meeting of the AAA in Wollongong, New South Wales, by a team consisting of Wales, Westaway, and a member of the local police force. "The police representative spoke dispassionately on the legal twists and turns," the archaeologist told me, and "Westaway spoke in academic manner of the research methodology and the potential" of using the data to repatriate the remains and give them a proper burial.

"Tapij, however, was the only person to speak with any humanitarian imperative and passion," the achaeologist said. "He said, 'This poor old lady, here she is lying in the road, we have to do something to help her.'" The archaeologist says he went up and introduced himself to Wales, and there began the kind of warm friendship that several colleagues have also described to me. "Tapij possessed a startling and immediate genuineness that permeated whatever he said."

But by late 2016, colleagues who knew him say, Wales had become increasingly frustrated with Westaway, who had made all kinds of promises about the DNA sequencing work. Westaway had reportedly told Wales that the sequencing could be completed in a couple of months and, he oversold the likelihood of success. Moreover, in meetings with Wales and other Thaynakwith community members, sources say, he displayed considerable ignorance of ancient DNA research. "Westaway spoke on behalf [of the Lambert group] regularly, promising indigenous groups a quick turnaround in sequencing, while not having a clue how we did things, the nature of ancient DNA, or even the fundamental basics of DNA analyses," says one researcher familiar with events.

To make matters worse, Wales told two archaeologists (that I am aware of) that Westaway was flirting with young Aboriginal women during his visits to the Thaynakwith community. "He asked if I knew Michael Westaway and what my thoughts were on him," says one archaeologist. "I told him that yes I knew him but I didn't have a high opinion of him, and why. He then told me that he and some of his fellow elders wanted a complaint to be put in against Michael as he was working in their community and was getting 'too close' to some of the Aboriginal girls."

Finally, Wales decided that he was going to travel to the 2017 AAA meeting in Melbourne, which was held December 6-8 of that year. He told several people that he was fed up with Westaway's apparent refusal to respond to his queries about the DNA results, the return of certain human samples, and the issues with the young Aboriginal women. Wales said he was going to confront Westaway at the meeting, and all agree that he was greatly upset and stressed.

Wales arrived at the meeting before Westaway, along with several other Aboriginal representatives. But late that night, Wales suffered a massive heart attack, and died. And while he had a history of previous heart attacks, those who were present and saw his level of his anger and distress over the Westaway situation are convinced that this played a major role in his death. Wales, who was very poor, "remained in Melbourne for nearly a month while we crowdfunded for his body to be transported back to his country and for a funeral service, according to one source who was involved.

For a number of archaeologists I talked to about this sad affair, the episode "displays the gap between what ancestral remains mean to their traditional descendants, and what they signify to those who treat them as objects of study," as one put it, "useful footholds on the ladder of academic achievement." Another colleague adds: "And, that perhaps the more genuine the traditional owner is in their commitment to the rights of the deceased, the more susceptible they are to the charismatic, articulate, and empowered statements of academics with ready smiles and ambitious plans."

There is a sad irony to this story, one that Tapij Wales of course did not live to appreciate nor benefit from. Based on the research that Wales had helped and supported, the Lambert team did in the end demonstrate that it might be possible to use DNA from ancient remains to repatriate them to their original homelands. In a paper published in Science Advances in December 2018, on which Lambert's former graduate student Joanne Wright was the first author, the team presented data that at least proved the concept.* How likely it is that the methodology will be successful in many other cases remains to be seen, researchers I talked to say, because it can be very difficult to extract enough ancient DNA from human remains to perform precise analyses. Yet Wales was included as a posthumous author of the paper, and he was also named in some of the media coverage, including a story in Archaeology magazine, The Smithsonian, and in the New York Times by the well-known science writer Carl Zimmer.

* I want to make clear that no impropriety by any member of the Science Advances team is implied by this citing of their peer reviewed paper.


Westaway insults an Aborginal heritage worker in a racist manner, action is taken, and his star begins to fall at Griffith University.


As mentioned earlier, Westaway had done a lot of work in the Willandra Lakes area, where the oldest uncontested human remains in Australia had been found at Lake Mungo.* Once again, he had polarized the Aboriginal communities there by befriending some groups and individuals while alienating others. Thus many colleagues critical of Westaway did not know whether to laugh or cry when, in early 2017, The Sydney Morning Herald published a positive piece about Westaway: "Dr Michael Westaway: sensitive role in Australian archaeology." In the article, Westaway is quoted about the need for "excellent communication skills" and "deft communication" at conferences.

For many years, Aborginal elders in the Willandra Lakes region had been lobbying for the return of the Mungo human remains (mainly one man and one woman) so that they could be reburied according to indigenous customs. The remains have now returned to their home, although as of this writing they have not yet been reburied. But Westaway was among those Australian archaeologists opposed to the repatriation, arguing that there was still much to be learned from the remains. (The debate has close parallels with that over Kennewick Man in the United States, whose reburial was resisted heavily by many anthropologists. Ironically, analysis of ancient DNA from Kennewick Man ultimately undermined the main arguments the anthropologists had made.)

In a Facebook post on September 27, 2016 (reproduced above), Westaway, with by now typical lack of tact, criticized Rob Kelly, a senior heritage officer in the Willandra Lakes region (and an Aboriginal) for his advocacy of repatriation and reburial. "Yes Rob wants to see it all destroyed," Westaway wrote. Westaway also referred to Kelly as a "bloke from coastal NSW [New South Wales]," a reference to his Aboriginal heritage, and the fact that while Kelly's background was from the Australian interior he himself had been born on the coast.

Westaway's post also mentioned Steve Meredith, a regional manager for Heritage New South Wales; Richard Mintern, former executive officer of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area; Dan Rosendahl, current executive officer of the Willandra heritage area; and Leanne Mitchell, an Aboriginal heritage programs officer and a Paakantyi Traditional Owner. I cannot say too much more about the contents of the apparently now deleted Facebook post to protect sources, other than that it included several factual errors.

"Westaway built his career on research on these bones," says one heritage expert who asked not to be identified. "He sees reburial of the remains as destroying them, and yet he wants to do destructive research on them [by taking DNA samples]. Aboriginal people are not happy with Mungo Man [and Mungo Woman] being kept in a box on the shelf, they [want to] return their dead to the ground."

This time, Westaway's actions had consequences. Not long afterwards, Robert Quirk, acting executive director of park programs for Australia's National Parks and Wildlife Service, wrote to Westaway explaining that he had been removed from the Willandra Lakes Region Temporary Scientific Advisory Group. In other communications from parks officials, Westaway's superiors were also notified about the park and wildlife service's unhappiness about Westaway's statements, and, according to sources familiar with the situation, Westaway was told that he was no longer welcome in the Willandra Lakes area, and particularly Lake Mungo.

Despite this clear admonition not to go to Lake Mungo, which Willandra Lakes elders were no longer giving him permission to visit, Westaway did make at least one visit there, in the company of Nature editor Henry Gee, who was visiting Australia in April 2017. Although I am told Westaway was not authorized to visit the area, and Gee did not respond to repeated requests for comment, Nature communications director Alice Henchley told me that Gee "was accompanied by a park ranger from the traditional owners at all times and understood that the visit was approved by the traditional owners."

* For an interesting account of the history of the Mungo finds, put into the historical context of anthropological scavenging of human remains and disregard for Aboriginal rights and feelings, see this story in The Guardian.


Westaway's support at Griffith crumbles; University of Queensland welcomes him and his grant money with open arms

While Lambert and university officials at Griffith had been eager for Westaway to come to the university, after several years they were having second thoughts. The Willandra Lakes episode was embarrassing to say the least, although the death of Tapij Wales was not well known and was soon forgotten (except for those friends and colleagues, several of whom I have talked to, who still mourn him.)

 In another episode in early 2017, Griffith officials had to scramble to save a research project when Westaway managed to alienate the leaders of the Mithaka people of southwest Queensland. And beginning in 2016, Lambert and Westaway had a major falling out, over a number of issues including a fight over authorship of key papers and other matters. "Michael had everyone convinced that he was the most ethical person working with indigenous folks," says one archaeologist who knows both Westaway and Lambert. "He would insist that he be high on the publication author lists because he made the connections."

(Although Lambert has not responded to requests for comment, these days he tells almost anyone who will listen about his disillusionment with Westaway. Rainer Grun, too, has reportedly told colleagues that he finally got fed up with him.)

"At first there's a honeymoon period," says a colleague who has known Westaway for many years. "Then he sets the place on fire and jumps ship, that's his M.O. He will do that at University of Queensland, it might take five years, but he will leave a pile of wreckage there too."

But if that does happen, it won't be because UQ, where Westaway moved last May, was not warned. In fact, sources tell me, several researchers told Andrew Fairbairn, head of archaeology at the university, about Westaway's past conduct, although it is not clear how many details they gave him. But Fairbairn denies getting the warnings. "I was not aware of the allegations about DNA samples, bullying etc. and cannot make a comment about them as I have no way of evaluating them," Fairbairn wrote in an email. (Full disclosure: I have known Fairbairn well for more than 20 years, dating back to my coverage of the excavations at Neolithic Catalhoyuk in Turkey.)

"Most people are at a loss to explain how Westaway scored that gig," says one archaeologist. "My own guess is that they were greedy for his fellowship [nearly $1 million Australian] and the funding the federal government gives universities with successful research grants."


Where do we go from here?

This report has been long in the making and long coming. During its preparation, I often heard from Australian researchers who--despite their antipathy towards Westaway--might have preferred that I investigate other, more senior colleagues allegedly guilty of bullying, unethical behavior, sexual misconduct, and other abuses. They have supplied me with a long list of names; some of those individuals claim to be opposed to bullying and abuse, even very vocally, at the same time their colleagues have accused them.

And it is true that Westaway, despite all of his academic and research successes, is still a middle level player in Australian archaeology, although it is unclear at this point how much higher he is likely to rise. (Ancient DNA expert Alan Cooper, who is currently suspended from the University of Adelaide over allegations of severe bullying, is a much more senior figure.)

I think the best way to look at this and similar investigations is as proofs of principle--the principle being that it is possible to expose abusers, and even bring about consequences for their abuse, without their colleagues having to live in fear of retaliation for participating in that process. As I mentioned at the beginning, 37 sources (and counting) helped me with this inquiry, and while nearly all remain anonymous at the moment, even doing that much required considerable bravery. That is especially true for the women who were subject to abuse by Westaway.

"Amongst the women, we talk about how the policies for dealing with bullying and harassment are there--but they don't work," comments one archaeologist. "Men in charge don't seem to realize that even making a formal complaint puts a big target on our back as a troublemaker, someone to be run out. And even if we do, nothing happens. The offender is put on X months leave, which effectively gives them X months to focus on their research without having to worry about teaching or administration. It's a reward..."

If past experience is a guide, however, the first reaction of university officials and department heads is likely to be to launch a search for sources, as a way of spreading even more fear and deflecting the actual content of this report. To those hunting for sources, I will say this: Nearly everyone talked to me, which is a pretty clear indication of the amount of antipathy Westaway has generated by his own conduct. So don't bother trying to figure out who they are.

Journalists can open the door to the truth, but the victims, survivors, and their allies are the ones who have to walk through that door and seize the day. They are the ones who can make a better life for academics and other researchers, for students, and staff, and for the indigenous communities that want to collaborate with scientists and not be exploited by them. It has begun, let it begin.