Monday, October 14, 2019

Anthropology professor threatens lawsuit against reporter for reporting the truth about her bullying and unethical conduct

Sharon Gursky

I have received the following letter from Texas A&M anthropologist Sharon Gursky's attorney, concerning the allegations contained in a recent blog post in which she was included. I stand by my reporting, which is based on multiple witnesses and ample documentation. I have included Exhibit 1, the settlement letter they want me to sign; the other exhibits, which I have not included here, consist of the blog posts, Facebook posts, and Tweets regarding the allegations.

The university "investigation" referred to in the letter was another in a series of whitewashes with which the TAMU administration dispensed of a number of complaints from students, and has no more validity than any of the others. What Gursky may not realize, but her lawyer certainly will, is that a lawsuit is a two-sided battle in which I would have the right to engage in legal discovery. That means that I would be able to subpoena all documents related to this matter, including ones I may not currently have possession of; and I would be able to subpoena witnesses for depositions, including other faculty members, administrators, and everyone at TAMU or elsewhere with knowledge of the facts. (Just by the way, I would conduct legal discovery of the entire situation in the department, as described in the original blog post, to help establish in my defense that the allegations against Gursky arose in the course of a legitimate journalistic investigation into a pattern and practice of abuse across the anthropology department.)

The other thing that Gursky's attorney might tell her is that, as a freelance writer, I would be free to publicize every detail of any lawsuit that she might file, including the additional information that would result from legal discovery. That's because I would not employ any attorney who counseled me to be quiet, as is the case in most lawsuits that involve major media outlets with their own attorneys (I explain the background to my decision to proceed in this way in a recent piece in the Columbia Journalism Review.)

The end result would be that the well founded allegations against Gursky would receive many times more attention than they are generating now, before a much broader audience.

It's bad enough that Gursky and other anthropology faculty at the university have bullied and harassed students in the department, but even worse that they continue to try to intimidate those students and the reporter to whom they have turned as a last resort. In fact, this threatened lawsuit is much more than a futile attempt to silence a #MeTooSTEM reporter; it's a pernicious attempt to intimidate the current and former students who were caused to suffer from Gursky's bullying and unethical behavior, and who are suffering still. That cannot be allowed to stand.

Added note, Oct 15: In his threatening letter to me, Gursky's attorney states, in reference to my sources, that "we are well aware of who they are..."  This is unlikely to be the case, given how many sources there are for my statements about Gursky, but including this particular phrase seems to be an attempt to intimidate both them and me, and a prelude to possible retaliation. I have thus reported this threat of a lawsuit to TAMU's Department of Civil Rights and Equity Investigations and asked them to begin an inquiry. As is the ethical obligation of all reporters, I will under absolutely no circumstances reveal the identity of my sources without their express permission.

Update: It's been brought to my attention that David R. Warner, the attorney hired by Sharon Gursky to threaten me and thus also threaten the students who blew the whistle on her, was put on probation last year by the Arizona bar for multiple counts of fraud.

                                                                       * * *

Re: Immediate Action Required – Removal of Defamatory Posts; Cease and Desist

Defamation of Sharon Gursky

Mr. Balter:

Please be advised that we represent Sharon Gursky, PhD (“Sharon”) in trying to
resolve the above-referenced matter before it is escalated into litigation. This letter shall
serve as (1) a demand to cease and desist publishing any further information concerning
our client; (2) a demand for removal of all defamatory statements that you published about
our client on various websites; and (3) your notice that a lawsuit will be filed against you
if you fail to comply these demands.

I have reviewed your blog, and posts pertaining to our
client, and it is evident that you have published several false and defamatory statements.
While I understand you claim to be a “journalist,” it is apparent that your “blogging” is a
hobby, secondary to your career in education. In any event, however, our client is not
interested in “your sources”; we are well aware of who they are and take no issue with
them seeking to have their concerns addressed through the proper channels. It is your
reckless and malicious conduct that is the problem.1
In your blog post, located at
rife-with sexual.

1 See McGill v. Parker, 179 A.D.2d 98, 108, 582 N.Y.S.2d 91, 97 (1st Dep't 1992) (noting that
while “a standard which requires a showing that the publisher of defamatory material ‘acted in a
grossly irresponsible manner ...’ is particularly suited to a media defendant,” there “is no reason ...
why the Constitution should be construed to provide greater protection to
the media in defamation suits than to others exercising their freedom of speech”).
Letter to Michael Balter
Page 2 of 4

wbsSrrOGOUOlpFYjraleJtw0Qc, you published the following false and defamatory
information about our client:
In two cases for which I have been given documented evidence, Gursky
either misappropriated or stole outright the research ideas of her students for
her own use. In one case, sources and documents attest, she used the
dissertation project of one of her students to get grant funding from the
university. In another, she used the research of a student for a poster session
at a meeting without permission.

Gursky is also a celebrated bully in the department. Her abuses include
publicly mocking a student with an eating disorder, publicly discussing the
academic struggles of a student in front of others (a possible violation of
federal privacy laws), publicly shouting at and attempting to humiliate
students, and forcing students to take her classes unnecessarily so they would
have sufficient enrollment. Once again, department leaders were fully aware
of this behavior but have done nothing effective about it.

It speaks volumes that you published these statements but (1) failed to contact our client to
get her side of the story, (2) did not attempt to obtain any information from the university
regarding their investigation process, (3) did not inquire whether any of the complaints
regarding our client’s alleged conduct were dismissed, and (4) failed to interview any thirdparty
witnesses. It is apparent that you failed to conduct any type of objective investigation
regarding our client’s alleged conduct, and your clear lack of objectively is the exact
opposite of true journalism. You published the statements with a reckless disregard as to
whether the statements were false and damaging to our client’s reputation, which has taken
her decades to build.

Had you conducted basic due diligence, you would have learned that (1) all
complaints pertaining to our client were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated; (2)
various third-party witnesses were interviewed during the investigation; (3) our client
asked the student to make one figure for the poster, our client provided her data and
analyses to the student, and the student was given credit for his work as his name was
published in the abstract; (4) our client was able to show that on the AUP animal use
protocol application, which was submitted online one month prior to the accusations, how
this student’s assigned role was denoted; (5) regarding the Leakey grant application idea,
our client was able to produce a final report to a grant agency showing that her next step
would be to evaluate the function of the alarm calls, and this report was submitted before
our client worked with this student in this regard; and (6) regarding dissertation idea, in
2012, our client published a paper on the ultrasonic vocalizations and hearing using the
method ABR auditory brainstem response that the student was going to use, but he never
got to stage of collecting data, writing a grant or writing a dissertation.

Letter to Michael Balter
Page 3 of 4

Your statements are clearly false and defamatory. “[E]ach person who repeats the
defamatory statement is responsible for the resulting damages.” Geraci v. Probst, 15
N.Y.3d 336, 342, 938 N.E.2d 917, 921 (2010). Defamation is the injury to one's reputation,
either by written expression (libel) or oral expression (slander). Morrison v. National
Broadcasting Co., 19 N.Y.2d 453, 280 N.Y.S.2d 641, 227 N.E.2d 572 (1967). The
elements of libel are: [1] a false and defamatory statement of fact; [2] regarding the
plaintiff; [3] which are published to a third party and which [4] result in injury to plaintiff.
Idema v. Wager, 120 F.Supp.2d 361 (S.D.N.Y.2000); Ives v. Guilford Mills, 3 F.Supp.2d
191 (N.D.N.Y.1998). Certain statements are considered libelous per se. They are limited
to four categories of statements that: [1] charge plaintiff with a serious crime; [2] tend to
injure plaintiff in its business, trade or profession; [3] plaintiff has some loathsome disease;
or [4] impute unchastity. Liberman v. Gelstein, 80 N.Y.2d 429, 590 N.Y.S.2d 857, 605
N.E.2d 344 (1992); Harris v. Hirsh, 228 A.D.2d 206, 643 N.Y.S.2d 556 (1st dept.1996).
Where statements are libelous per se, the law presumes that damages will result and they
need not be separately proved. Id. at 435, 590 N.Y.S.2d 857, 605 N.E.2d 344. The amount
of such damages “is peculiarly within the jury's province.” Calhoun v. Cooper, 206 A.D.2d
497, 497, 614 N.Y.S.2d 762 (1994).

In assessing the amount of damages to award for defamation, a jury is not limited
to compensating the plaintiff for “economic” losses, such as demonstrable lost profits. See
Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 350, 94 S.Ct. 2997, 41 L.Ed.2d 789 (1974).
Rather, a plaintiff may suffer “non-economic” injuries as well. Among these is the loss of
reputation, which includes the loss of professional status and the ability to earn wages, as
well as any humiliation or mental suffering caused by the defamation. See Mattox v. News
Syndicate Co., 176 F.2d 897, 901–02 (2d Cir.1949) (“[I]t is universally agreed that the
damages recoverable in libel are the plaintiff's loss of reputation in the minds of those who
know him or know about him, together with this mental suffering as a result of the libel.”);
see also Lundell Mfg. Co. v. Am. Broad. Co., 98 F.3d 351, 364–65 (8th Cir.1996)
(upholding an award of $900,000 for damage to reputation—in addition to a separate award
of $158,000 for past and future lost profits—where defendant's act of defamation impaired
plaintiff's ability to sell a recycling machine); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Miramon, 935
F.Supp. 838, 844 (E.D.La.1996) (“Damages for loss of reputation seek to make one whole
for loss of the ability to earn wages, borrow money, and to enjoy life as fully as before the
injury.”); Prozeralik v. Capital Cities Commc'ns, Inc., 222 A.D.2d 1020, 1021, 635
N.Y.S.2d 913, 914 (4th Dep't 1995) (upholding an award of $6,000,000 for injury to
plaintiff's reputation and $3,500,000 for mental suffering—in addition to a separate award
of $1,500,000 for direct financial loss—where defendant's act of defamation injured the
reputation of prominent local restaurateur), lv. denied, 88 N.Y.2d 812, 672 N.E.2d 605,
649 N.Y.S.2d 379 (1996) (Table). “The same rules, of course, apply to a corporation, and
where its standing, integrity, or credit are assailed, damages are presumed.” Edwards X

to Michael Balter
Page 4 of 4

ray Co. v. Ritter Dental Mfg. Co., 124 Misc. 898, 899–900, 210 N.Y.S. 299, 301–02 (Sup.
Ct. 1925).

Accordingly, for publishing the statements, you may be held liable for presumed
damages, as well as punitive damages, which may be substantial. Nevertheless, our client
is willing to give you one last chance to resolve this matter without legal action. This is the
last and final settlement offer that will be extended to you. Notably, the terms of the
settlement are extremely generous under the circumstances; you are not being required to
pay any money, including attorneys’ fees. Instead, our client is willing to release you from
all claims on the following conditions:

1. You will remove all information you published or caused to be published on the
Internet about our client (including blog, as well as,,
and any other platform);
2. You will refrain from publishing or causing the publication of any information
about our client on the Internet; and
3. You will refrain from “investigating” our client.
If, within 10 days from the date of this letter, I do not receive a signed copy of the
Settlement Agreement (which has been attached as Exhibit 1 hereto), we will presume that
you have no desire to settle this matter short of litigation and will proceed accordingly.
Furthermore, you are hereby notified that, if this matter is resolved via litigation, you may
be liable for our clients’ costs and attorneys’ fees, and that this letter may be provided to
the judge and/or jury for that purpose, in addition to demonstrate your malicious intent. I
look forward to hearing from you within 10 days.


Daniel R. Warner, Esq.

Enclosures as stated.

Page 1 of 5

This Agreement is entered into this ____ day of October, 2019 (the “Effective Date”),
between Sharon Gursky (“Sharon”); and Michael Balter (“Balter”). Sharon and/or Balter may be
hereinafter referred to individually as “Party” and/or collectively as “Parties.”
A. Balter published or caused to be published certain defamatory statements about Sharon,
some of which have been attached as Exhibit A hereto (the “Posts”).
B. Sharon contemplated filing a lawsuit against Balter for defamation; however, Sharon
proposed this Settlement Agreement prior to filing suit and Balter agreed.
C. The Parties now wish to settle any and all disputes short of litigation.
THEREFORE, in consideration of the promises, covenants and warranties set forth below
and the mutual agreement of the Parties and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and
sufficiency of which are acknowledged, the Parties agree as follows:
1. Essential Representations by Balter.
1.1 Balter represents and warrants to Sharon as follows:
(a) As of the Effective Date, Balter has removed the Posts, as well as any and all
information Balter posted, or caused to be posted, on the Internet about Sharon.
(b) As of the Effective Date, Balter, directly or indirectly, shall not publish or cause to
be published any information about any Sharon on the Internet.
(c) As of the Effective Date, Balter shall not (a) publicly publish, or cause or encourage
the public publication of, any negative, defamatory, damaging or disparaging statement
about any Sharon or any statement that would cause Sharon embarrassment or humiliation
or otherwise cause or contribute to such persons or entities being held in disrepute by the
public1; or (b) publish, cause to be published or encourage the publication, on the Internet
of any negative, defamatory, damaging or disparaging statement concerning Sharon.
1 This provision does not, in any way, restrict or impede the applicable Party from enforcing this Agreement
or exercising protected rights to the extent that such rights cannot legally be waived by agreement or from
complying with any applicable law or regulation or a valid order of a court of competent jurisdiction or an
authorized government agency, provided that such compliance does not exceed that required by the law,
regulation or order. To the extent a court/tribunal of competent jurisdiction finds that the Party is precluded
as a matter of law from contractually waiving any such rights under the certain facts and circumstances
before the court, this provision shall be construed as being inapplicable and thus should not be stricken as
Page 2 of 5
(d) Other than the Posts, as of the Effective Date, Balter has not published or caused to
be published any information on the Internet about Sharon.
(e) Balter will immediately cease and permanently refrain from investigating Sharon.
(f) Balter acknowledges and agrees that any breach of any of the representations above
will result in irreparable injury and that the remedies at law will be inadequate, and that in
addition to any other remedy Sharon may have (including but not limited to those set out
herein), Sharon shall be entitled to the specific performance of this Agreement, as well as
both temporary and permanent injunctive relief (notwithstanding any limitations in law or
equity, such as being required to post a bond).
(g) Balter acknowledges and agrees that damages flowing from any breach of this
Agreement (including any breach of any of the representations above and/or the
confidentiality provisions below) are not readily susceptible to being measured in monetary
terms; therefore, in the event of breach of any provision of this Agreement, Sharon will be
entitled to collect liquidated damages from Balter in the amount of $25,000 USD per
(h) The Agreement shall in all respects be governed by and construed according to the
laws of the state of Arizona, without regard to the conflicts of laws principles thereof. Any
suit or other proceeding arising out of or relating to this Agreement shall be instituted and
maintained in Maricopa County, Arizona. The Parties expressly waive any objections to
such jurisdiction and venue and irrevocably consent and submit to the personal and subject
matter jurisdiction of such courts in any action or proceeding. However, this Agreement
and/or any court order or judgment arising out of or related hereto shall be enforceable in
every state and worldwide.
(collectively, the “Representations”).
1.2 The Parties acknowledge and agree that the Representations are an essential term
of this Agreement, and the Parties would not enter into this Agreement but for the
2. Release of All Claims.
Subject to the provisions of the Agreement stating otherwise and except for fulfilling the
obligations created by this Agreement (and contingent upon doing so, as applicable, respectively),
each of the Parties, for themselves, their marital communities, their owners, agents, attorneys,
representatives, officers, employees, successors and assigns, now and forever release, renounce,
and surrender any and all claims (whether known or unknown), claims for damages, actions, causes
of actions, suits, debts, dues, sums of money, accounts, reckonings, bonds, bill, specialties,
covenants, contracts, controversies, agreements, stipulations, promises, variances, trespasses,
damages, judgments, extents, executions, and demands whatsoever (collectively “Claims”),
including but not limited to any in law or in equity, as against each other and any and all
subsidiaries, affiliates, attorneys, employees, officers, directors, stockholders, representatives,
Page 3 of 5
agents, successors and assigns that the Parties ever had, now have, or hereafter may have for any
reason whatsoever, whether relating to disputes referenced above or otherwise. The Parties
acknowledge and agree that this Release set forth hereinabove is a General Release, and that the
Party expressly waives and assumes the risk of any and all claims for damages which exist as of
the Effective Date, but which the Party does not know of or suspect to exist, whether through
ignorance, oversight, error, negligence, or otherwise, and which, if known, would materially affect
the Party’s decision to enter into this Release and Settlement Agreement.
3. Covenant Not to Sue. Each Party represents and warrants that the Party has not filed or
commenced any lawsuits or other legal proceedings against the other Party. Each Party warrants
and represents, unless otherwise provided herein, not to file or commence any lawsuits or legal
proceedings against the other Party based on any claims, allegations, alleged defaults, causes of
action, obligations or responsibilities, existing or alleged prior to the Effective Date, relating to
any matter referenced herein or otherwise related to and/or arising out the relationship between the
4. Acknowledgements. Each Party represents, warrants and acknowledges the following:
4.1 The Party has carefully read and understands the effect of this Agreement. Each
Party had the assistance of separate counsel or has had the opportunity to have separate
counsel review, discuss and consider all terms of this Agreement.
4.2 No Party’s signing of this Agreement is based upon their reliance upon any
representation, understanding or agreement not expressly set forth herein.
4.3 The Party is signing this Agreement by their free and voluntary act, without duress,
coercion or undue influence exerted by or on behalf of any of the other Parties or any other
4.4 The Party is the sole owner of the claims or causes of action being released herein,
and the Party has not conveyed or assigned any interest in any such claims or causes of
action to any person or entity not a Party hereto.
4.5 The Party has full and complete authorization and power to sign this Agreement in
the capacity herein stated. This Agreement is a valid, binding, and enforceable obligation
of the Party and does not violate any law, rule, regulation, contract or agreement otherwise
enforceable by the Party.
4.6 The recitals above are true and correct and are hereby incorporated into this
Agreement as representations and warranties, respectively.
5. Effective Date. The Parties may sign this Agreement at different times for convenience
sake. This release shall not be effective until after all Parties or their lawful agents have signed
this release, after which the effective date shall revert back to the Effective Date that is first set
forth above.
Page 4 of 5
6. Binding Effect. The undersigned represent and warrant that they are authorized to execute
this Agreement for, and to bind, their principals, spouses, and marital communities, as applicable
and that this Agreement and all of its terms and provisions shall be binding upon and inure to the
benefit of the Parties and their heirs, legal representatives, successors, and assigns.
7. Attorneys’ Fees and Legal Expenses. If any proceeding or action shall be brought to
recover any amount under this Agreement, or for or on account of any breach hereof, or to enforce
or interpret any of the terms, covenants, or conditions of this Agreement, the prevailing party shall
be entitled to recover from the other party, as part of the prevailing party's costs, reasonable
attorneys' fees, the amount of which shall be fixed by the court and shall be made a part of any
award or judgment rendered (regardless of whether or not the matter is contested).
8. Construction. The language in all parts of this Agreement will be construed as a whole
according to its fair meaning and not strictly for or against any Party. Any rule of construction to
the effect that ambiguities are to be resolved against the drafting Party shall not apply in the
interpretation of this Agreement or any amendments hereto.
9. Counterparts. The Parties hereto further stipulate and agree that this Agreement may be
executed in any number of counterparts, all the counterparts shall be deemed to constitute one
instrument, and each counterpart shall be deemed an original. Facsimile and pdf signatures shall
serve as originals.
10. Severability. If any provision of this Agreement is held to be invalid or unenforceable, the
remaining provisions shall continue in full force and effect in such jurisdiction to the fullest extent
permitted by law and the invalidity or unenforceability of any provision hereof in any jurisdiction
shall not affect the validity or enforceability of such provision in any other jurisdiction.
11. No Waiver. The waiver by either Party of a breach of any provision of the Agreement shall
not operate or be construed as a waiver of any subsequent breach.
12. Entire Agreement. This Agreement and the attachments hereto, constitute the entire
agreement between the Parties in connection with the subject matter hereof and supersedes all
agreements, proposals, representations and other understandings, oral or written, of the Parties.
13. Confidentiality. The terms of this Agreement are confidential, and no Party will disclose
its terms to any third party without the prior written consent of the other Party, except: (a) as
otherwise agreed to by all Parties in writing, separately or hereunder; (b) as reasonably necessary
to enforce rights under this Agreement; (c) where a disclosure is reasonably required by applicable
accounting or regulatory purposes; (d) under judicial or governmental subpoena, demand or
requirement, provided that the disclosing Party agrees to request provisions of confidentiality; or
(e) as otherwise required by law, provided that prompt, prior notification is provided to the other
Party as soon as practicable so that the other Party has an opportunity to seek protection from such
WHEREFORE, the Parties undersigned agree to the foregoing on the date first set forth

Friday, October 11, 2019

TAMU anthropology students call upon faculty to take misconduct allegations seriously, and work with them to improve the culture in the department

Over the past weeks, I have reported in detail allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and unethical behavior on the part of faculty (and one student) in the Texas AM University anthropology department. The charges, based on nearly 20 direct witnesses to the abusive behavior, have sparked a series of meetings in the department of both faculty and students, and reactions ranging from serious concern and outrage to panicky attempts to hunt down my sources--possibly for the purpose of retaliating against them (that, at least, is the fear of many current and former students in the department who have talked to me.)

Last Monday, October 7, the faculty met to discuss the allegations and the appropriate response to them. The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Pamela Matthews, was also reportedly in attendance. The faculty were presented with a statement approved by a vote of 85% of responding anthropology graduate students. The letter calls upon the department to take the allegations seriously, and that department faculty exercise their duty of care to the students under their tutelage.

I am in possession of the letter, which is quite eloquent. I am reproducing it in its entirely.


Dear Faculty Members:

The acting Climate and Inclusion Committee of the Association of Anthropology Graduate Students (AAGS) would like to make the following statement on behalf of the graduate students in our department. This statement has been voted on in favor by 85% of responding graduate students:

As graduate students at Texas A&M, we love our department, we love our jobs, and we love the many opportunities given to us to spend our days in the pursuit of knowledge. While we recognize, embrace, and appreciate the many qualities of the department of Anthropology, we also recognize that there is a need for improvement, and that it is time for change. As graduate students we have come together and are committed to working towards the change that we seek, and we are asking that the faculty join us to do the same.

AAGS and the graduate student body take the recent allegations involving the department seriously and recognize that they reflect the negative climate that permeates our department. We recognize that there are major issues in our department, including, but not limited to, these publicized statements. These issues include harassment (sexual or otherwise), bullying, and otherwise non-professional behavior and ethical violations. It is not the purpose of this statement to address the public allegations, nor is it our responsibility or our role to respond to each individual allegation. However, we refuse to dismiss these allegations out of hand, and are using this opportunity to express our firm belief that improvement is needed within the department. The gravity of this situation is extreme. When faculty members trivialize this matter and describe all allegations as fraudulent, they are trivializing their own students and dismissing the serious and detrimental experiences of members of the departmental community, many of which have been open secrets for years. Every faculty member serves as a mentor to each graduate student in this department, and these relationships are fundamental to our graduate experience. This situation is an opportunity for each faculty member to critically assess the well-being of those under their charge, yet every time these serious accusations are dismissed without reflection, that opportunity is lost, and students feel more alone. We value and respect our faculty members and the role that you play in our graduate careers, yet this situation and the way it has been handled is causing undue harm within the graduate student community. We need your help and mentorship moving forward.

To begin this process, the graduate student body needs to hear an official statement of our departmental values, and a condemnation of harassment, bullying, and unprofessional behavior. Regardless of the degree of accuracy of each individual accusation, it is important that we define the values we stand for as anthropologists, and as members of this departmental community. 

We also implore the faculty to work with us to ensure the long-term health of our community. The current climate in the department is negatively impacting our learning and research environment and we must see a change moving forward. We are not a healthy community; the department is broken into factions that are passed from faculty to student and these factions are so impermeable, that graduate students feel isolated, alone, and unable to cross party lines for assistance, even when it is in their best interest. During the best of times, these factions create an atmosphere of unhealthy competition, derogatory commentary, and snide gossip. This is not the atmosphere in which we want to work, and this is an atmosphere we now clearly state we refuse to propagate. While we recognize the historical roots of these factions, they have no bearing on how the department must come together and move forward as a whole to establish a welcoming, professional community for the benefit of all future Texas A&M anthropologists. The culture must be changed from the top down so that we may create a safe community for all members moving forward. AAGS takes this very seriously, and we recognize that graduate students must take an active role in improving our own climate, as well as that of the larger department. We cannot do it alone, and we need faculty members to make a commitment to work with us. 

Beyond changing the departmental culture, AAGS is firmly requesting additional changes in order to advocate for, and protect, the graduate student body. These requests are the result of the immediate fallout of this situation, but we believe these changes will help improve the graduate environment moving forward. In this vein, AAGS requests that the communication from department leadership and faculty immediately improve. While we recognize that it is not always possible to share everything that occurs with all members of the department community, communication must be transparent and frequent. We request that during crisis periods, like the one we are currently in, communication between departmental leadership and AAGS occurs at least twice a month, so that we may keep the graduate student body accurately informed. The stress felt by graduate students stemming from this situation has been greatly exacerbated by the lack of official communication. Honesty and transparency are crucial to build and maintain trust, and at this juncture, the graduate students feel that our trust has been violated. Regular communications regarding developments, plans of action, and potential impact, etc., from a dedicated and specified faculty member who has not been named in the ongoing crisis will do a great deal towards healing this breach, and ensuring the mental and emotional well-being of the graduate community. 

We also request that AAGS and the graduate student body be given a permanent seat at the table moving forward, and that our experiences and ideas are taken into account as the department works to improve itself. Academia, by nature, is made up of extreme power imbalances, which often impact graduate students, international, and minority members of departments the most. The Anthropology department could not survive without its talented faculty, nor could it survive without its talented and hardworking graduate students. We are losing accomplished and gifted graduate students, including potential students, due to the climate in the department. Permanent representation among the faculty will help in protecting graduate rights and well-being, so that we as a department can continue attracting the best prospective students.

We recognize that graduate students constitute a significant portion of our department, and that we represent the future of our field; thus, we feel it is important that graduate students take an active role in improving the department for current and future generations of scholars. To further these goals, AAGS is in the process of creating a Climate and Inclusion Committee by and for graduate students. It is the stated mission of this committee to work with the larger department to implement direct action items for improving departmental conduct and climate. After surveying the graduate student body, we believe these action items should at minimum include explicit codes of conduct and sexual harassment policies (in part tailored towards field work), and continued education (via flyers, trainings etc.) on individual’s rights, mental health support, as well as management and bystander trainings. To begin this process, we request that a faculty representative be present at the next AAGS meeting, on October 14th. 

We strongly believe that these changes are necessary for the betterment of the Anthropology department. While the graduate community has an important role to play, we cannot do it alone, and we need to work together with the faculty to create a stronger, healthier, and happier departmental community. 


The acting AAGS Climate and Inclusion Committee 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Texas AM anthropology rife with sexual harassment, bullying, unethical behavior--and years of department leaders and deans ignoring or covering up complaints.

TAMU anthropology department chair, Darryl de Ruiter
Note: This post has been updated to include allegations against department member Filipe Castro, and additional details about the graduate student, Debraj Sarkar, who is accused of stalking and harassment of a fellow student.

Earlier this month, I reported that I was beginning an investigation into numerous allegations of misconduct in Texas AM University's (TAMU) anthropology department. Over a period of just 10 days, nearly 20 current and former students, faculty, and staff have provided important input into the investigation. They have provided multiple confirmations of the statements that I will make in the following preliminary progress report. As always, I do not report rumors nor second hand information, but only information from direct witnesses to the behavior I am describing. I want to salute the courage of every source who has chosen to talk with me.

Perhaps most shocking, the chair of the department, Darryl de Ruiter--who has taken on the role of responding to the allegations and trying to assure students and faculty that they will not be retaliated against if they report misconduct--was himself the subject of a recent Title IX investigation. Although the university swept credible allegations of sexual harassment under the rug, it did find de Ruiter guilty of "behavior unbecoming of a faculty member" and sanctioned him with professional retraining and a one year period of monitoring of his conduct. I will go into more detail about this below.

In addition to de Ruiter, multiple sources spoke to me about sexual harassment by now emeritus professors Bruce Dickson and Wayne Smith; severe sexism, demeaning of women, and unethical behavior by Filipe Castro; bullying and unethical behavior by professors Sharon Gursky and Michael Alvard; and stalking and threatening behavior by a graduate student, Debraj Sarkar. Investigation of other individuals and incidents is currently underway and it is likely that I will be naming others as well. Over the past years, all of this misconduct has been made known to department leaders including former department chair Cynthia Werner and graduate studies director Lori Wright, as well as the former Dean of Faculties John August, College of Liberal Arts dean Pamela Matthews, and other university officials. Almost nothing has been done about the misconduct, and complainants say they have been gaslighted at all levels and told that they are better off just letting the misconduct go.

TAMU has a long and well known history of a toxic culture of sexual assault and harassment, which recently has received important publicity in the past year. In response, the university has adopted stronger guidelines and made a lot of public statements about its commitment to fighting abuses and encouraging inclusiveness. How it handles the serious allegations in the anthropology department will be a good test of how serious university officials really are about changing the culture.

A note on reporting methods: Nearly all of the allegations below are based on confidential sources who have asked not to be named. Despite de Ruiter's assurance in a September 12 note to faculty, staff, and graduate students that "We will never retaliate against you," few members of the anthropology department--including former members--are comforted by that promise. Nevertheless, I am aware of the identities of all of the sources used to make the statements below. A few sources approached me anonymously, that is, without revealing their identities; I only used the information they offered as leads for further reporting, and never, anywhere in this report, as primary source information. But the reluctance of sources to publicly reveal themselves is testament to the fears that have allowed the abuses to go for years without being properly adjudicated. In what follows, I have gone into detail about allegations only to the extent that it will not identify specific sources; in other cases, which are more sensitive, I have given the gist of the allegations without details. But the details are there, and they are damning.

The 2015 sexual harassment survey: What did anthro department leaders know and when?

In early 2015, the anthropology department, along with TAMU's ADVANCE Center for Women Faculty, invited University of Illinois anthropologist and #MeTooSTEM researcher Kate Clancy to speak on campus. Clancy was already well known as the lead author of a groundbreaking 2014 study that had found high levels of sexual misconduct in field research situations, such as in anthropology, archaeology, and paleontology. The talk was originally supposed to have taken place on March 3 of that year, but weather conditions prevented Clancy from flying to Texas. Her talk took place later that year, in September.

But in preparation for Clancy's visit, department leaders, including then department chair Cynthia Werner and graduate studies director Lori Wright, prepared an anonymous survey to measure the experiences of students in the department. According to sources in the department, the exact results of the survey were never shared with faculty and students, although some recall terms such as "shocking" and "alarming" being used to describe it. And on April 13, Lori Wright hosted a noon "brown bag" discussion of the survey with the grad students. "Come hear what you and your colleagues said about our department climate and help us to brainstorm about solutions," Wright wrote the students in an email. Also, reportedly, when Clancy did come to speak, there was a subsequent discussion of the survey. As a former student who was present recalls, "The session was super awkward... and just brought up all kinds of divisions in the department with no real resolution."

I have obtained a copy of the actual numerical results of the survey. Some highlights:

--The participants numbered 103, of which 76 were female and 26 were male (one person declined to state their gender.)
--Twenty-eight were undergraduates, 43 were graduate students, 21 were faculty, seven were staff, and four declined to answer.
--While 77 respondents answered that they had "never" experienced sexual harassment in the TAMU anthropology department or by department members, 22 responded that they had "occasionally" had such experiences (only 99 responded to this question.)
--On the other hand, 48 respondents stated that they had "occasionally" witnessed or been made aware of sexual harassment in the department or by department members, while 51 said they had "never" witnessed such conduct.
--In answer to the question whether they thought sexual harassment "is taken seriously" in the anthropology department, 53 said yes, 17 said no, and 26 had no opinion.

I think that by any measure, the results of the survey indicated a significant problem with sexual harassment in the anthropology department, of which department leaders (having the numerical results in hand) would have been well aware. But as detailed below, they, and the university administration, continued to overlook issues and deflect complaints.

Sexual harassment: Wayne Smith and Bruce Dickson.

Wayne Smith, who is a nautical archaeologist, and Bruce Dickson, a prehistorian, have been notorious among students in the anthropology department for many years. Even though both are emeritus, they continue to have access to students and, reportedly, to harass them given the opportunity. Graduate students in the department have been warning incoming students about both of them for years. Typical behavior includes making open comments on the breasts of women in the department and leering and women's chests.

Many department faculty, including department chairs, have been made aware of this behavior repeatedly but chosen to do nothing. In some cases, faculty have argued that since both men are emeritus, there is no longer a problem, even though both continue to come into the department. Moreover, in some cases, Dickson in particular has mercilessly harassed female members of the department, and this behavior was reported to the department chair and to the Dean of Faculties. As far as colleagues in the department are aware, this led to no more than a warning.

One student, who took a class from Dickson in 2014, recalls three disturbing incidents. On one occasion he called a student an "insolent little shit;" on another, he asked a female student to do a demonstration in front of the class about how invading another's personal space makes them uncomfortable; and on yet another occasion, he told the class that he had several complaints on record against him for inappropriate behavior towards female students and suggested that women were ruining the field of archaeology by complaining.

"The department consistently protected Bruce Dickson, who openly displayed racist and sexist behavior," says one colleague. "He behaved inappropriately in very subtle ways towards female students" and "openly made racist and sexist comments in meetings." According to several sources, the graduate studies director, Lori Wright, and the former department chair, Cynthia Werner, refused or failed to do anything in the face of complaints. The various deans who were made aware of Dickson's behavior, including the Dean of Faculties, likewise failed to take action, sources say.

Wayne Smith has been accused by multiple students of similar behavior, along with visibly having pornography on his computer. "Wayne kept hundreds of pictures of nude young girls on his university computer," says one former student who has seen them personally. Although I am confident of the facts concerning him, to protect current and former students I will have to withhold details at this time because they would tend to identify sources.

Filipe Castro: Extreme sexism, harassment, unethical behavior.

Filipe Castro, a maritime archaeologist at TAMU, is accused by multiple colleagues of some of the most blatantly sexist behavior I have seen in a university professor. Sources say that Castro would make crude anti-Semitic jokes during his lectures, along with sexist remarks. He told some male students that he only hires "hot girls" as research assistants. On another occasion, he declared that "American girls are extremely dumb and only good for blowjobs."

Castro also directed his sexism directly at female students in the department, reportedly telling them that it was a "man's world" and they should just accept it. He often attempted to intimidate, humiliate, and demean female students; his behavior was an open secret in the department.

Multiple sources also attest that Castro attempted on several occasions to appropriate the work of students for his own purposes and credit. He was also extremely abusive to students under his tutelage, especially women. I cannot say more about this, to protect sources, but this behavior has been described to me in detail and there is no ambiguity about its extremely unethical nature.

As in almost all the cases described in this post, department leaders, including the department chair, were aware of this abusive behavior but Castro was apparently never sanctioned for it. Says one former student: "Instead of protecting us and punishing illegal behavior, they made him a full professor." And former students who had to endure abuse from Castro say they don't trust the university to do anything about it now; they still fear retaliation even though they have left TAMU. "It is still very painful, and I am still afraid," a former student says.

I don't know how many dozens of times I have heard similar statements from former graduate students from university departments all over the world.

Stalking and threatening behavior by graduate student Debraj Sarkar, lack of action.

Debraj Sarkar is a graduate student in the anthropology department who was originally supervised by faculty member Sheela Athreya. During the fall of 2018, Sarkar developed romantic feelings towards a fellow student that were not reciprocated. He began to engage in behavior that several members of the department, including Athreya, then department chair Cynthia Werner, and graduate studies director Lori Wright considered troubling and inappropriate. The behavior consisted of what under Title IX rules would normally constitute stalking and harassment. At one point, Sarkar even went to the advisor of the student he was interested in to discuss his chances with her, which was deeply upsetting to his victim when she found out about it. On another occasion, Sarkar threatened violence against a fellow student and the police were called.

At first Werner and Wright, as department leaders, appeared to try to manage the situation. But they were reportedly slow to recognize the seriousness of the misconduct, which only continued.

Sarkar was warned again by faculty to stay away from the student, and eventually the Dean of Student Life was informed and Sarkar was required to make an appointment to see the dean. According to sources, even though his advisor, in his annual evaluation, told him he should leave the program, Sarkar was allowed to re-enroll by Lori Wright and Cynthia Werner despite his misconduct. Although Wright sent out a number of emails to graduate students saying Debraj should be reported if he was spotted in the graduate student suite of offices, he reportedly violated that restriction as well, on more than one occasion. So far nothing has been done to remove Sarkar from the department and he is now reportedly running for a graduate student office.

Unethical behavior and bullying: Sharon Gursky and Michael Alvard

Sharon Gursky is a researcher in primate behavior and ecology, and was formerly married to Michael Alvard, an anthropologist whose work focuses on human culture and biology.

Gursky stands accused of some of the most egregious conduct I have reported on outside of sexual assault and harassment. In two cases for which I have been given documented evidence, Gursky either misappropriated or stole outright the research ideas of her students for her own use. In one case, sources and documents attest, she used the dissertation project of one of her students to get grant funding from the university. In another, she used the research of a student for a poster session at a meeting without permission.

Gursky is also a celebrated bully in the department. Her abuses include publicly mocking a student with an eating disorder, publicly discussing the academic struggles of a student in front of others (a possible violation of federal privacy laws), publicly shouting at and attempting to humiliate students, and forcing students to take her classes unnecessarily so they would have sufficient enrollment. Once again, department leaders were fully aware of this behavior but have done nothing effective about it.

Michael Alvard was in the center of a celebrated incident in the department in the spring of 2017. As part of his Culture Method and Theory class (ANTH604-600), Alvard required students to participate as subjects in an experiment that was part of his own research. The study, called "A Naturalistic Study of Norm Conformity and Enforcement," required some students to wear hats in the university's Memorial Student Center, behavior which is severely frowned upon at TAMU. Some subjects objected to participating in the study at the beginning of the semester, arguing that it violated the university's (and universal) policies against forced human participation in research (which must be approved by an Institutional Review Board, IRB.) Indeed, Alvard's syllabus for the class required all students to agree to participate in the study to get class credit for it.

When students objected, Alvard sent out a couple of threatening emails in an apparent effort to gain compliance. One, dated January 25, 2017, was directed at a student who had apparently objected somewhat vociferously. "Per rule 2.1 of the [TAMU] rules," Alvard wrote, "I have the authority to remove you from my class and I will do so if the behavior continues...Demanding that I modify the course work for all students to meet your needs is not appropriate."

Later that same day, upon realizing that the objections were widespread, Alvard wrote to the entire class: "Intellectual give and take is great, but I demand civility in my classroom. If you cannot behave in a manner that allows teaching and learning to happen, I will remove you from the class." However, Alvard offered students who "have a moral or ethical position that precludes you from wearing a hat in the MSC" an alternative assignment, albeit one that took more than ten times as much time.

The episode resulted in the convening of a committee composed department members to adjudicate the matter, which met on February 13, 2017. The committee recommended that the requirement to wear a hat in the MSC should be removed from the syllabus; that Alvard did not have proper IRB approval to use students as active participants; that Alvard had engaged in "an inappropriate use of the power of a professor;" that Alvard had set a "hostile tone" in his class and that he needed to apologize to the students.

Alvard refused to apologize, and in a very recent email to the department (written after I first named him in my reporting) he attempted to defend himself. See this earlier blog post for his comments.

Update: A former member of the department, upon reading this, comments:

I was seriously appalled at the information about Michael Alvard's class assignment about wearing hats in the Memorial Student Center.  The "rule" against wearing hats is in honor of all Aggies who have served in the US military, and the tower at the MSC is called Rudder Tower, after Earl Rudder, who led one of the main assaults on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  Texas A&M has a lot of unusual traditions and rules that they perhaps take a bit too seriously, but no way should a faculty member ever ask a student to dishonor US military service people.

The department chair, Darryl de Ruiter, was accused of sexual harassment by a former grad student. He was found guilty of "behavior unbecoming of a faculty member" in a Title IX procedure last year.

On June 25, 2018, then then Dean of Faculties and Associate Provost, John August, published his decision on a Title IX complaint brought against Darryl de Ruiter by a former graduate student at another institution. I and others have known about these and other allegations of sexual harassment and bullying for some time, but am only able to report on them now.

De Ruiter is a paleoanthropologist who has worked in South Africa for many years. He is a prominent member of the Rising Star team which has uncovered a large number of hominin remains from a cave in South Africa in recent years. In the summer of 2010, a graduate student went to work at a field site in South Africa where de Ruiter had an important leadership role. In her complaint to TAMU, the former student described how she had been repeatedly harassed by de Ruiter during her time there, both by straight out bullying and harassment that took an openly sexual content. When other researchers were around, the student told TAMU, the harassment would sometimes stop, but would pick up again as soon as they left.

One one occasion, the survivor says, the research team was going to a party and she told de Ruiter that she had nothing appropriate to wear. "You could go topless," de Ruiter allegedly told her. On another occasion, she says, de Ruiter spent ten minutes graphically describing Japanese torture pornography to her and another student.

The student confided in a small number of colleagues, some of whom have told me that they were also aware of harassment by de Ruiter. Among her confidantes were a very senior, well respected anthropologist, who told me: "I can say with absolute confidence that I believed ______ when she told me about the bullying, and I believe her now."

In spring of 2018, tired of having to keep her story to herself, the now former student filed at Title IX complaint at TAMU. In his decision of June 25, 2018, August, despite clear evidence of sexual harassment and several corroborating witnesses, ruled that "the overall allegation of sexual harassment brought by the Complainant against the Respondent is unsubstantiated. However, in light of the testimony of the witnesses and conclusion of the [Investigative Authority], it appears that the Respondent 's behavior towards the students was out of context and unprofessional." (Note that the investigators heard evidence of harassment from other students as well.)

August concluded that de Ruiter was guilty of "behavior unbecoming a faculty member," in violation of university rules. His sanctions were being referred to "professional training" for a minimum of five hours and to be "monitored for a period of one year from the date the sanctions become final." De Ruiter was also required to meet with the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts every three months to monitor progress.

Despite this clear evidence of misconduct, de Ruiter has continued as department chair. Moreover, it appears that he has misled some colleagues, at TAMU and elsewhere, about the outcome of this Title IX case.

There will be much more to report about the situation in the anthropology department as things unfold in the coming days and weeks. For example, de Ruiter has called a faculty meeting for September 30 to discuss the climate in the department and how it can be improved. Is he the right one to do it? Is there anyone currently at TAMU willing and able to put a stop to the kind of sexual misconduct, bullying, and unethical behavior that has made students and many faculty members miserable for years? Time will tell.

Update Sept 22: It turns out that when the anthropology department voted last March to make Darryl de Ruiter chair as of this July, the faculty were not told that he was still, at that time, under monitoring from the Title IX case. It appears that his predecessor, Cynthia Werner, did know. Why was this information withheld from the department, given its potential to cause embarrassment (let alone the more important moral and ethical issues)? The deans certainly must have known, and yet they apparently signed off on it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Texas A&M has known about sexual harassment and bullying in its anthropology department for years. Will it exercise its duty of care to vulnerable students and staff now that the problem is public?

Over the past few days, I have reported on social media a number of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the Texas A & M University (TAMU) anthropology department, based on multiple direct and highly credible sources. I will publish a more complete report soon, but in the Tweets I have sent about this I have named emeritus professors Bruce Dickson and Wayne Smith in connection with serial sexual harassment, and current faculty member Sharon Gursky in connection with bullying and unethical behavior. I expect to name others as well.

This matter has attracted a lot of attention, especially of course at TAMU. As some sources put it to me, the university so far has been "circling the wagons" about the accusations, including the current anthropology chair, Darryl De Ruiter.  In meetings with both faculty and students, De Ruiter sought to downplay the situation in a "nothing to see here manner," according to sources.

In the meantime, today I received an email from a case manager at TAMU's civil rights and equity investigations department. Her email, and my response, are reproduced below. As you can see from my response, the university--or at least, certainly, the anthropology department--have been aware of the sexual harassment problem for some time now.

Good afternoon Mr. Balter,

My name is Gretchen Philipp. I am a Case Manager for the Department of Civil Rights & Equity Investigations for Texas A& M. I have been informed of the posts you have made on Twitter regarding allegations against faculty members in the Department of Anthropology.

I would like to meet with you to discuss these allegations and identify any potential complainants who have discussed the allegations with you. You may bring someone with you as an advisor if you would like. An advisor can be anyone, such as a family member, friend, mentor, or even an attorney. Our only request is that your advisor not be a potential witness or another party.

I am available to connect with you over the phone or in person. Please let me know what your availability is for this week and the next at your earliest convenience.  

Gretchen R. Philipp | Case Manager
Department of Civil Rights and Equity Investigations (CREI)
Texas A&M University | Medical Sciences Library, Suite 007
1268 TAMU | College Station, TX 77843-1268
ph: 979.458.8189 |
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My response:

Dear Ms. Philipp,

Thank you for your email.

I'm afraid that I cannot follow your suggestion that I help you identify complainants against individuals in the TAMU anthropology department. My sources for these allegations are colleagues who wish to remain anonymous because they live in fear of retaliation if they speak out about the abuses they have suffered. It would be entirely unethical for me as a journalist to break faith with their wishes in this matter.

I also find it odd that you suggest I bring an "advisor" to any discussion we might have, including possibly a lawyer. There seems to be an implication that I am somehow subject to a process or procedure by the university, or that I am subject to its jurisdiction in some way. I most certainly am not. Rather, I am a reporter investigating the matter according to the dictates of my profession.

I might, however, be able to be helpful in a more general way. Your email reads as if the university is just now becoming aware of harassment and bullying in the anthropology department. But in fact leaders of that department have been aware of such problems for a number of years.

For example, in early 2015, the anthropology department invited anthropologist Kate Clancy of the University of Illinois, a noted researcher and advocate in the #MeTooSTEM area, to give a talk about her work. Although the visit was ultimately delayed until later in the year, in preparation for it, an anonymous survey was conducted of everyone in the department to see what levels of sexual harassment existed. The then department chair, Cynthia Werner, along with Lori Wright, who is still head of graduate studies, were directly involved in this.

It turned out that the level of harassment reported in the survey was so high that it came as an apparent surprise to department leaders. Terms such as "shocking" and "alarming" were used at the time to describe the findings. However, the exact findings were never reported to faculty, staff, and students, for reasons that are not at all clear.

I am told that in meetings with faculty and students yesterday, the current department chair, Darryl De Ruiter, minimized the allegations that I have reported. This hardly seems in the spirit of taking the matter seriously, but rather appears to prejudge the situation entirely--even before you have had a chance to carry out your own investigation.

It is no surprise that colleagues in anthropology department live in fear of retaliation. Nevertheless, an increasing number of them have overcome those fears to talk to a reporter. I hope that you will see that TAMU's best interests, and certainly those of its students, faculty, and staff, lie in demonstrating that the university really is serious about ferreting out misconduct.

Best regards,

Michael Balter

In addition to the survey I mention above, while the department was waiting for Kate Clancy to visit, the following event took place. It provides proof positive that the department and its leadership have been fully aware that there is a serious problem of sexual harassment for some years. Whether or not the department, and the university administration, will exercise its duty of care for vulnerable students and staff remains to be seen.

From: Lori Wright
Date: Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 10:39 AM
Subject: Freebirds at Noon --Anth 237--come and get it!

Today's brown bag will be a healthy (if calorie laden) discussion about the results of the 2015 departmental survey on sexual harassment.
Come hear what you and your colleagues said about our departmental climate and help us to brainstorm about solutions.  
Despite the image below, this will not be a finger pointing session!  We all have a roll to play in shaping our departmental culture and climate.  

Also don't hesitate to come in late if we have already started when you arrive! 

Lori Wright, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology,
Cornerstone Faculty Fellow in Liberal Arts,
Texas A&M University,
College Station, TX 77843-4352

Update Sept 15

On September 12, the following note was sent to faculty and staff by the anthropology chair, Darryl de Ruiter. A similar note was sent to graduate students. I will be publishing a fuller report on the allegations against anthropology faculty in the coming days. I will note for now, however, that I currently have 17 sources attesting to the history of misconduct in the department, consisting of both current and former department colleagues. They are afraid to be identified precisely because they fear the retaliation that department leaders are assuring them will not happen.  Can these promises be kept, when the accused researchers are still on the faculty (or have emeritus status) and still have the power to make or break careers of younger colleagues?

Department of Anthropology

Sent on behalf of Darryl de Ruiter, Professor and Department Head
Dear Anthropology Faculty and Staff:

We wanted to provide you with more information concerning public allegations of bullying and sexual harassment that have been posted on Twitter from the journalist Michael Balter. We discussed this in our faculty meeting on Monday, but we wanted to make sure everyone is aware of the situation and to update everyone on the process.

Last week, we were first made aware of tweets by Mr. Balter alleging harassment in the Anthropology department. Subsequent tweets and a blog post included specific allegations of bullying and unethical behavior by Dr. Sharon Gursky, as well as sexual harassment by retired, emeritus professors Dr. Bruce Dickson and Dr. Wayne Smith. They also included allegations that Drs. Cynthia Werner and Lori Wright protected Dr. Dickson. Most recently, Mr. Balter has alleged unethical behavior on the part of Dr. Mike Alvard. Finally, Mr. Balter has alleged that Dr. Darryl de Ruiter has been dismissive of the current situation and that university officials have launched an intimidation campaign against witnesses.

We want to reiterate that this has been, and continues to be, taken very seriously. Reports have been filed with the Title IX Office and the Dean of Faculties Office as per University policy in accordance with Texas law. In this process, we have been guided by the University policy that was put in place specifically to address such issues (a policy which was revamped and strengthened last year). These offices are charged with investigating allegations, and are currently in the process of doing so. Any allegations that were made in the past were similarly forwarded to the appropriate university offices, where they were investigated and adjudicated by those offices.

We want to emphasize in the strongest terms possible that it is entirely your decision if or how you wish to engage with Mr. Balter, or anyone else, about these allegations. We will never retaliate against you. We will do everything in our power to protect you from intimidation and/or retaliation from anywhere within the university community. Of foremost importance in this matter is that you feel safe and protected in a healthy environment, and that you feel safe to bring reports of any misconduct or climate problems to whomever you wish.

We have also attached a Statement on Harassment, providing information on your rights, university policies, and individuals to whom you can report problems. We will be sure to keep you more informed of the process going forward. Please feel safe in reaching out to any of us for further clarification. 

We have reached out to the Title IX Office, and they have indicated that they would be willing to speak with us as a department if we would like as we are working to coordinate this right now.

Yours sincerely, 
Darryl de Ruiter 
Department Head 

Lori Wright
Director of Graduate Studies 

Jeff Winking 
Associate Director of Graduate Studies 

Heather Thakar 
Chair of the Climate and Inclusion Committee

Cynthia Werner, 
Director of ADVANCE

A bit later the same day, Sept 12, department faculty member Michael Alvard sent the following note to department colleagues about allegations I reported on social media that he had engaged in unethical practices. The allegations concern his requiring students in a class he taught to be subjects in a research project he directed, which on the face of it violates ethical norms for human experimentation. I will include the details of this affair in the report I am preparing--and I stand by my reporting on what happened--but this gives Alvard a chance to air his views for the time being.

 Dear Anthropology Faculty, Staff, and others

Just a short note concerning the Balter affair. As Darryl, Lori, Jeff, Heather and Cynthia mention in their letter below, Balter has now reported on allegations of unethical behavior on my part concerning an incident that occurred in ANTH604 in SPR17.  Since much of the information he reports is inaccurate, I encourage each of you to come to discuss the matter with me.  

One of the reasons there is misinformation is because of the way the matter was mishandled by the department. Werner asked the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to investigate and adjudicate the complaint; the committee indeed concluded that I should apologize; I did not. Whoever is feeding information to Balter failed to mention to him that the committee never asked me what happened.  The committee did not allow me to respond to the complaints. There was no due process; it was done in secret and I knew little about the issue until frog marched into Werner’s office, told that there had been a complaint and a verdict.  The bylaws say the “Results of the (Climate and Inclusion) Committee’s deliberations are normally presented to the Faculty at Departmental Faculty Meetings for further discussion, debate, and decision.”  That did not happen; the bulk of the faculty were kept in the dark.  One result is  that Balter is now spreading misinformation and half-truths, and my reputation (such that it is 😊) is besmirched.  The process was not transparent.  I absolutely did have Texas A&M IRB approval for the research.  In terms of what happened in the classroom, I followed Rule 21

I note that students absolutely have the right to bring issues of perceived unethical behavior to the attention of University without fear of retaliation. I want to stress this point. ANTH604 was designed to take students outside their comfort zone and if students felt that ethical standards were breached in the process they were entitled to complain.   The process, however, should be transparent and fair. In my case, it was not.

I encourage each of you to  speak to me about the matter in more detail.

Michael Alvard, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843

Update Sept 18: Another exchange between Gretchen Philipps of the TAMU civil rights/equity office and myself.

Sept 17

Dear Mr. Balter,

Thank you for your prompt response. I understand your dedication to maintaining the anonymity of your sources.  We asked for the names of your sources because we would like to offer supportive resources to any persons affected by discrimination or harassment.  We would also like to invite people to file a formal complaint with the Civil Rights and Equity Investigations office if they desire to do so.  Should any of your sources wish to speak with us, please give them our contact information.  We would also request that you share the attached Rights, Resources, and Options (RRO) document with any interested sources. 

When the University becomes aware that someone may have information about discrimination or harassment, our process is to reach out and invite that person to tell us more.  As you are neither an employee nor a student at Texas A&M, you are not required to participate in our process and you are not subject to our jurisdiction.  We advised you of your right to bring an Advisor to any meetings with us because we notify all Complainants and Respondents of their right to an Advisor.   The Advisor’s primary role is to support and guide the party, but not to actively participate in the investigation and resolution process.  Since our policy allows the party to pick their own advisor -- including a friend, family member, or attorney-- we specifically point out that right to avoid confusion  

Thank you for the information about the survey.  If you have any other information about a specific instance of sexual harassment, please let me know.


Gretchen R. Philipp | Case Manager
Department of Civil Rights and Equity Investigations (CREI)
Texas A&M University | Medical Sciences Library, Suite 007
1268 TAMU | College Station, TX 77843-1268
ph: 979.458.8189 |
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My response Sept 18:

Dear Ms. Philipp,

Thank you for your latest email.

As I explained to you previously, victims of misconduct are very reluctant to make complaints because they have no faith in the process. In some cases they have made valid complaints before and the administration found in favor of the abuser; and they have little trust in senior members of their department, because complaints raised internally (eg against Bruce Dickson and Wayne Smith) were dismissed out of hand by senior faculty who told them just to put up with the behavior (eg in the case of emeritus professors who would "soon be gone.")

So your process is missing the big picture, which is that some faculty in anthropology and I am sure other departments at TAMU are actively protecting abusers and taking their side against the students. This is a cultural issue which cannot be solved by requiring individual, and very vulnerable, students to put themselves forward and participate in a process they feel is stacked against them. The burden is on the university, and not those individual students, to change things.

Under these circumstances, I cannot in good conscience encourage victims of abuse to go through your process. Rather, in many cases, they have decided to approach a reporter and use the power of publicity to foster changes that the university is solely responsible for making.

Best regards,