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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Is the Texas Tech administration lying to the public, or is the leadership of its biology department--under fire for a culture of sexism and sexual harassment--lying to the administration?

Texas Tech University, Lubbock
As regular readers of this blog know, on October 24 I published a lengthy investigative piece in The Verge that traced a trail of sexual harassment from Texas Tech University to the Smithsonian Institution. The trail began in TTU's biology department, where, according to numerous present and former department members, a culture of sexism had reigned for decades. The article included some video excerpts of the department chair, Ron Chesser, making some pretty incredibly sexist remarks during a retirement party last year for mammalogist Robert Baker.
TTU's communications chief, Chris Cook, confirmed for the article that Chesser had been made to step down as department chair on an interim basis while an investigation was conducted. This action is confirmed in the memos I reproduce below. Chesser also issued an apology to the department for his remarks at the party, although some researchers found it wanting.
Today I am told by department members that Chesser is, in fact, still acting as chair of the department, occupying the same chairman's office and issuing memos signed with his name and title. I queried Chris Cook about this, who said that he did not know about it and that he had alerted the "appropriate" administrator or administrators. The latter supposedly took action, although Cook did not know what action. The department members sent me several emails signed in this way by Chesser in just the past days. I will not bore readers with the details of the memos  Chesser signed, as they are of little general interest, but I am cutting and pasting the signature he used here:
*Dr. Ronald K. Chesser*
Chairman & Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, Texas 79409-3131

Also today, I received a message from a Vice-Chancellor at the university, John Huffaker, asking me to encourage my sources for the story to talk to the administration for the investigation. I am also reproducing this message below, with Mr. Huffaker's permission. As I explained to both Chris Cook and Mr. Huffaker, it would be difficult for department members to trust the administration with their identities and their stories given this clear evidence that Chesser is still the head of the department and that the investigation could be a sham. However, if anyone cares to do so, you now have the contact details for him.
Is someone lying here? Is the administration lying to me about making Chesser step down, or is the department leadership (and possibly a dean) misleading the administration into thinking that Chesser had stepped down when he had not? Several members of the biology department have concluded that the investigation is just a sham. I hope they are wrong, or that TTU will get serious about this.

John Huffaker to Michael Balter today
In your recent article, “From Texas to the Smithsonian, …” you refer to comments attributed to former students, and, in one instance, a current student, which comments tend to confirm concerns regarding the Texas Tech Biology department.  After inquiry, our office has not been able to locate any complaints made on this subject  in the several years for which records are available.  While we recognize that your sources may wish to maintain confidentiality, would you consider contacting these individuals to determine if they would be willing to speak to representatives of my office?  It would aid our efforts in this inquiry.


John Huffaker
Vice Chancellor & General Counsel
Texas Tech University System
P.O. Box 42021
Lubbock, TX  79409
(806) 742-2155 (Phone)


First memo concerning the department chair

To:       Faculty and Staff in Biological Sciences
From: W Brent Lindquist, Dean
Re:      Temporary change in department leadership
Date:  October 5, 2016

Prof. John Zak will be assuming the duties of chair of Biological Sciences
effective Oct 6, 2016 for a temporary period of time.

Please address questions regarding this temporary change to Dr. Zak.


W. Brent Lindquist
Dean, Arts and Sciences
Professor, Mathematics and Statistics
Professor, Geosciences
Texas Tech University

Second memo concerning the department chair
October 6, 2016
To all members of the Department of Biological Sciences

Gang,
As indicated in the memo from the Dean yesterday afternoon, I will be temporarily assuming the duties of Chair of Biological Sciences as of Thursday, October 6th. This temporary change in the department has been implemented to help facilitate an internal investigation by the University with regards to the enquiries and acquisitions made by a reporter from The Verge against our department. The change is to help facilitate the process, and provide transparency; nothing more. 
I will be over primarily in the afternoons for a couple of hours to deal with departmental issues and to take care of our collective business as a department. We will continue with all of our on-going activities and weekly events as planned. I will keep you updated as I learn more about the process over the next week.
I would also ask that you refer all external questions concerning any aspect of previous events or enquires from the media to Chris Cook (Managing Director for Communications). Please copy me on all e-mails to Chris. 
If you have any questions or other issues you need to discuss, our department has always had an open door policy and a willingness to listen to each other. Please stop in to talk as I am available during the day or after 5:00 in the Dean’s Office
We have a great department because we do try to help and support each other. We will continue to do so every day during this process.
Thanks much,
John

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John Zak

Update: Meanwhile, mammalogist Miguel Pinto, who came straight out of Robert Baker's lab and the apparent seething sexism of some corners of the TTU biology department, has been banned from the Smithsonian for a pattern of sexual harassment that began in Lubbock and ended (hopefully) in Washington, DC.

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