Tuesday, October 9, 2018

University of Bath acknowledges ongoing misconduct investigations in its Department of Biology & Biochemistry

University of Bath
In recent weeks I have reported on allegations of bullying and sexual harassment in the University of Bath's Department of Biology & Biochemistry, and specifically on two bullying investigations the university has carried out. Today the university press office has acknowledged that it is carrying out additional investigations in the department. One of them probably involves sexual harassment accusations concerning plant geneticist Rod Scott, because my sources at Bath indicate that the university is keenly aware of those allegations. It is possible that other faculty members are implicated as well. I will continue to report as things develop, but meanwhile here is the university statement conveyed to me today. The two completed investigations refer to Nick Longrich on the bullying counts and Stephanie Diezmann on the bullying and destruction of property counts; as I indicated in my earlier reporting, Bath cleared Diezmann of the destruction charge despite uncontested documentary evidence that she had carried out the alleged acts.

A University of Bath spokesperson said: “We can confirm there have been a number of allegations about behaviours that would breach our ‘Dignity and Respect’ policy involving staff and students in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry.

“We do – and will – take all complaints extremely seriously. It is vital people feel comfortable coming forward and reporting under our Dignity and Respect policy. As part of our planned, organisation-wide #NeverOK campaign, we have launched a reporting tool that enables anyone, staff or student, to disclose information. The tool is confidential and available on our website here. In addition, a range of support services are available to any member of the University community.

“We are committed to ensuring that due process is followed. Our HR procedures ensure people involved are treated reasonably, consistently and fairly. We will support affected staff and students throughout the process.

“In fairness to all parties concerned we are not commenting on the detail of ongoing HR investigations, to allow due process to take place.

“Two, separate HR investigations have now been completed. A formal complaint under our Dignity and Respect policy was upheld and a formal, oral warning has been issued. Another investigation relating to allegations of bullying and destruction of property has been completed and found that there had been no misconduct.

“All staff and students have a right to be treated, and have an obligation to treat others, with dignity and respect. We expect all staff members to support and embody our values, including working responsibly and with respect for others and fostering equality, diversity, inclusivity and accessibility at all times.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

University of Bath's mounting problems: Add sexual harassment to bullying [Updated June 2019]

Rod Scott: Accused of sexual harassment
Something stinks in Bath, and its not coming from the Roman spas that gave this city in Somerset, England its famous name. Rather, the rot is coming from the nearby University of Bath and its Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

Last month I reported on the serious bullying allegations against paleontologist Nick Longrich, a faculty member in the department and a researcher in its brand new Milner Centre for Evolution. After the university upheld the bullying complaints and they became public, the Leverhulme Trust--which had awarded a nearly 1 million pound grant to Longrich--rescinded the award.

More recently, I have learned that department member Stephanie Diezmann, an expert in infectious fungi, is under investigation by the university for bullying and destruction of intellectual property. Diezmann is reportedly in the middle of a move to the University of Bristol, but it is not yet clear whether Bath has informed that institution about the allegations against her. (My queries to both the Bath and Bristol university press offices about this have not yet been answered.)

In a department where faculty bully students, can sexual harassment be far behind? The answer is apparently no. I have now talked to several sources who can document that the university--including its human resources department and the head of the Biology and Biochemistry Department, David Tosh--have been aware for at least three years about allegations of sexual harassment of students against Rod Scott, an expert in the molecular genetics of plant reproduction. (Scott is also a former head of the department.) At least two other male faculty members in the department have also allegedly engaged in harassment or other inappropriate behavior, I am told by multiple sources.

To protect victims and witnesses, I am not providing details of the harassment, although I can assert that the allegations are based on solid, credible information from sources whose identities I know. (These are best described as confidential sources, rather than "anonymous" sources.) The sources also allege that the human resources department at Bath has discouraged victims from filing complaints, in both subtle and overt ways. Finally, and most seriously, there are indications that Scott may have tried to retaliate against victims who decided to make complaints.

There are some signs that the university knows it has a serious problem. After the revelations about Nick Longrich, Bath posted confidential contact information for reporting misconduct on its internal Web site (accessible by students, faculty and staff), and made a show of concern. Yet until the university begins to weed out the abusers by willingly making its investigations public and allowing the guilty to be named and possibly fired, students and staff will continue to live in fear of bullying, harassment, and retaliation.

I welcome comments on this blog post, anonymous or otherwise; anyone who contacts me about this can be assured of complete confidentiality.

Important update 5 October:

Yesterday I was informed by the University of Bath press office that the misconduct charges against Stephanie Diezmann had not been upheld after an investigation and disciplinary proceedings. I am reproducing the university's statement below. However, this conclusion was reached despite the fact that the university is in possession of extensive documentation supporting contentions that Diezmann engaged in bullying of at least one student and that she destroyed a student's intellectual property in an apparent act of retaliation. The circumstances of the latter, well documented allegation are particularly serious and there were multiple witnesses to the event. Diezmann will soon move to the University of Bristol which was also allegedly aware of a history of bullying at the time she was hired.

As of this writing, Diezmann has not responded to my request to tell her side of the story.

To protect sources, I will not be able to provide more details at this time. But I do hope that Bristol takes steps to protect students from bullying once Diezmann takes up her new post later this fall.

This is the university response, sent to me by email:

Here’s our statement re the two questions you asked about Stephanie Diezmann.

A University of Bath spokesperson said: “The University can confirm that an investigation has taken place into alleged misconduct by a member of academic staff. The conclusion of a formal disciplinary hearing was that there had been no misconduct. The member of staff concerned has herself made her future employer aware of the investigation and its outcome.”