Monday, April 15, 2019

SAA officials stonewall as archaeologists and advocates protest failure to protect sexual abuse victims

Oona Schmid
This past week has been a momentous one for the Society for American Archaeology  (SAA) and the worlds of archaeology and anthropology. The organization is facing huge protests from members and others over its failure to protect survivors of a proven sexual predator, David Yesner-an archaeologist who spent his career at the University of Alaska, Anchorage--when he showed up at the SAA meeting in Albuquerque this past week.

Last month, Yesner was found guilty in a Title IX investigation of three decades of sexual abuse of students, including harassment and assault. After the story was broken by Anchorage station KTVA, I began blogging about it as well, because I had been in touch with some of the survivors and their faculty supporters for some time (for several blog posts on this story, see Balter's Blog.)

When Yesner showed up at the meeting in Albuquerque, the survivors at the meeting alerted me and I in turn tried to alert SAA officials of the situation. I made it clear to them that this was an emergency and that Yesner's victims were in distress and unable to attend the sessions they wanted to--which were also sessions that Yesner himself was likely to be interested in. (Yesner moved rapidly around the convention center, from place to place.) In particular, I spoke to SAA communications director Amy Rutledge, who, not to put too fine a point on it, looked at me like I was crazy. It was clear that despite a new anti-harassment policy, over which much fuss was made at the opening session of the meeting, the organization was not prepared to enforce it seriously.

Thus, with the help of the students who acted as spotters, I found Yesner and insistently escorted him out of the building (no violence of any kind or physical action was used.)

That action, and perhaps also my insistence to Amy that SAA had to do something, led to my being expelled from the meeting by executive director Oona Schmid and president-elect Joe Watkins in a telephone call last Friday morning. All this led to a number of consequences, including world-wide social media condemnation, a letter of protest that as I write has more than 1700 signatures, and, very positively, standing room attendance for a #MeToo in Archaeology session in which I had been invited to participate (and which was my main reason for being at the meeting.)

The response by SAA leaders to all of this has been lamer than lame, as hundreds of people have pointed out on social media. A number of people have written directly to Oona Schmid to express their dismay, only to be met with the following canned response (only slightly altered from recipient to recipient. I thank a confidential source for sharing their copy of the letter and allowing me to post it here.

I need to add that contrary to the impression this letter gives, when the survivors filed complaints against his presence at the meeting, they were met with what they characterized as a nearly complete lack of concern, support, and sympathy, and were told--amazingly--that nothing would be done until the meeting was over. Meanwhile, Yesner continued to wander the halls unmolested for at least another two days. Rumors that he was finally ejected from the meeting himself went unconfirmed due to a very misguided policy of "confidentiality," completely inappropriate to the situation.

Meanwhile, the struggle for a safe meeting place, consistent with the spirit of SAA's anti-harassment guidelines, is sure to continue.

Afterthoughts April 16: In the letter below, Oona Schmid expresses how much she supposedly wishes she could say more about her viewpoint on what happened. The implication seems to be that she is restrained form revealing some confidential information that would somehow shed a different light on things. I don't understand what those restraints are. If SAA leaders did eventually bar Yesner from the meeting, there is no reason that should be kept confidential--Yesner has no privacy rights in this situation that should be recognized. As for the three survivors who were at the meeting, they have now all gone public with their perspectives on social media; even so, they do not need to be identified in any new SAA statement. As for me, I waive all privacy rights concerning this episode now and forever: SAA leaders are free to tell me, as I have asked them to do, and everyone else why they banned me from the meeting, in detail.

Dear ____________,

Because of harassment reports that were filed with SAA and following the published policy, I did withdraw multiple meeting registrations at the 84th Annual Meeting. I appreciate that it is excruciating -- and infuriating -- that SAA cannot say more about any particular instances, because the Society needs to protect the confidentiality of all parties.

I worked very hard to follow the anti-harassment policy and did so as quickly as possible after reports were filed. Considering that some of these were received on a weekend and the Society had over 5,300 guests, while resolution was slower than Twitter conversations evolved, the longest it took to resolve any one complaint was 5 hours. In all cases, I handled reports  in the same manner using the same set of steps.

I am sorry that none of us can say more. I hope you believe me when I point out that--more than anyone--I wish I could say more to show how firmly committed to the organization and _all_ its members.

Sincerely, Oona

Oona Schmid
Executive Director
Society for American Archaeology
Direct dial: 202-559-4580

Friday, April 12, 2019

#MeToo reporter kicked out of archaeology meeting for his advocacy for victims

The following letter from the Society of American Archaeology exec dir Oona Schmid, after a very short telephone call with her and president-elect Joe Watkins. I had been invited to participate in a #MeToo in Archaeology panel this Saturday. The situation arose when I raised concerns about the presence at the meeting of David Yesner, found guilty in a Title IX proceeding of sexual misconduct, who is here at the meeting to the great distress of his victims also here.

Dear Mr. Balter,

As we just discussed, I appreciate that you have been trying to reach SAA to discuss your concerns. I would like to set up a telephone call with you to understand your concerns fully and I suggest that Thurs 4/18 is a possible date at my end if you can suggest at time that is convenient for you.

As much as I recognize that you are trying to share your concerns, your calls are not appropriate. Given the nature of this outreach, SAA must withdraw your 2019 conference registration per our Standard of Conduct Policy. I will arrange for you to receive a refund as soon as possible. Please refrain from attending the rest of the conference including your participation in Saturday's session. 

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation and I look forward to hearing more details about your concerns when we talk next week. 

Oona Schmid
Executive Director
Society for American Archaeology
Office: 202-789-8200
Save the Date!
SAA’s 84th Annual Meeting
April 10 – 14, 2019
Albuquerque, NM
SAA's 85th Annual Meeting
April 22 - 26, 2019
Austin, TX

Update today April 12:

A story about these events in The Scientist and the statement below:

Please see the following statement issued today by the Alaska Anthropological Association.
Dear Members of the Alaska Anthropological Association,
The Alaska Anthropological Association serves to build collaborations between researchers and communities, support best practices in the field of anthropology, and foster a culture of respect between professional colleagues and students within a safe and supportive environment. Based on the unethical behavior of Dr. David Yesner while employed at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and in line with a statement issued by UAA on 4/8/19, the Board of Directors for the Alaska Anthropological Association passed a unanimous motion on 4/10/19 to the following actions regarding Dr. Yesner:
1) The Professional Achievement Award presented by the Alaska Anthropological Association in 2014 is hereby revoked.
2) Membership in the Alaska Anthropological Association is prohibited.
3) Participation in the Annual Meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association and/or any events or activities sponsored or hosted by the Alaska Anthropological Association is prohibited.
Alaska Anthropological Association Board of Directors
Amy Phillips-Chan, President
Morgan Blanchard, Vice-President
Joshua Lynch, Secretary
Phoebe Gilbert, Awards and Scholarships
Sam Coffman, Publications
Britteny Howell, External Affairs

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Why is accused sexual predator David Lordkipanidze of Dmanisi fame on the Scientific Advisory Board of a leading human evolution institute in Tarragona, Spain?

David Lordkipanidze/Wikimedia Commons
Last year I reported on my six-month investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against David Lordkipanidze, director general of the Georgian National Museum and director of the excavations at Dmanisi, a famous hominin site. Those allegations have led to a widespread shunning of Lordkipanidze by the paleoanthropology community and beyond, and his invitations to speak at conferences and other events have begun drying up.

Thus I was surprised to learn in the past several days that Lordkipanidze is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the IPHES, a leading human evolution research institute in Tarragona, Spain. As the allegations concerning him are very widely known in the anthropology community, and Spanish researchers have an important presence in the Dmanisi project (including some members of IPHES) I assume that they must know about them too.

I have written to IPHES director, Robert Sala Ramos, asking why Lordkipanidze is on the board, but so far have not received a response (I have also written privately to other IPHES members I know personally, and hoping they will weigh in as well.)

As should be obvious from my report on the allegations, the evidence for them is solid. Indeed, Lordkipanidze's attorney, famed defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood, has not taken any action concerning my report despite earlier threats of a lawsuit against The Verge and Vox media, which originally assigned me to investigate. I think there is a simple reason for this: They would lose any lawsuit they might pursue, because in the United States at least the truth is a defense against a defamation action.

I hope that the IPHES will respond to my questions, and that the scientific community will take note of this situation.

University of Alaska, Anchorage police issue campus-wide alert against accused sexual predator David Yesner, former archaeologist at the university

I reported earlier about the Title IX investigation against former University of Alaska, Anchorage archaeologist David Yesner, who was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual misconduct and banned from campus. The university police have now issued a campus-wide alert against Yesner and asked the university community to report him immediately if spotted. Perhaps this is a good example of how all institutions should deal with sexual predators?

Here is the announcement:

From: UAA Community <>
Date: April 8, 2019 at 4:41:58 PM AKDT
To: "" <>
Subject: From the University Police Department Trespassed Subject
Reply-To: <>
From:   UAA Police Department

TO:     UAA Community

Re:     Dr. David Yesner - Participation Ban and Trespass from Campus

Dr. David Yesner has been banned and trespassed from all property owned, controlled, or used by the University of Alaska, including but not limited to UAA campuses. If you see him or become aware of his presence in any such location please inform the UA person in charge of that location and contact the UAA Police Department at 907-786-1120 or other law enforcement personnel without delay. UA location managers should inform Dr. Yesner that police have been contacted and direct him to leave the premises.

In addition, Dr. Yesner is banned from participation, affiliation or association of any kind with the University of Alaska, including public or private events or activities sponsored or hosted by UA or by third party UA affiliates, whether or not on UA property. If you learn of Dr. Yesner's participation in any such event or activity, please inform event personnel and contact the UAA Provost's office at 907-786-1494.

Dr. Yesner’s photo is attached

Thank you.
Interim Chief of Police Beckner

You are receiving this email as a member of the University of Alaska Anchorage Community. This email was sent to your University provided email address.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

University of Alaska, Anchorage Chancellor Upholds #MeToo Charges Against Archaeologist David Yesner and Bans Him From the University of Alaska System

David Yesner
On April 1, the Chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Cathy Sandeen, issued her final decision on the Title IX investigation of archaeologist David Yesner. According to the investigation, students at UAA had suffered decades of harassment (and in at least one case, assault) at the hands of Yesner. From time to time the students made efforts to report the abuse, but were discouraged from taking it any further.

Until, that is, Yesner retired from UAA and requested emeritus status. That was the final straw for nine students, who filed a series of complaints and asked that the emeritus request be denied. The university administration was reportedly slow to act at first, but that seems to have changed once Sandeen became Chancellor. Students and faculty credit her with taking decisive action once the facts were clear.

Yesner declined to participate in the investigation or defend himself, and he has not appealed the findings of guilty as charged. In a letter dated April 1, Sandeen detailed her decision, which includes a total ban for Yesner from all University of Alaska property and activity (see below.)

I am in possession of the letter. Although the names of the nine victims/survivors are redacted, I am only going to excerpt the key parts below so there is reduced possibility that they might be identified.

The letter begins with a SUMMARY OF FINDINGS. Yesner was found guilty of four counts of "sex discrimination and sexual harassment" against eight victims, and "sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault" against a ninth woman. In addition, Yesner's "conduct in its totality was sufficiently severe, pervasive, and persistent and was both subjectively and objectively offensive as to deny or limit the female students' and staffs' ability to perform their jobs or engage in university programs."

Yesner was also found guilty of possessing exploitative photos of female students, and violated university regulations against possessing "obscene material" on his university computer (pornographic photos and videos.)

In all, Sandeen upheld eight counts of misconduct against Yesner.

In the section marked SANCTIONS, Sandeen outlines what sources at UAA tell me are the maximum penalties that she was allowed to impose. These include a permanent ban from "all property owned, controlled, or used by the University of Alaska System" and from "programs or activities of any kind." In bold face, Sandeen states: "Appearance in any such locations may result in arrest and prosecution for criminal trespass..." and that this ban will be circulated to the University of Alaska community.

In a subsequent section, Sandeen bans Yesner from any kind of association with the University of Alaska, including programs or activities conducted by third parties in which university students are involved, including, of course, any anthropological digs.

Speaking for myself, as a reporter who has followed this case for many months, I hope this severe punishment will serve as a warning to any other academics inclined to abuse or harass their students. The days when such conduct will be tolerated are thankfully nearing an end, thanks to the brave students and faculty who blew the whistle on Yesner after so many years of predatory misconduct.

Addendum: Although the university itself declined to provide me a copy of this letter, citing Title IX confidentiality restrictions, it did provide me with the following additional information:

"At this time, the university is conducting a supplemental investigation to pin down the details of past reports, and will hold employees accountable if they failed to take appropriate action. In addition, Chancellor Sandeen has asked the University of Alaska's Chief Human Resources Officer Keli McGee to focus on how we foster a culture where complaints are welcomed and responded to appropriately."

Friday, March 29, 2019

University of Alaska, Anchorage administration's slow response to #MeToo charges against an archaeology professor [Updated]

Beatrice McDonald Hall, home of UAA anthropology
Earlier this week I reported on a very egregious case of sexual misconduct at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, involving archaeologist David Yesner. The story was broken by Alaska station KTVA, which did an excellent job of laying out the basic facts of the case. These involved decades of sexual harassment and at least one episode of sexual assault by Yesner against students in the UAA anthropology department.

As a result of a Title IX investigation eventually launched by the university, Yesner, who retired in 2017, did not receive the emeritus status he requested.

The findings against Yesner are detailed in a 30 page investigative report, which both the KTVA reporter and I have obtained. In early December 2017, according to the report, some of Yesner's victims, upon learning that he was about to be honored with emeritus status, wrote to the university administration to object. The initial response from the Chancellor, which I have reproduced below (redacted to protect the identity of the students), indicates that he was not inclined at first to revoke the emeritus status, arguing that, in effect, all the ceremonial arrangements for this had already been made.

"He blew us off," one student told me.

However, given that he had already received several letters from victims, the Chancellor hastily arranged a meeting between the students and the provost, the dean, the Title IX coordinator, and the chair of the department. On April 25, 2018, according to the report, Yesner was informed that he had potentially violated university policy. On March 15 of this year, after nearly a year of investigation --stalled by Yesner's highly questionable claim that he had health problems that prevented him from being interviewed (he eventually declined to be interviewed)-- the investigators found Yesner guilty as charged of a number of allegations.

Indeed, one of the chief frustrations of the students and the faculty supporting them was that the university allowed Yesner to delay the judgement against him for so long, even though there was ample evidence that Yesner was still active and attended at least one conference during that time.

The letters below are reproduced here with the permission of the students involved. I also want to acknowledge the heroic role played by some of the anthropology faculty (whom I hope to be able to name soon), who strongly supported the students and stuck by them during the entire Title IX process (and beyond.)

The first letter is to Chancellor Sam Gingerich from three of the students. His response follows.

          December 7, 2017
Office of the Chancellor
3211 Providence Drive, ADM 216
Anchorage, Alaska 99508
Re: Emeritus Announcement
Chancellor Gingerich,
The purpose of this letter is to request that the University of Alaska Anchorage wait on announcing the award of Professor Emeritus to Dr. David Yesner of the Department of Anthropology, until it can be determined that he meets the requirements of the role. While there has not been an official announcement that he has been awarded Emeritus, we have witnessed Dr. Yesner moving the contents of his office into the emeritus space within the Beatrice McDonald Hall. We have also overheard conversations between Dr. Yesner and another emeritus faculty member concerning sharing the space.
The title and rank of Emeritus is said to be bestowed upon professors who promote student success, advance their department, and represent the ideals of the University. We believe that this title should not be awarded to a professor who does not exemplify these characteristics, and ask that you take this under consideration before awarding Emeritus to Dr. Yesner. It has come to our attention that Dr. David Yesner has had Title IX complaints filed against him by colleagues of ours. While we do not know the status of these investigations, we have heard of the incidents from the individuals who filed them. Additionally, complaints have been made to Dean Petraitis in regards to quality of instruction in the classroom.
Importantly, the University of Alaska Anchorage's 2020 initiative identifies the main goal as to "Advance a culture of institutional excellence that inspires and enables student, faculty, and staff success". Also, UAA's Office of Equity and Compliance website states that their mission is ensuring a climate of equity, respect, and safety. "The UAA Office of Equity and Compliance affirms its commitment to a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which educational programs, employment and activities are free of discrimination and harassment". We question if awarding Emeritus to Dr. Yesner reflects the goals and mission of the University of Alaska Anchorage, and respectfully request that a delay of this announcement be considered.
If you have any questions, or would like to discuss further issues, the signatories of this letter are available to meet in person at your convenience.
Response from the Chancellor, December 8:

I have reviewed this email. 

I do want to note that UAA's published procedures and guidelines for review of candidates for emeritus status were followed and the recommendation to award emeritus status that I received showed uniform support throughout the process.  Letters of support from colleagues were included and the file was reviewed by faculty both at the college and at the university level.  Further, this process was completed weeks ago, the Commencement Program has been finalized and the names of those faculty who will be recognized with emeritus status are included.

Third party reports/allegations of Title IX violations that are being raised including by the three of you have been and continue to be forwarded to the Title IX office for review.  Ron Kamahele, UAA's Title IX Coordinator is copied on this message.  encourage you to file reports with him.

Since emeritus status is an academic recognition, I have asked the provost and dean of arts and sciences to meet with you to discuss the concerns you are raising.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Sam Gingerich
Interim Chancellor

The Title IX investigative report makes it clear that Yesner's behavior went on for decades, and also that many in the Anthropology Department knew about it or should have known about it. The report makes clear that at least two chairs of the department were made aware of specific instances of misconduct by Yesner, but nothing came of those complaints. A sense of the hostile atmosphere for women can be had in this segment of the report:

"The complainants’ allegations span a time period of nearly 30 years, from the early 90’s up to [Yesner's] retirement. The complained [sic] of conduct includes [Yesner] staring at women’s breasts when he spoke to them, invading their personal space, rubbing their lower backs, taking and maintaining exploitive photographs of his students, hugging his students, advisees, and coworkers, making sexually explicit comments, and propositioning women for sexual encounters. This behavior was so well known to the female students and staff that each class felt the obligation to warn new students and staff not to be alone with [Yesner]. As a result, what should have been a safe environment for the female staff and students, became a place where they had to protect themselves from discrimination and potential harassment and/or assault. Seemingly benign situations with their professor, advisor, or colleague produced anxiety and discomfort. This environment hindered their ability to learn and thrive in what should have been a supportive educational environment."

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

University of Alaska, Anchorage archaeologist David Yesner found guilty in Title IX investigation of harassment, assault, and other charges.

David Yesner
In a case I have been following for some time, an investigation at the University of Alaska, Anchorage has found UAA archaeologist David Yesner guilty--by a preponderance of the evidence--of sexual harassment, assault, and other charges.

The news was broken last night/this morning by station KTVA ("The Voice of Alaska") in a story which provided many details from the investigative report, dated March 15 of this year.

Yesner, who retired in 2017 and had sought emeritus status at the university, was well known in the archaeological and anthropological community for his work on the Peopling of the Americas (an area which I have covered extensively, as a science writer, for Science and other publications. I had quoted him in some of those stories.)

I recommend reading the KTVA story, which does a pretty good job. This is certainly one of the most grievous cases of misconduct in academia I have come across.

Meanwhile, I have obtained a copy of the 30 page March 15 investigative report. I want to excerpt here the charges which the investigation upheld in their entirely, with the exception of one small detail concerning the transmission of pornography. In this slightly redacted report, R1 is Yesner, and the various individuals represented by the letter "C" are alleged victims and survivors of his behavior. According to the report, Yesner declined numerous invitations to be interviewed by the investigators and tell his side of the story.

Update March 26: According to the investigative report, Yesner asked for delays in being interviewed, citing health problems, the nature of which were redacted in the report. However, I am told by sources in the department that although Yesner stalled the investigation for months on the grounds of health problems, he remained active and visible in the anthropology community, even attending at least one conference during that time. I have contacted Yesner for comment, and I will update this post if he agrees to provide it, along with any other details.

Allegation No. 1: R1 Engaged in Sexual Discrimination/Harassment by Inappropriately Staring at Multiple Students’ and Professional Colleagues’ Breasts and Engaging in Verbal and/or Physical Conduct of a Sexual Nature that Resulted in the Adverse Treatment of Female Students and Employees and Created a Hostile Work Environment.

 Allegation No. 2: R1 Engaged in Sexual Discrimination/Harassment by Conducting Inappropriate and Sexually Suggestive Conversations with C6.

Allegation No. 3: R1 Engaged in Sexual Discrimination/Harassment by Making Sexually Explicit and Suggestive Comments to C7 and Retaliating Against her when she did not Reciprocate his Sexual Advances.

Allegation No. 4: R1 Engaged in Sexual Discrimination and Harassment by Touching C8 on her Breasts, Making Sexually Explicit Comments, and Retaliating Against her Professionally when She Failed to Respond to his Sexual Advances.

Allegation No. 5: R1 Sexually Assaulted, Harassed, and Discriminated Against C9 by Engaging in Non-Consensual Oral Copulation and Inappropriate Touching without C9’s Consent, Making Sexually Explicit and Suggestive Comments, and Using his Position of Authority as a Means to Procure a Sexual Encounter.


R1’s Conduct Created a Hostile Environment

R1’s Possession of Inappropriate Female Students’ Images Violated University Regulation Regarding Sexual Exploitation

R1’s Possession of Obscene Material on University Information Systems Violated University Regulation R02.07.054(F)

Dated this 15 th day of March, 2019 at Anchorage, Alaska. By: Danée Pontious AK Bar No. 0411076 [This is the private attorney hired by the university to complete the investigation begun by other Title IX investigators]

                                                                      * * *

#MeToo session at the upcoming meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Albuquerque.

Since many reading this are likely to be archaeologists and anthropologists, I wanted to post this session which I hope everyone there will try to attend. It could not be more timely. I am honored to be among the panel participants.

#MeToo in Archaeology at the SAA

Forum Summary

Archaeology has long offered safe harbor to perpetrators of sexual violence, harassment, and misconduct. These individuals have often relied on their positions of power and authority to intimidate or attack students and colleagues. The dynamics of archaeology’s field work settings—where social expectations may feel lax, murky, or seemingly removed from the norms of the “real world”—have also created a problem unique to the discipline. Those who have experienced sexual violence, harassment, and misconduct may feel pressure to keep silent about their experiences for many (valid) reasons. Regardless, what was once anecdote and open secret has been confirmed in recent years by systematic research. With all of this in mind, it is now time for archaeology to enter into the conversation catalyzed by the larger #MeToo movement.

To this end, Heather Thakar, Pamela Geller, and Jason De León have co-organized a forum for the 84th Annual Meeting of the SAA. “#MeToo in Archaeology,” which is sponsored by the SAA Ethics Committee, will provide a platform for people to anonymously share their stories of sexual violence, harassment, and misconduct. Narratives will be submitted prior to the meeting, to then be read aloud by members of a pre-selected panel. The forum’s aims are three-fold: to acknowledge and validate these experiences in a public and safe space; to demonstrate just how prevalent these occurrences are in archaeology’s academic and field settings; and to provide a first step on a much longer path towards structural change. “#MeToo in Archaeology” is scheduled for 13 April 2019 (Saturday) from 1:00-3:00pm. [
room 110 Galisteo in the conference hotel]