Monday, April 29, 2019


Fethi Ahmed
The following from a source at Wits. I expect to be able to name the accused researcher before too long.

Update: The dismissed researcher is Fethi Ahmed, head of the School of Geography, Archaeology, and Environmental Studies. And here is more on the South African context for this development, only the latest in a line of academics who have been either dismissed or sanctioned by Wits.

From: Shirona Patel on behalf of VCO News
Sent: Tuesday, April 23 ______________
To: VCO News


Dear Colleagues

This communique serves to inform you of the dismissal of a senior member of the University’s academic staff whose contract of employment with the University was terminated after a number of complaints of gender-based bullying against him were confirmed. 

Gender-based bullying can be described as a systemic form of harm or discrimination that includes aggression, belittling, verbal intimidation, or maltreatment directed at someone on the basis of their gender identity and/or expression.  

In this particular case, complaints of gender-based bullying were laid against the individual by several female academic and administrative staff members. The matter was investigated by the Gender Equity Office and referred to a Hearing Panel that confirmed the complaints against the individual in question. The individual subsequently lodged an application to appeal the finding and review the process followed by the Hearing Panel. The appeal and review application was then  considered by a panel comprising of two former Constitutional Court judges. The jurists found no reason to overturn the Hearing Panel’s finding and recommendation that the individual’s contract of employment be terminated. They deemed the sanction appropriate given the gravity, systematic and protracted nature of the misconduct.

The Senior Executive Team would like to reiterate that it is striving to create an environment in which every member of the University community is fairly treated and respected, in which all members feel comfortable and free from any form of discrimination, and in which our  community lives the values espoused in our Constitution. 

We reiterate that no form of gender-based harm is acceptable and we encourage all members of staff and students to familiarise themselves with the University’s values and policies in this regard. These are available on the Gender Equity Office’s website

Monday, April 22, 2019

A corrective to the false information the Society for American Archaeology has posted about the #MeToo events at #SAA2019

SAA president Joe Watkins

Those following events at the recent Society for American Archaeology meeting in Albuquerque know that SAA officers have put out a number of statements about when they knew that former University of Alaska, Anchorage archaeologist and sexual predator was present at the conference. These statements have been largely false, as has been pointed out numerous archaeologists and other observers on social media and to the officers directly. In short, SAA officials insist that they had no actionable information before Friday April 12, when in fact I had fully briefed their communications director in the morning of Thursday April 11. The result of this was more than 24 additional hours of distress and suffering by Yesner's victims (three of whom were at the meeting), and probably more than that, since Yesner was spotted at the meeting even after SAA claims that he had been banned.

Yesterday SAA president Joe Watkins, who has a positive reputation in the field and who many view as a "change agent" in SAA and archaeology in general, agreed to a Skype call today so that I could correct the record about what happened. I highly suspect that Joe has been given misinformation by SAA staff, and I wanted to talk to him about that very serious matter.

This morning, however, Joe rescinded his agreement to talk to me, saying that he wanted to give priority to victims and other SAA people. I could agree with this in principle if it did not leave standing the false information that SAA is still spreading on its Web site and perhaps more privately--and that the outreach that Joe and SAA executive director Oona Schmid have done to the victims has been miserably inadequate and in some cases nonexistent.

I suspect that SAA is privileging the jobs of its staff over the welfare of victims, specifically communications director Amy Rutledge and Oona Schmid, who are widely seen in the archaeology community as having badly mishandled this situation--especially since SAA's outgoing president made a big deal during the meeting's opening session about the new sexual harassment guidelines for SAA meetings, printed prominently in the front of the program book. The possibility that Amy Rutledge in particular misled her colleagues about what happened needs to be looked into by the SAA board, in my opinion and that of other colleagues.

Here is the followup email I sent to Joe once it became clear that he was no longer willing to talk to me. I have redacted the names of certain individuals to protect their privacy, but Joe knows who they are.

[Sent the morning of April 22]

Joe, I continue to be concerned that you have received inaccurate information about the course of events on Thursday April 11 and the background to them. So I am going to lay them out here, for the record.

1. I knew about the Title IX proceedings against David Yesner many months before they were concluded, based on ________ sources in the Dept of Anthropology at University of Alaska, Anchorage.

2. When Anchorage station KTVA broke the story of the Title IX conclusions and soon afterwards the Chancellor's upholding those findings and her decision to ban Yesner from UA, I did some additional blog posts on these matters based on information provided by _____________________.

3. Both ____________ and ____________ made contact with me before the SAA meeting began, voluntarily on their part.

4. About 9 am on Thurs, April 11, ___________ and __________ messaged me to say that Yesner had been seen at the meeting. I was still in my hotel room at the Embassy Suites as my first session was 10 am. I came over immediately to the convention center.

5. I went to the staff room to make a report. I asked the three young colleagues there (two women and a man) how to go about making a sexual harassment report. They said I had to talk to Amy Rutledge [SAA director of communications], and went to get her.

6. At about 10 am I engaged in a conversation with Amy Rutledge. I told her all about what happened at UA, that there were three victims of Yesner at the meeting, that they were scared and distressed, unable to attend their sessions, and had asked me to help them. I also gave her all the background in the points above.

7. Amy listened to me but to be honest she seemed to think I was crazy, even though I was doing the right thing under the circumstances. I offered to go on the internet with her then and there and show her the media coverage of the UA/Yesner situation. She declined to do that.

8. Amy did say that she would "take care of it" or "take it from there," but seemed reluctant to give me her contact details and let me call her later in the day to get an update. Eventually she did give me those details and we agreed that I would call her by the end of the afternoon.

9. Not feeling reassured by Amy's attitude, with the help of ______ and _______ I tried to find Yesner. They would report to me where he had last been spotted. I finally found him in the exhibition hall.

10. I told Yesner that he had to leave, he resisted at first, but using the power of embarrassment (raising my voice with others around) he agreed to go and I ushered him out. I did not use physical force of any kind, nor were police involved, as some rumors would have it.

11. Immediately after he left I went back to Amy and told her what had happened. She had little reaction other than surprise. I did tell her that the victims were afraid Yesner would return, and of course he did the next day.

12. As you probably know, I tried to call Amy as agreed in the afternoon but she never responded to cell phone calls nor to emails. I called her again Friday morning and left what I would fully admit was a necessarily insistent message that something be done. This was fully justified under the circumstances.

13. On Friday morning just after 8 am you and Oona [Schmid, SAA executive director] called to say I was banned from the meeting. [for violating the Code of Conduct, although the exact charges against me were never specified]

Any information you have that deviates from the above account would be false. I continue to hope that you will talk to me and pose any questions you have.


Michael Balter

Update: Since this was posted, SAA sent out the following Tweet, which has incensed the archaeological community even more.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

My correspondence with Society for American Archaeology president Joe Watkins

In the wake of a tumultuous week at the #SAA2019 meeting in Albuquerque, during which archaeologist David Yesner showed up at the meeting despite a Title IX judgement against him at the University of Alaska, Anchorage banning him from participation in any activities at which UA students were present, SAA officers have veered sharply between a series of apologies and statements that are blatantly untrue.

I have tried to communicate with SAA officers about the failure to delete or modify these statements, as have many other scholars and activists, but there seems to be no rush on their part to do so. Here is my recent correspondence with SAA president Joe Watkins about this, which he copied to executive director Oona Schmid:

From: Michael Balter >
Date: Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 6:43 PM
To: joe.watkins

Dear Joe,

A lot of people were happy to see your letter to the membership today, because many—although not all—thought it meant that SAA was finally listening to the concerns of the community and the victims/survivors in particular.

When you and Oona called me on Friday morning, I never heard your voice, although you heard mine, and the shock I felt at being banned from the meeting. That shock was genuine, because I felt I had done the right thing after the concerns I expressed to Amy just before 10 am last Thursday seemed to be of little interest to her.

It occurs to me that you may have been misinformed by both Oona and Amy about exactly what happened, the role I played, and even exactly what transpired between me and David Yesner at the end of the morning on Thursday.

If there is even the possibility that I am right about that, it seems that a telephone conversation between us might be constructive. You could ask me any questions you have about what happened, and I would have the opportunity to correct any misinformation you have received.

Given the events of the past eight days, wouldn’t that be a reasonable thing for us to do? I am not asking you to take sides against your staff or favor what I might have to say. I am just asking you to hear what I might have to say.

I hope you agree. I am on holiday on the California coast right now but could easily take out time to talk, even if just briefly, at a mutually convenient time.

Best wishes,

Michael Balter
Instructor, Hudson Valley Writers Center
Adjunct Professor of Journalism "emeritus,"
   New York University and Boston University
Member, National Association of Science Writers
               Society of Environmental Journalists

Tweet: @mbalter


"Lying is done with words and also with silence." --Adrienne Rich

From: Joe Watkins
Date: Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 7:56 PM
To: <michael.balter
Cc: Oona Schmid 


Thank you for your email offering to speak to me. I don't have time to speak with you at the moment, but hope to find time next week to do so. I MAY have jury duty next week -- I'll know Monday evening, I think -- and that will take up even more time.

Please let me get back to you after I have a better idea of my time availability so that we can talk.

Joe Watkins
Joe Watkins, PhD, RPA #10119
President, Society for American Archaeology (2019-2021)

Join us in Austin, TX, April 22-26, 2020, and in San Francisco, CA, April 14-18, 2021!

NOTE: Arizona does NOT go onto Daylight Savings Time. As a result, Arizona is the same time as California. We're 3 hours behind DC; 2 hours behind Dallas; and 1 hour behind Denver. Please consider the time difference before calling.

From: Michael Balter
Date: Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 8:52 PM
To: Joe Watkins
Cc: Oona Schmid 


Thanks for getting back.

My wife and I are on a California coast holiday for the next week and a half, but there is plenty of down time so I am happy to try to fit your schedule whenever it's good for you. Just let me know when you have a better idea.

best, Michael

From: Michael Balter <
Date: Sun, Apr 21, 2019 at 4:02 PM
To: Joe Watkins
Cc: Oona Schmid <

Hello Joe,

Since we communicated about this on Friday, I have been giving the matter more thought.

At first I was happy that you were willing to talk to me, and wanted to accommodate your schedule which I know is busy.

However, on the SAA Web site, you continue to provide members and others a chronology of events during the meeting (the “dispelling the rumors” post) which includes totally false information about when SAA staff knew about David Yesner and the reasons he should be banned from the meeting. I am sure you must be aware by now that I fully briefed Amy Rutledge on the matter shortly before 10 am on that Thursday morning, more than 24 hours earlier.

Every day that post stays on your Web site is a day that SAA continues to disseminate false information. I don’t feel that I can be a party to this by agreeing to postpone our essential discussion, no matter how busy you are.

Thus I must ask that we schedule a telephone conversation as soon as possible, given the urgency of the matter and the importance—which I am sure you must understand—of telling SAA members the truth.

I will do my absolute best to make myself available to you at a time that is convenient on your end, despite my holiday travels.

Best wishes,

Michael Balter

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 has accused sexual predator David Lordkipanidze of Dmanisi fame been named President of the Scientific Advisory Board of a leading human evolution institute in Tarragona, Spain? [[Updated]]

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.

Update: It appears that IPHES is not concerned about the strong evidence that Lordkipanidze is a sexual predator and has assaulted and harassed a number of women. The institute has now promoted him to president of the Scientific Advisory Board. At the same time, it appointed three women to what had previously men an all-male board. Perhaps IPHES's leaders think this somehow balances out the equation? More likely, since there is an important Spanish team working at Dmanisi, Lordkipanidze's presence on the board--and now his elevation to the top spot--represents an unfortunate and sordid payback for the right to work there. It's for IPHES leaders to tell us if that is true, and for the anthropology community to decide what should be done about this insult to female colleagues everywhere (men of good heart should be equally insulted, of course.)

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."