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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Dahlia Lithwick is wrong: There is no dichotomy between journalism and due process. Just the opposite.

Dahlia Lithwick
I've followed Dahlia Lithwick's writing about the law for many years, and have long admired her work. But in a piece earlier this week in Slate, she wrote about a subject I know quite a bit about: The relationship between journalism and the #MeToo movement.

In her piece, entitled "Journalism Won't Get Us Out of This," Lithwick argued the following:

"As a gap-filler for meaningful legal redress, [journalism] has done its job, and it has frequently prompted enormously satisfying resolutions to situations in which unspeakable abuses of power had been revealed. But as a meaningful way to correct for all of the problems it has uncovered, it is time to admit that journalism is not sufficient."

As a prominent example, Lithwick discusses the Al Franken case at some length, which has taken on new wrinkles after Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker piece questioning the credibility of one (among a much larger number, as many have pointed out) of Franken's accusers. And Franken's forced resignation without an ethics probe in the Senate could indeed be seen as an example of where media coverage substituted for due process.

But in reality, that has been the exception rather than the rule, and that's where Lithwick gets the role of the press in the #MeToo movement wrong. I kept expecting her to qualify her analysis, but if anything, her piece doubles down on the contention that there is some kind of dichotomy between journalism and due process. Lithwick refers to the "court of public opinion," a well worn trope often used by those who leap to the defense of abusers (I am not suggesting Litwick intended to do that here), and, in reference to Franken, concludes that "The whole affair should serve as yet another reminder that when journalism is made to substitute for due process, things go sideways."

And, two paragraphs later, she repeats that misleading formulation: "...we should pause to recognize that our current reliance on journalism as a stand-in for due process has ended up meaning that accused men--who might have been subject to real rules of evidence, and procedure, and credible testimony--are being punished according to their own thresholds for shame and their best guesses about what behaviors the public will tolerate and for how long."

I think Lithwick's contention here is both factually and conceptually wrong. The Franken case is actually an exception to the real role that journalism has played, which is to shame institutions and the court system into at long last dealing with long festering accusations of misconduct. In other words, the main role that journalism has played is to bring about the very due process that Lithwick argues it is substituting for. It has done so by giving victims and survivors a voice, something they have often have denied for many years.

How many examples do we need? The justice system in New York only caught up with Jeffrey Epstein after the brilliant reporting of Julie K. Brown at the Miami Herald exposed the rotten deal that prosecutors (including Alexander Acosta, forced to resign as labor secretary) had given given the millionaire financier; Harvey Weinstein is facing trial for rape charges that stem from the reporting of the New York Times and The New Yorker (Pulitzers all around for that critical journalism); and the internal investigation (a form of due process) of former CBS Les Moonves was only initiated by the company after Ronan Farrow documented the allegations against him, again in The New Yorker.

I have worked as a #MeToo reporter for the past four years, mostly in the sciences. Here are two examples from my own reporting, among many:

--The American Museum of Natural History only launched a serious investigation of sexual assault and harassment charges against its former curator of human origins, Brian Richmond, after I began reporting on the allegations for Science magazine. Some months after my article appeared, Richmond was forced to resign.

--The University of Adelaide began an inquiry into allegations of bullying and harassment by the director of its ancient DNA lab, Alan Cooper, after I reported those accusations on Balter's Blog in June and July. Earlier this month, the university suspended Cooper pending disciplinary proceedings. (Note that even a blog post can be influential enough to bring about institutional action. More on that in a piece I have coming out soon.)

The evidence is clear that the usual sequence of events is: Journalism first, due process second. They are not in opposition, nor is one a substitute for the other; rather, journalism often paves the way for people and institutions to do the right thing, sometimes many years after they first knew about serious abuses. Justice, especially justice delayed, very often flows from journalism.

I will continue to read Dahlia Lithwick's legal writing with interest and enthusiasm. But by creating a straw man and seeing a contradiction that does not really exist, she has it wrong when it comes to the relationship between #MeToo and journalism.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

More bullying and harassment at University of Adelaide--this time it's the head of the School of Education, Faye McCallum

Faye McCallum

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been investigating and publicizing bullying, harassment, and ethical allegations against Alan Cooper, director of the University of Adelaide's ancient DNA center. As part of that investigation, it has become clear that bullying and other mistreatment of students, postdocs, and even faculty are endemic across the university (and perhaps across all of academia.)

Recently, faculty and staff in the School of Education have been trying to get the Adelaide administration to take seriously their complaints against the head of the school, Faye McCallum. Colleagues eventually turned to the local branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), which wrote the following letter to the university administration a year ago. I am told that this did lead to an inquiry (so-called "culture check," as in the case of Alan Cooper, currently underway) but that this inquiry went nowhere and led to no action.

The following is a draft of the letter, written on union letterhead, which was shared among a number of colleagues at Adelaide. I understand the final version was very close to this draft.

It seems long past time for the Adelaide administration to think about students, faculty, and staff first, and to stop protecting bad behavior among the university's leaders. This blog post will be updated regularly.





14 August 2018

Professor Jennie Shaw
Executive Dean: Faculty of Arts
The University of Adelaide
Adelaide, SA 5005

Head of School, School of Education – Lack of confidence by the majority of Academic Staff

The NTEU represents the majority of Academic Staff in the School of Education in relation to ongoing concerns regarding the Head of School, Professor Faye McCallum.  These staff have a lack of confidence in the Head of School’s ability to manage the school in a fair, transparent, and equitable manner.  The NTEU has met with the staff collectively and individually and the pattern of behaviour is not commensurate with the expectations of a HoS.

Lack of transparency in recruitment

Of particular concern are two recent appointments from St. Peters College (One is a direct appointment and the other at Associate Professor level.)   We understand that neither have strong research track records or quality publications.  Both have limited experience in university teaching and no leadership experience at school principal level. These staff have been given leadership responsibilities such as program and course reviews and tasked with the initiation of new programs, specialisations, and courses.  The rationale and staffing models supporting these developments have not been clarified.  The two new appointments have also been tasked to lead consultancy projects without detailing the staffing implications or contribution of the projects to advancing research outputs.  The staff believe that these appointments and their associated responsibilities must be reviewed in light of these matters, and concerns about gender representation and cultural diversity in the school.

Micromanagement, inconsistent decision making, bullying and harassment, favouritism and preferential treatment

The NTEU has been informed and provided with many explicit examples from individuals of recurring incidents of micromanagement, inconsistent decision-making, bullying and harassment by the HoS.

The staff also complain of favouritism and the preferential treatment consistently shown toward four staff members who are consulted on matters such as enrichment days and professional development workshops when considerable expertise on such matters resides elsewhere in the school.

Below are examples of behaviours and incidents experienced by the members of staff who have:

1.     been prevented or discouraged from pursuing their research (e.g. through slow and/or inconsistent responses from the HoS, and/or lack of flexibility negotiating teaching commitments and/or conference attendance). This has occurred despite the fact that the school returned unspent research money to the Faculty in 2017; 

2.     received inadequate or inappropriate professional development support from the HoS (e.g. discouraged from pursuing research, applying for promotion or SSP);

3.     been prevented from teaching or supervising in fields directly related to their research and/or required to teach in areas outside their expertise and/or replaced by casual staff;

4.     had decisions (including those made during PDR) overturned later;

5.     been expected to fulfil unreasonable demands and/or meet unrealistic deadlines;

6.     been insulted, ignored or treated with hostility for disagreeing with the HoS;

7.     received curt and rude emails from the HoS;

8.     received curt and rude emails from the HoS after hours and at weekends demanding an immediate response;

9.     had decisions made for them made by the HoS without consultation, and

10.  been challenged about entitlements to leave, with some having to seek support from HR and/or the NTEU.
The above can be verified but the individual staff are concerned about further recriminations from the HoS if details reveal their identities. 

The NTEU requests that a process be initiated with a view to resolving these issues.  It is paramount that staff feel safe in their place of work and the NTEU seeks your assurance that the matter will be treated sensitively and discreetly, to avoid an escalation in both tensions and inappropriate management practices.

Yours sincerely,


Cheryl Baldwin
SA Division Industrial Officer 
Cc Nick Warner, NTEU Branch President