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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Texas A&M has known about sexual harassment and bullying in its anthropology department for years. Will it exercise its duty of care to vulnerable students and staff now that the problem is public?

Over the past few days, I have reported on social media a number of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the Texas A & M University (TAMU) anthropology department, based on multiple direct and highly credible sources. I will publish a more complete report soon, but in the Tweets I have sent about this I have named emeritus professors Bruce Dickson and Wayne Smith in connection with serial sexual harassment, and current faculty member Sharon Gursky in connection with bullying and unethical behavior. I expect to name others as well.

This matter has attracted a lot of attention, especially of course at TAMU. As some sources put it to me, the university so far has been "circling the wagons" about the accusations, including the current anthropology chair, Darryl De Ruiter.  In meetings with both faculty and students, De Ruiter sought to downplay the situation in a "nothing to see here manner," according to sources.

In the meantime, today I received an email from a case manager at TAMU's civil rights and equity investigations department. Her email, and my response, are reproduced below. As you can see from my response, the university--or at least, certainly, the anthropology department--have been aware of the sexual harassment problem for some time now.


Good afternoon Mr. Balter,

My name is Gretchen Philipp. I am a Case Manager for the Department of Civil Rights & Equity Investigations for Texas A& M. I have been informed of the posts you have made on Twitter regarding allegations against faculty members in the Department of Anthropology.

I would like to meet with you to discuss these allegations and identify any potential complainants who have discussed the allegations with you. You may bring someone with you as an advisor if you would like. An advisor can be anyone, such as a family member, friend, mentor, or even an attorney. Our only request is that your advisor not be a potential witness or another party.

I am available to connect with you over the phone or in person. Please let me know what your availability is for this week and the next at your earliest convenience.  

Best,
Gretchen R. Philipp | Case Manager
Department of Civil Rights and Equity Investigations (CREI)
Texas A&M University | Medical Sciences Library, Suite 007
1268 TAMU | College Station, TX 77843-1268
ph: 979.458.8189 | 
gphilipp@tamu.edu
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TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY | FEARLESS on Every Front


My response:

Dear Ms. Philipp,

Thank you for your email.

I'm afraid that I cannot follow your suggestion that I help you identify complainants against individuals in the TAMU anthropology department. My sources for these allegations are colleagues who wish to remain anonymous because they live in fear of retaliation if they speak out about the abuses they have suffered. It would be entirely unethical for me as a journalist to break faith with their wishes in this matter.

I also find it odd that you suggest I bring an "advisor" to any discussion we might have, including possibly a lawyer. There seems to be an implication that I am somehow subject to a process or procedure by the university, or that I am subject to its jurisdiction in some way. I most certainly am not. Rather, I am a reporter investigating the matter according to the dictates of my profession.

I might, however, be able to be helpful in a more general way. Your email reads as if the university is just now becoming aware of harassment and bullying in the anthropology department. But in fact leaders of that department have been aware of such problems for a number of years.

For example, in early 2015, the anthropology department invited anthropologist Kate Clancy of the University of Illinois, a noted researcher and advocate in the #MeTooSTEM area, to give a talk about her work. Although the visit was ultimately delayed until later in the year, in preparation for it, an anonymous survey was conducted of everyone in the department to see what levels of sexual harassment existed. The then department chair, Cynthia Werner, along with Lori Wright, who is still head of graduate studies, were directly involved in this.

It turned out that the level of harassment reported in the survey was so high that it came as an apparent surprise to department leaders. Terms such as "shocking" and "alarming" were used at the time to describe the findings. However, the exact findings were never reported to faculty, staff, and students, for reasons that are not at all clear.

I am told that in meetings with faculty and students yesterday, the current department chair, Darryl De Ruiter, minimized the allegations that I have reported. This hardly seems in the spirit of taking the matter seriously, but rather appears to prejudge the situation entirely--even before you have had a chance to carry out your own investigation.

It is no surprise that colleagues in anthropology department live in fear of retaliation. Nevertheless, an increasing number of them have overcome those fears to talk to a reporter. I hope that you will see that TAMU's best interests, and certainly those of its students, faculty, and staff, lie in demonstrating that the university really is serious about ferreting out misconduct.

Best regards,

Michael Balter



In addition to the survey I mention above, while the department was waiting for Kate Clancy to visit, the following event took place. It provides proof positive that the department and its leadership have been fully aware that there is a serious problem of sexual harassment for some years. Whether or not the department, and the university administration, will exercise its duty of care for vulnerable students and staff remains to be seen.



From: Lori Wright lwright@tamu.edu
Date: Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 10:39 AM
Subject: Freebirds at Noon --Anth 237--come and get it!
To: AM-GRAD-ANTHRO@listserv.tamu.edu


Today's brown bag will be a healthy (if calorie laden) discussion about the results of the 2015 departmental survey on sexual harassment.
Come hear what you and your colleagues said about our departmental climate and help us to brainstorm about solutions.  
Despite the image below, this will not be a finger pointing session!  We all have a roll to play in shaping our departmental culture and climate.  

Also don't hesitate to come in late if we have already started when you arrive! 


Lori Wright, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology,
Cornerstone Faculty Fellow in Liberal Arts,
Texas A&M University,
College Station, TX 77843-4352


Update Sept 15

On September 12, the following note was sent to faculty and staff by the anthropology chair, Darryl de Ruiter. A similar note was sent to graduate students. I will be publishing a fuller report on the allegations against anthropology faculty in the coming days. I will note for now, however, that I currently have 17 sources attesting to the history of misconduct in the department, consisting of both current and former department colleagues. They are afraid to be identified precisely because they fear the retaliation that department leaders are assuring them will not happen.  Can these promises be kept, when the accused researchers are still on the faculty (or have emeritus status) and still have the power to make or break careers of younger colleagues?


COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS
Department of Anthropology

Sent on behalf of Darryl de Ruiter, Professor and Department Head
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Dear Anthropology Faculty and Staff:

We wanted to provide you with more information concerning public allegations of bullying and sexual harassment that have been posted on Twitter from the journalist Michael Balter. We discussed this in our faculty meeting on Monday, but we wanted to make sure everyone is aware of the situation and to update everyone on the process.

Last week, we were first made aware of tweets by Mr. Balter alleging harassment in the Anthropology department. Subsequent tweets and a blog post included specific allegations of bullying and unethical behavior by Dr. Sharon Gursky, as well as sexual harassment by retired, emeritus professors Dr. Bruce Dickson and Dr. Wayne Smith. They also included allegations that Drs. Cynthia Werner and Lori Wright protected Dr. Dickson. Most recently, Mr. Balter has alleged unethical behavior on the part of Dr. Mike Alvard. Finally, Mr. Balter has alleged that Dr. Darryl de Ruiter has been dismissive of the current situation and that university officials have launched an intimidation campaign against witnesses.

We want to reiterate that this has been, and continues to be, taken very seriously. Reports have been filed with the Title IX Office and the Dean of Faculties Office as per University policy in accordance with Texas law. In this process, we have been guided by the University policy that was put in place specifically to address such issues (a policy which was revamped and strengthened last year). These offices are charged with investigating allegations, and are currently in the process of doing so. Any allegations that were made in the past were similarly forwarded to the appropriate university offices, where they were investigated and adjudicated by those offices.

We want to emphasize in the strongest terms possible that it is entirely your decision if or how you wish to engage with Mr. Balter, or anyone else, about these allegations. We will never retaliate against you. We will do everything in our power to protect you from intimidation and/or retaliation from anywhere within the university community. Of foremost importance in this matter is that you feel safe and protected in a healthy environment, and that you feel safe to bring reports of any misconduct or climate problems to whomever you wish.

We have also attached a Statement on Harassment, providing information on your rights, university policies, and individuals to whom you can report problems. We will be sure to keep you more informed of the process going forward. Please feel safe in reaching out to any of us for further clarification. 

We have reached out to the Title IX Office, and they have indicated that they would be willing to speak with us as a department if we would like as we are working to coordinate this right now.

Yours sincerely, 
Darryl de Ruiter 
Department Head 

Lori Wright
Director of Graduate Studies 

Jeff Winking 
Associate Director of Graduate Studies 

Heather Thakar 
Chair of the Climate and Inclusion Committee

Cynthia Werner, 
Director of ADVANCE


A bit later the same day, Sept 12, department faculty member Michael Alvard sent the following note to department colleagues about allegations I reported on social media that he had engaged in unethical practices. The allegations concern his requiring students in a class he taught to be subjects in a research project he directed, which on the face of it violates ethical norms for human experimentation. I will include the details of this affair in the report I am preparing--and I stand by my reporting on what happened--but this gives Alvard a chance to air his views for the time being.


 Dear Anthropology Faculty, Staff, and others

Just a short note concerning the Balter affair. As Darryl, Lori, Jeff, Heather and Cynthia mention in their letter below, Balter has now reported on allegations of unethical behavior on my part concerning an incident that occurred in ANTH604 in SPR17.  Since much of the information he reports is inaccurate, I encourage each of you to come to discuss the matter with me.  

One of the reasons there is misinformation is because of the way the matter was mishandled by the department. Werner asked the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to investigate and adjudicate the complaint; the committee indeed concluded that I should apologize; I did not. Whoever is feeding information to Balter failed to mention to him that the committee never asked me what happened.  The committee did not allow me to respond to the complaints. There was no due process; it was done in secret and I knew little about the issue until frog marched into Werner’s office, told that there had been a complaint and a verdict.  The bylaws say the “Results of the (Climate and Inclusion) Committee’s deliberations are normally presented to the Faculty at Departmental Faculty Meetings for further discussion, debate, and decision.”  That did not happen; the bulk of the faculty were kept in the dark.  One result is  that Balter is now spreading misinformation and half-truths, and my reputation (such that it is 😊) is besmirched.  The process was not transparent.  I absolutely did have Texas A&M IRB approval for the research.  In terms of what happened in the classroom, I followed Rule 21  https://student-rules.tamu.edu/rule21/

I note that students absolutely have the right to bring issues of perceived unethical behavior to the attention of University without fear of retaliation. I want to stress this point. ANTH604 was designed to take students outside their comfort zone and if students felt that ethical standards were breached in the process they were entitled to complain.   The process, however, should be transparent and fair. In my case, it was not.

I encourage each of you to  speak to me about the matter in more detail.


Michael Alvard, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843


Update Sept 18: Another exchange between Gretchen Philipps of the TAMU civil rights/equity office and myself.

Sept 17

Dear Mr. Balter,

Thank you for your prompt response. I understand your dedication to maintaining the anonymity of your sources.  We asked for the names of your sources because we would like to offer supportive resources to any persons affected by discrimination or harassment.  We would also like to invite people to file a formal complaint with the Civil Rights and Equity Investigations office if they desire to do so.  Should any of your sources wish to speak with us, please give them our contact information.  We would also request that you share the attached Rights, Resources, and Options (RRO) document with any interested sources. 

When the University becomes aware that someone may have information about discrimination or harassment, our process is to reach out and invite that person to tell us more.  As you are neither an employee nor a student at Texas A&M, you are not required to participate in our process and you are not subject to our jurisdiction.  We advised you of your right to bring an Advisor to any meetings with us because we notify all Complainants and Respondents of their right to an Advisor.   The Advisor’s primary role is to support and guide the party, but not to actively participate in the investigation and resolution process.  Since our policy allows the party to pick their own advisor -- including a friend, family member, or attorney-- we specifically point out that right to avoid confusion  

Thank you for the information about the survey.  If you have any other information about a specific instance of sexual harassment, please let me know.

Best,

Gretchen R. Philipp | Case Manager
Department of Civil Rights and Equity Investigations (CREI)
Texas A&M University | Medical Sciences Library, Suite 007
1268 TAMU | College Station, TX 77843-1268
ph: 979.458.8189 | 
gphilipp@tamu.edu
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TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY | FEARLESS on Every Front


My response Sept 18:

Dear Ms. Philipp,

Thank you for your latest email.

As I explained to you previously, victims of misconduct are very reluctant to make complaints because they have no faith in the process. In some cases they have made valid complaints before and the administration found in favor of the abuser; and they have little trust in senior members of their department, because complaints raised internally (eg against Bruce Dickson and Wayne Smith) were dismissed out of hand by senior faculty who told them just to put up with the behavior (eg in the case of emeritus professors who would "soon be gone.")

So your process is missing the big picture, which is that some faculty in anthropology and I am sure other departments at TAMU are actively protecting abusers and taking their side against the students. This is a cultural issue which cannot be solved by requiring individual, and very vulnerable, students to put themselves forward and participate in a process they feel is stacked against them. The burden is on the university, and not those individual students, to change things.

Under these circumstances, I cannot in good conscience encourage victims of abuse to go through your process. Rather, in many cases, they have decided to approach a reporter and use the power of publicity to foster changes that the university is solely responsible for making.

Best regards,

Michael




3 comments:

Rui Lis said...

Balter: Get a job. Better yet, get a life. You should really think hard about what you are doing. Spouting nonsense about how fragile and unsupported the alleged Aggies are. Those gals in fact mostly come from privileded or at least well-to-do families. They hade Dads and big mean brothers who would knock off the teeth of their instructors in a heartbeat if they got too close to their little princssess. Hell, most of said princesses are perfectly able of beating the crap out of their professors herselves.

Spreading rumours, insinuations, is really the lowest from of human communication. Enrolling in the ranks of the feminazi witches might perhaps be the only way available to you of interacting with willing females, but how satisfying can this be?

I understand you are an has been and going through rather hard times. Can Schadenfreude be the answer to your travails? Can it assuage the pain? Because, at the end of the day, those whom you slander will still be university professors and you will still be a nobody. Learn moderation, least life take upon herself to teach it you. I personally feel very much like punching your face repeatedly, very hard, and see you bleed and moan. But I refrain from doing so. You richly deserve it, true, but the law protects you against the infliction of bodily harm. Reflect on the protection the same law extends to those fine people which you inconvenience by your baseless and unsupported calumnies, see if going from embarassed to banrupt suits you well, and start leaving a life other than that worthless, unsavoury meddling in silly causes.

Michael Balter said...

This blog is moderated, so it's my choice if I want to post Rui Lui's screed. But I thought readers might find it interesting to see the kind of supporters the sexual predators and bullies in the TAMU anthro department have rooting for them..

Anonymous said...

That comment reads exactly like how Luis Filipe Viera de Castro speaks
- Former Graduate Student