Monday, March 23, 2020

Chief of international archaeology field schools has long history of alleged sexual misconduct, bullying, and racism. [[Updated March 30, 2020]]

IFR executive director Ran Boytner
Archaeologist Ran Boytner is the Founding Executive Director of the Institute for Field Research, based in Los Angeles. The IFR was established in 2011 by Boytner, who previously served as the Director for International Research at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

Boytner came onto my radar earlier this month, when I published two reports on serious misconduct by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin and her partner, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque. The first report dealt with misconduct at Kurin's 2015 archaeological field school in Peru, and the 2016 Title IX findings against both her and Gomez for retaliation and sexual harassment, respectively.

The second report concerned Kurin's 2018 field school, also in Peru, where Gomez ended up sexually assaulting two female students. The 2018 field school was sponsored by IFR, which conducted an investigation after students complained about the misconduct there. After the investigation, IFR severed its relationship with Kurin. On the face of it, that seemed to shed a good light on IFR's seriousness about misconduct at its field schools. But as it turned out, the only reason Kurin was able to conduct the 2018 field school at all was because Boytner had covered up--and later, blatantly lied--about what he knew about the 2016 Title IX findings. Joining Boytner in the coverup was then UCLA Extension dean Kevin Vaughn, now a dean at UC Riverside and an IFR board member.

As I pointed out in that second report, Vaughn and Boytner were informed right after the June 14, 2016 Title IX findings came down from UCSB that Kurin and Gomez had been found guilty--and they immediately cancelled a Kurin field school in Peru that IFR had sponsored, just about 10 days before it was supposed to begin. The field school students were told only that "health and safety" issues had come up that required the cancellation; some of them were already in Peru, and all of their lives were disrupted seriously.

As I prepared the report about the 2018 field school, I wondered why Boytner had lied about what had happened. Boytner told a number of colleagues that Kurin and Gomez had been cleared by the UCSB investigation, a blatant lie. I could understand that Boytner and the IFR board (or at least those board members who were in the know) might want to protect the institute from legal action from the assaulted 2018 students, who had been courageous in asserting their rights to a safe field school experience. I did not have to wonder for long. Shortly after the second report, sources began to approach me to fill me on Boytner's long history of misconduct.

Here are the results of the latest turn in this investigation. As always, I have relied only on direct witnesses to events or to authenticated documentation, never on rumor or second hand information. To protect sources, many of whom are fearful of retaliation from Boytner and his allies--including some members of the IFR board--I have been circumspect about where the information below came from. But I think readers will quickly see how credible it is.

An accusation of sexual harassment at Boytner's field school in Peru. Did UCLA let him off?

On July 24, 2009, Michael Clark, an equal opportunity consultant in UCLA's Staff Affirmative Action Office, wrote to Boytner to inform him that a student from the University of Southern California (USC) had filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. The allegations, Clark wrote, were that "while in Peru, you engaged in inappropriate and offensive sexual behavior towards her." (Other documents in my possession indicate that the alleged misconduct took place between June 22 and July 3, 2009.) Already, while still in Peru and before the formal complaint had been filed, Boytner had been put on "investigatory leave" from his position and required by UCLA to return to the United States, according to UCLA documents in my possession.

The student's accusations were outlined in a three page document that was provided to Boytner. There were 15 specific allegations. (I am not identifying the student to protect her privacy.) Some of the key charges were:

--That Boytner had extensively photographed the student, many times more than any other field school participant, including several photos of her mounting and dismounting a horse. Some of the photos were allegedly taken directly up the student's skirt.

--That Boytner had taken the student aside telling her that he wanted to talk to her, whereupon he told her that he "had fallen in love" with her and "could not keep quiet about it any longer."

--That Boytner told the student that he didn't "give a shit" about the fact that he was married and that he thought the feelings might be mutual.

--That Boytner told the student he had "an understanding" with his wife and that he did not believe in monogamy.

--That when the student reminded Boytner he had been her professor for a class she had taken at USC, he told her that they were "just a man and woman with desires."

--That Boytner told her he had never felt this way about another student, but that she was "so mature and strong" and that he had never met someone as young as her who was so strong.

--That the student continued to remind Boytner that he was an authority figure and in control of the situation.

--That Boytner took her hand and "creepily started to pet it," whereupon the student got up and left.

--That the next morning, on the pretext of telling her she was not wearing her walkie-talkie properly, he "grabbed her 'ass' and groped her," despite her protests.

--That Boytner repeatedly tried to get her alone after that, despite her resistance.

--That the student reported the conduct to others involved in the UCLA program and was quickly transferred to another field school near Cuzco, Peru.

In conclusion, the student wrote in her complaint that an "acceptable resolution" would be an apology from Boytner, and that while she did not want him to be fired for the offenses, "I also do not believe that he should be allowed back in the field with female students who are unaware of his prior inappropriate behavior."

On November 22, 2009, Charles Stanish, then director of the Cotsen Institute, wrote to Boytner to discuss the findings of the Staff Affirmative Action Office's investigation. This letter (which came from sources other than Stanish himself) confirms the "inappropriate" behavior. Remarkably, however, UCLA did not find Boytner guilty of sexual harassment, which normally would have required his immediate termination.

The office "found that you did not violate the University's policy, but that you engaged in inappropriate conduct in your interaction with" the student, Stanish wrote, adding that "This incident is very disturbing." Stanish pointed out that while Boytner's formal position was director of international programs, he also had an appointment as a Research Associate which sometimes involved teaching students (such as the class at USC.) "Consequently the students perceive you as a professor, and that perception places an extra burden on you to maintain a professional relationship with the students..."

After citing the relevant provisions of the faculty code of conduct, Stanish went on:

"By your own admission, you discussed matters of a very personal nature with Ms. ___________, and told her that you loved her. Although you were found not to have violated the sexual harassment policy related to your appointment as Director, I agree with the findings that your behavior was entirely inappropriate and must not be repeated." Stanish concluded by telling Boytner that he could not act as an instructor in the program "for the indefinite future, and you are not to have contact with undergraduate students without a third party present." Boytner was also instructed to attend sexual harassment training "at the earliest opportunity."

Contacted for comment on these events, Stanish told me that he was instructed by UCLA at the time to keep the matter confidential, and that "university policy demanded that I not say anything." Nevertheless, Stanish says, "I did not do anything wrong."

Nevertheless, rumors have continued to swirl about this episode in the archaeology community over the years, in part because the student told other participants at the 2009 field school parts of what she alleges happened, including the allegation that Boytner had told her that he was in love with her (which he later admitted, according to Stanish's letter.)

Moreover, sources reliably inform me that the student eventually sued both Boytner and UCLA, but the suit was settled quietly for an undisclosed amount of money. Several witnesses associated with the case were required to sign nondisclosure agreements. Either just before or after the settlement--the timing is not entirely clear--Boytner was obliged to leave UCLA. The story at the time was that there was a funding issue with the field programs, although some sources insist that Boytner was fired.

A couple of editorial comments here. First, I think many would agree that had this misconduct occurred today, in the so-called "#MeToo era," Boytner would have been found guilty of sexual harassment. It does not even seem like a borderline case of any kind. Second, if he was not guilty of sexual harassment, then why did the university require that he take sexual harassment training?

The facts of the case could, indeed, support the feeling of many with knowledge of these events that UCLA covered them up at the time. Whatever the case, Boytner would go on to found the IFR, which put him in the position of damaging many students and staff both directly and indirectly.

Boytner at IFR: Sexual harassment, bullying, racism, and attempts to debunk misconduct research.

The following is based on a large number of sources who have worked with Boytner over the years in various ways, including former IFR employees. As brave as these sources are, archaeology is a small world, and most of them fear retaliation.

All of the sources, however, described a routine pattern of blatant sexism on Boytner's part. He would comment openly and critically on the role of women in archaeology, telling female archaeologists repeatedly that they had to choose between having a family and having a career. Boytner also habitually tried to corner women into discussing sexual subjects, a behavior that was described to me by a number of colleagues. He also routinely bullied employees,  often yelling and screaming at them if he thought they were not doing their jobs properly, or even if something went wrong that they could not reasonably be responsible for, sources say.

I spoke at length with a woman I shall call IFR Employee No. 1. She worked at IFR during 2014 and part of 2015. One hot day, Employee No. 1 was wearing a sleeveless shirt with a shawl around her shoulders. She says Boytner asked her why she was wearing the shawl, to which she responded that she was just trying to be professional. "He demanded that I take my shawl off," the employee recalls. Boytner then started talking about the "open relationship" he and his wife had. "He asked me about my partner and did we have an open relationship."

Employee No. 1 says that she was "desperate for this job" and tried to keep her distance from Boytner, to no avail--the harassment, along with severe bullying, continued. Finally the employee made a complaint to Willeke Wendrich, current director of the Cotsen Institute and chair of the IFR board of governors (Wendrich's behavior is a subject of my second report on the Danielle Kurin matters.) Employee No. 1 and other sources say that Wendrich attempted to "mediate" between her and Boytner, despite clear evidence of abuse. Wendrich suggested that the employees have a "safe word"--which they could use if Boytner went too far--and that was agreed to. The safe word was "motorcyle," the sources say, and in one case it actually had to be employed. Again, to no avail.

In the end, Boytner fired Employee No. 1, as he had done with other staff members during the years who would no longer put up with his abuse.

Former employees also described Boytner's reaction when, in 2014, a group of anthropologists published a pivotal study demonstrating an alarming degree of sexual misconduct at field schools. The Study of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE), which appeared in the scientific journal PLOS ONE in July of that year, found that 64% of survey respondents had experienced sexual harassment, and that over 20% had been subjected to sexual assault. But according to Employee No. 1 and other witnesses, Boytner did not believe these results. He told everyone that he was going to disprove them, and assigned Employee No. 1 to design a new survey that could be used in the IFR field schools. But Boytner, unhappy with the survey questions, made changes which several sources told me seriously biased the questionnaire. After he consulted an expert on the methodology who tried to set him straight, sources say, he dropped the whole idea.

Finally, there is the issue of Boytner's blatant racism. Former IFR employees say that Boytner routinely rejected students from Africa. "Why would someone from Africa want to go to a field school?" he would ask. One source says that Boytner seemed to be concerned, in part, that African applicants were really hackers trying to get into IFR's servers. As with many aspects of Boytner's misconduct, Wendrich was aware of the discrimination as well: When an Ethiopian student she had discussed the field schools with was rejected, she wanted to know why.

The consequences of Boytner's behavior, over many years, has been in some cases severe in its effects on other people. He sexually harassed a female student at his field school in 2009 (despite UCLA's determination, there is no question that his behavior as described would today be found in violation of Title IX); he harassed and bullied IFR employees and fired them without just cause; his lies about the Title IX charges against Kurin and Gomez allowed the couple to host a 2018 field school at which students were sexually assaulted, causing trauma they are still suffering from; and he has actively engaged in sexist and racist behavior according to numerous sources.

Wendrich, and possibly some other IFR board members as well, have been aware of this behavior for a long time. Boytner did not respond to several requests for comment on these accusations, and Wendrich--who sources tell me has been aware of Boytner's misconduct going all the way back to the 2009 sexual harassment case--has declined to comment as well.

But it seems that a reckoning by IFR board members about the suitability of their executive director to continue in his job--one that affects the well being of hundreds of students each year--is long, long overdue.

Update March 25, 2020: There's been a lot of discussion of these revelations on Instagram and other private chat venues. Some of the comments are not very complimentary to IFR. Some examples:

"I did an IFR field school and the leader was highly abusive. This does not surprise me in the least."

"I was in Peru. There wasn't any sexual misconduct, but the lead was verbally abusive to the point where some of the students would cry in their bunks." 

"Any time one of us got injured or felt unwell, the lead would tell us to suck it up 'because it's a major pain to get to a hospital from here.'"

"To add insult to injury, nobody learned anything because we were treated as grunt labor rather than students. One of the worst experiences of my life."

I also hear that some of the IFR field schools have been excellent, so it obviously depends on the director a great deal. But the quality control is clearly poor. Sources say that both Boytner and IFR board chair Willeke Wendrich have limited sympathy about complaints. And former employees have talked to me at length about Boytner's obsession with how much money IFR is making through its running of the field schools. "We want to make a million dollars!" he reportedly said, repeatedly.

Update March 30, 2020:  IFR has now cancelled its summer field schools, a sensible move announced on its Web site. This may buy its governing board some time to deal with the serious accusations against its executive director, and to repair the damage that his long-known, serious abuses of students and staff has done to the institute's reputation.


Pat Shipman said...

What is the evidence that sexual harrassment training actually alters an abuser's behavior? In the training I have received, as a faculty member not as someone against whom a complaint was made, the biggest takehome message was that I was a mandatory reporter -- i.e., I HAD to report anything I saw -- and to whom I should report. Otherwise, I was not impressed by the training.

Michael Balter said...

Pat, that’s a good question. I have not researched the subject myself but I have seen some studies that raised the same question and came up with the same answer. Mandatory reporting is probably a more powerful weapon against misconduct, and, as you know, severe consequences for abusers which I have always advocated as the first step towards changing the culture. You can’t change the culture in the abstract, at least not in this phase we are still in.

Anonymous said...

It took the IFR a really long time to actually close the field schools even after a number of faculty (who have projects in countries that are COVID-19 hotspots) explicitly asked to have their projects shut down. Part of the reason it took them so long to shut the programs down was because the IFR tried to convince faculty and students to instead do ONLINE "FIELD RESEARCH".

Michael Balter said...

This last comment is consistent with information from sources that Ran Boytner was obsessed with how much money IFR was making and repeatedly stated that the institute was going for “a million dollars” in revenue. An independent audit of IFR’s finances might be in order once life gets back to normal and the board has to face the allegations against its executive director.

Anonymous said...

This is quite shocking if true. Deafening silence from the IFR board, more than a month after the first allegations were posted. Do they really think this is not serious enough? I know some of them quite well and this is just very, very disappointing.

Michael Balter said...

It is very disappointing, but I think the board knows it cannot ignore the charges forever. The coronavirus pandemic has bought them some time, because this year’s field season is cancelled. The situation is more complicated because it’s not just Boytner, who is credibly accused of misconduct and has misled at least some of the board about some of the facts of the case. It also involves some board members misleading others about what they knew and when they knew it.

Anonymous said...

The irony is that the same IFR board members reacted so promptly and forcefully when you exposed Yesner at the SAA, both at the meeting and on social media. It seems that empathy for victims is quite selective for these folks. Even if those field programs are cancelled now, their staff page still shows four female employees working there with Boytner ( Even assuming it’s all done remotely now, let us not forget that harassment can still continue virtually. I hope that someone there is concerned for their safety.

Michael Balter said...

The same thing happened in the anthropology department at Texas A&M. Colleagues there were quick to object to how SAA officials handled the Yesner situation, but then it turned out the TAMU department was rife with harassment and bullying involving a number of faculty members, plus a grad student who has since been forced to leave.

Yes, I share concerns about the women currently working for IFR. The board needs to know that this is not going away, as I intend to continue reporting and keeping the information current.

Anonymous said...

Back in April 2019, one of the board members, Jason De León wrote a very moving piece about the SAA and why he decided to leave the organization. His silence now that he's actually in a position of power makes me think that he's either a hypocrite or worse yet, he exploited the metoo movement to make himself look like an ally and grandstand about pretending to care about victims. Shameful.

Michael Balter said...

Yes, I’ve been very disappointed in Jason as well. He was copied on all of IFR’s official correspondence with me about the situations I have reported on, and I have tried to get him to talk to me directly about it. Complete and total silence. One can only hope that he is trying to do the right thing within the organization, without compromising internal discussions, but we have no way of knowing.

Anonymous said...

Willeke Wendrich’s comment to De Leon’s Facebook post is also applicable for her organization. “The tone-deafness… extends to the hard work that many of the committees do and that are not finding a follow up by the board. Wasted energy and insights.”

Anonymous said...

I’ve been getting this now from multiple sources and I agree that these executives are fooling themselves if they think they can sweep this under the rug. In case anyone still wondering why no one is saying anything, see Michael’s comment above about NDAs. These are often employed unilaterally in universities, especially where the faculty may be exposed to confidential information that can compromise the institution. I bet these guys had to sign them too. It’s too bad if the truth will only get out through legal action.

Michael Balter said...

Eventually the Title IX cases newly filed at UC Santa Barbara will smoke out Boytner and the IFR board. They are all witnesses

Anonymous said...

This may be true, but the IFR board also needs to realize that their silence is implicating not just themselves but also the field school directors and staff. Our names and faces are up there on the website. I don’t want to pull out my program, but am already getting serious flak from my colleagues and department head. Maybe it’s time to follow De Leon’s SAA example and cut ties before I’m roped into another cycle.

Michael Balter said...

Yes, if they don’t realize that by now they need to get up to speed on reality. I hope that field school directors and staff are clearly communicating their concerns because that might be the main thing that will make a difference here. As I said earlier, the board may think they are buying time by having to cancel all the field schools this year, but they are not: Every week that passes with Boytner still at the helm is a week that IFR’s reputation is irreparably damaged. If they wait much longer there could be nothing left, as you imply.

Anonymous said...

Echoing the above sentiment, several of us are already drafting a letter to the board demanding clarification. If any of the other field school directors are interested in additional information, please contact us at . Your message and information will not be shared with anyone at the IFR. Stay safe!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael- the post above did not show the email. Please repost with a address

Anonymous said...

You are invited to join the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology’s Virtual Pizza Talks for Spring 2020. Space is limited. Registration is required. When you register, a link will be sent to you to join the live Zoom presentation. The talks will be recorded. If you can’t join us live, links to the recordings will be sent to your email so you can view at your convenience. The next Talk is Lord of the Rings: Archaeology in Shire, Ethiopia, April 22. More information can be found at

Lord of the Rings
Archaeology in Shire, Ethiopia

Professor Willeke Wendrich
Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA

After five years of work in Ethiopia the UCLA Shire Archaeological Project has established close collaborations with four Ethiopian universities, national, regional and local offices and the population living around the site of Mai Adrasha. In December 2019 this culminated in a workshop to discuss the future of the archaeological site of Mai Adrasha. Professor Willeke Wendrich, Director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, will discuss the results of the excavations and survey in the tension field of different ideas and interests in both the past and the future.

Wednesday April 22, 2020 – 12:00pm

Register to attend here:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Interesting that the Institute of Field Research is not mentioned in the abstract... But also that's among the few very field schools that are currently showing as active on their website.
If she is still running her program through them, maybe Wendrich is not worried too much about the allegations against her and the organization. Very curious!

Anonymous said...

For all their faults, Joe and the others at the SAA were quicker to respond after the Yesner blunder. I’ve sent many students throughout the years to those IRF programs, precisely because of their excellent anti-harassment and discrimination policies. I’m curious to hear what other anthropology faculty out there know or think about all this. Not that it looks like anyone is going to the field this summer, but many students are planning ahead. Definitely not recommending anything to anyone before this is properly investigated and the archaeological community is informed.

Anonymous said...

Ran Boytner is one of the most unprofessional academics I ever had to deal with, in any capacity. Stories of his insidious bullying go back to UCLA, so none of this surprises me one bit. It’s time that the damage he inflicted on people will finally catch up with him. If people in the IFR board knew about this abusive and enabling conduct and still let it continue, they should be held accountable too.

Anonymous said...

I also experienced his threats and intimidation tactics and I know it happened to others. Sad to see that it’s now sticking to others and even impacting field school directors. While he is all busy driving scholars away, it is the staff who are doing the real work there. Frankly with the way he deals with people, the institute would have imploded anyway even without the pandemic or allegations. My advice to the IFR: replace and try again.

Anonymous said...

“Stanish concluded by telling Boytner that he could not act as an instructor in the program "for the indefinite future, and you are not to have contact with undergraduate students without a third party present."”
How exactly did Charles Stanish expect Boytner, being the DIRECTOR FOR INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH AT A MAJOR PUBLIC UNIVERSITY, to have “a third party present” every time he was in contact with undergraduate students? And it sounds like this guy was still in position months if not years after the events? Is there any proof for that “third party” safety measure for UCLA and international students during this time? If not then this is not just negligence, it is criminal. And now Stanish has the audacity to claim "I did not do anything wrong." However you look at it, this is wrong!

Anonymous said...

"Moreover, sources reliably inform me that the student eventually sued both Boytner and UCLA, but the suit was settled quietly for an undisclosed amount of money."
who knows how many such cases went unreported because they were settled "quietly"?

Anonymous said...

A few years ago Ran accuse one of our project members with bullying and discremination but with very little supporting evidence. Than it turned out to be his misinterpretation based onn evaluation written by one student about another. I find it disturbing how quick he was to blame a field school staff. Especially because what he is accused of is much more serious.

Anonymous said...

I participated in one of their field schools and had to drop off a check at the IFR office in Overland. The director’s door has a big sign on it saying DEPARTMENT OF MISTAKES. He thought it was the funniest thing in the world! It was creepy. If he’s responsible for any of the mistakes listed here, I really hope he is not laughing now.