Is the presence of anthropologist Darryl de Ruiter on the Rising Star and Malapa teams consistent with a "zero tolerance" policy?

Darryl de Ruiter
Last month I reported on a large number of allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and unethical behavior among some faculty in the Texas AM University (TAMU) anthropology department, based on a significant number of sources. Although some faculty and university administrators have tried to dismiss the accusations, chalking them up to disgruntled former members of the department and the imagination of a #MeToo reporter, the current graduate students set them straight in a later letter to faculty urging them to take the matter seriously. Among those accused of misconduct are the department chair himself, Darryl de Ruiter, a paleoanthropologist active on two key South African teams led by Wits University scientist Lee Berger. One team works at the site of Malapa, where the hominin Australopithecus sediba was discovered; the other at the Rising Star cave system, where remarkable discoveries of numerous hominin individuals have been made over the past six years.

I had been aware of sexual harassment allegations concerning de Ruiter for the past few years, but I was only recently authorized to report on them. I did so in last month's post about the TAMU anthropology department, where I reported that de Ruiter had been subject to a Title IX proceeding on some of the allegations, found guilty of conduct unbecoming a professor, and sanctioned with one year of monitoring which only recently ended. As I pointed out, while the university let de Ruiter off the hook on the specific charge of sexual harassment, the content of the bullying he was found guilty of was clearly sexual to a certain extent.

Darryl de Ruiter's continuing presence on the Malapa and Rising Star teams (whose researchers overlap to a considerable extent) raises some important issues. Lee Berger's teams, as well as Wits University itself, practice a "zero tolerance" policy, which has been applied in the past to other team members. I have reason to believe that Berger and some other team members have been aware for some time of the allegations concerning de Ruiter, but so far no action has been taken, at least not publicly. I put a series of questions about this matter to Berger, and re-sent them when he did not respond, but so far he has not addressed them. This is perplexing, as I know from other situations that Berger has often shown significant leadership in the fight against sexual harassment and has been outspoken about it. I hope that he, and the team, will now publicly respond to the question of whether it is appropriate for de Ruiter to remain on the team.

A very key aspect of this situation is that the alleged sexual harassment that led to the Title IX investigation took place in South Africa itself. That makes it particularly relevant to Wits and the Berger teams. 

The detailed allegations concerning de Ruiter can be found at this link. And below are the questions I put to Lee Berger about this matter, which I still hope he will answer. (The "new site" refers to another possible fossil find, just announced.)

Dear Lee,

I hope you are doing well.

Congratulations on the discovery of the new site, I’m sure that is going to open a new and exciting era of excavations for you and your team.

Speaking of your team:

As you know, I have been investigating numerous allegations of misconduct concerning Texas A&M faculty, which include sexual harassment, bullying, and unethical conduct. I have published one main preliminary report on my reporting, along with updates and social media posts. As you may also know, I never publish rumors or second hand information, but only the results of direct testimony from either victims of abuse, witnesses to abuse, or other individuals directly involved in the matters at hand.

Among the individuals at TAMU who have been credibly accused of wrongdoing are the anthropology department chair, Darryl de Ruiter. I have known about bullying and sexual harassment allegations concerning Darryl since 2016, and have talked to multiple victims and witnesses to that behavior.

As I believe you know, Darryl was subject to a Title IX investigation in 2018 and the university published findings in that particular case. Although the original accusations included bullying and sexual harassment (the bullying was alleged to be of a frankly sexual nature), the university saw fit to find him guilty of a lesser charge, conduct unbecoming a faculty member. My own findings about what happened are based on testimony from relevant individuals, and the fact that Darryl is alleged to have harassed and bullied multiple individuals.

I know that Wits, and the Rising Star and Malapa projects specifically, have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. I also know that this policy has been invoked in regards to other members of your teams in the past. Nevertheless, as far as I know, Darryl continues to be an active member of both teams (please let me know if this is not the case, in a question below.)

With this context, I would like to ask you the following questions on the record.

1. When did you first hear about bullying and/or sexual harassment allegations concerning Darryl de Ruiter?

2. When did you first become aware that Darryl had been subject to a Title IX investigation at TAMU?

3. Did Darryl at any time tell you that he had been subject to a Title IX? If so, when, and briefly, what did he tell you?

4. Did Darryl at any time tell you that he had been on a one-year period of sanctions, including monitoring and reporting, as a result of the Title IX findings?

5. What actions have you taken in response to these allegations, if any, and/or investigations regarding them?

6. Is Darryl still an active member of the Rising Star and Malapa teams?

7. Do you plan to take any future action concerning Darryl, if you know that at this point?

I realize there are a lot of questions here. I would like to publish an additional report about these matters no later than Thursday Oct 24. I would be grateful for any responses you feel inclined to make to these questions; it would also be helpful if you could acknowledge receipt of this email, which I have sent to the two addresses I have for you.

With thanks and best wishes,


Credit: WikiMedia Commons/Paul H. G. M. Dirks et al

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