|Kate Clancy, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign|
These results were a shock to many researchers, especially in archaeology and anthropology, fields which utilize field work as a major tool for their research. Since then, Clancy and her colleagues have published a number of other studies, and Clancy has become well known for her #MeToo advocacy, including Congressional testimony and many media interviews. (Full disclosure: Although Clancy and I have some serious and ongoing personal and professional disagreements, I have always acknowledged the key role she has played in an area in which we are both very active.)
I am not exactly an academic, but rather a science journalist. Nevertheless I have spent many decades in academia as a student, researcher, and journalism teacher. And this month, August 2020, marks five years as a #MeToo reporter, in which I have investigated and reported many cases in anthropology, archaeology, and other fields. During that time I have watched the evolution of the #MeToo and #MeTooSTEM movements, and tried to monitor their progress. My conclusion is that so far there has been very little, despite some good intentions and a proliferation of formal guidelines designed to show potential abusers where to draw the line.
I'd like to discuss some of my conclusions in the context of the latest contribution to the #MeToo literature, an opinion piece published this past week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Clancy, along with Lilia Cortina and Anne Kirkland of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The article is entitled "Use science to stop sexual harassment in higher education." In my discussion of it, I will draw from a number of case studies based on my own reporting, which includes nearly two dozen full fledged investigations of alleged sexual harassment, assault, bullying, and retaliation in the sciences. (In addition to those, I have engaged in another 20 or so "mini-investigations," in which the victims and survivors of abuse talked to me credibly enough that I was able to report these cases on social media.)
"Sexual harasssment abounds in academia." -- "Not just about sex."
The first phrase quoted above is the first sentence of the Clancy et al. paper, and the second phrase is the title of the opinion piece's first section. As they have before, Clancy and her colleagues provide the evidence for the ubiquity of sexual harassment, and the wide variety of forms it takes, which are usually less about sexual gratification than about power relationships in academia. Most abusers are men, a fact well established by the research of Clancy and others, and most targets are women; but the harassment often seems more about senior researchers keeping women in their place than about actually engaging in sexual relationships with female students, although that does happen--and more often than many might realize.
Clancy et al. go on to discuss how institutions can "disincentivize" the contemptuous and disrespectful conduct towards women that is really at the heart of sexual harassment. In one key passage, they suggest ways this could be done:
"To determine whether their department is part of the problem, leaders can ask:
• Do job candidates have to run a gauntlet of abuse to show their worth?
• Are speakers constantly interrupted and 'piled on' during their seminars?
• Do faculty members malign students or mistreat staff?
• Are wrongdoers widely known but never confronted by leadership?
• Is there a star culture, where some people are allowed to behave badly because they’re so brilliant, so famous, or bring in so many grant dollars?"
Interestingly, the first three of these questions deal with various common kinds of harassment, while the last two shift to more fundamental questions of whether the institutions involved are motivated to ignore or tolerate misconduct they are actually aware of (or are made aware of by persistent complaints from the students who are most often the victims of the harassment.)
The case studies below suggest not only that institutions are NOT really motivated to stop harassment, but that only a minority of brave senior, tenured faculty members are really motivated to either. And unfortunately, despite real progress in theory and understanding of sexual and gender harassment, there has been little progress so far in actual practice, that is, in putting a stop to it.
(Please click the links to go to the actual stories.) Most importantly--and I know some will disagree--very, very few #MeToo cases have been addressed and resolved without the intervention of journalists as the agents publicly exposing the misconduct. In other words, in very, very few cases has the initiative to seek justice for victims and survivors come from the institutional leadership itself; and those brave colleagues who have managed to make things public have had to approach reporters to do that, as a last resort, but often a very effective one.
Brian Richmond, former curator for human origins at the American Museum of Natural History.
This was the first case I worked on, on assignment from Science magazine beginning in the summer of 2015. Richmond had sexually assaulted a research assistant whom he supervised, and the evidence was solid and clear. Nevertheless the museum went through two superficial and not-very-serious investigations behind the scenes, slapped Richmond on the wrist, and forced the victim to continue to pass her abuser in the halls every day. After the survivor began publicly telling her colleagues what had happened to her, Science found out about it and assigned me to investigate. Only after it became clear to museum officials that we were doing a story did they begin a third, rigorous investigation, which led to Richmond's forced resignation in December 2016. There were some heroes in this story: Two anthropologists who spoke out publicly against Richmond and helped with the investigation, along with dozens of other researchers who helped my reporting behind the scenes. In a lot of ways, this was the ideal situation, but it was far from typical, as illustrated below.
Mammalogist Robert Baker and the Texas Tech biological sciences department
This investigation, which I carried out for The Verge (Vox media), began with sexual assault allegations against a graduate student who had received his MA at Texas Tech, and led to exposure of an entrenched culture of sexism and misogyny in the university's biology department. Although the worst offender was the late Robert Baker, a famous mammalogist, my reporting showed that other senior faculty in the department had their own long history of bad behavior; moreover, Baker was enabled, right up to the day he retired, in his horrible attitudes towards female students. As a result of my reporting, the university carried out an "investgation" which "cleared" pretty much everyone involved, despite the masses of evidence. To their credit, some of the more junior faculty in the department did issue a letter of concern about their own culture, although it was not a very strong statement. Sadly, only one women in the department signed it. Indeed, one of the most frequent complaints I hear from female grad students I talk to about harassment is that all too often the women in their departments--including senior, tenured women--do not have their backs. I will get to that shortly.
David Lordkipanidze, director, Georgia National Museum
This was one of the most complex and difficult cases I worked on, involving a well known paleoanthropologist who threatened to sue me if I published my findings. The researcher, David Lordkipanidze, also directed one of the most important excavations into human evolution ever launched, the research project at Dmanisi. Although many colleagues, especially in North America, helped with the reporting behind the scenes and provided confidential information and details of sexual assault and harassment, no one in Georgia--where Lordkipanidze has great power--had any interest in taking him on. In fact, colleagues there lied repeatedly about what they had seen, as did researchers from Spain who have been working at Dmanisi for many years. Sadly, those Spanish colleagues put their own careers and research interests above the welfare of female students and junior colleagues who have been pursued, and reportedly continue to be pursued, by this sexual predator. More happily, Lordkipanidze is now widely shunned by the anthropology community, has been disinvited from a number of meetings he was initially invited to, although his power in Georgia appears to be undiminished.
Deanna Grimstead of Ohio State University
This is a case of complete failure by a department and a university to protect female students from sexual harassment, this time by a woman. Deanna Grimstead was subject to a Title IX and found to have engaged in the harassment alleged; but she kept her job. She may have kept it even after a second Title IX investigation, were it not that by that time the student victims had had enough and came to me for help. As in the cases above, approaching a reporter as the last resort, but it worked. Grimstead was finally--finally--forced to resign in December 2019.
Alan Cooper, director, University of Adelaide ancient DNA lab.
Last year I was approached by a leading Australian archaeologist who told me about ancient DNA pioneer Alan Cooper's merciless bullying of grad students and postdocs during the nearly 15 years he had led the Adelaide lab. A number of survivors of this abuse began to approach me to tell their stories. It turned out the University of Adelaide had been receiving complaints about the abuses for nearly 15 years but done absolutely nothing. Only when I reported the findings of my investigation did the university begin its own inquiry, which led to Cooper's firing, also in December 2019. Faculty and administrators did nothing all those years to put a stop to it; brave junior researchers, with the help of a reporter, were responsible for this happy ending.
Texas A and M biology department: Years of harassment and bullying.
This investigation found wrongdoing by so many members of the faculty that it was hard to find any heroes, but there were some among the faculty and students, who again--fed up--approached a reporter to get the story out. Ironically, the department chair himself, now charged with making reforms and changing the "culture," was found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior (read: sexual harassment) in a Title IX.
Danielle Kurin, University of California, Santa Barbara. Retaliation, enabling of sexual abuse.
Full disclosure: Kurin has sued me for $10 million for my reporting on her years of misconduct (in addition to the two links above, please look at updates Balter's Blog for the full picture of abuses, which have continued until at least very recently.)
I end with this case, which is a snapshot in real time of the kinds of choices that faculty and administrators have to make when faced with an abuser whose conduct is not only no secret, but has been investigated multiple times with clear findings. Thus Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at UCSB, was found in a 2016 Title IX to have retaliated against students who reported sexual harassment by her partner, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque; Gomez sexually assaulted two students at a field school in Peru Kurin directed in 2018, and after an investigation Kurin lost the sponsorship of the umbrella organization under those auspices the field school took place; Kurin was reported by at least two students, in 2014 and 2015, for severe bullying and abuse; and there is evidence that Kurin has very recently continued her abusive behavior AND is actively trying to retaliate against members of her department who have tried to protect students from falling victim to her abuses.
And where are things now? Kurin is now up for tenure, beginning next month, due to the failure of both the university and the department to put a stop to her continuing abuses over all these years. The good news is that there are fledgling efforts under way among some of her colleagues to try to do something about the situation, which means doing something to protect students, the number one priority. And yet there is widespread fear--if not abject terror--that Kurin will sue them too if they do anything to impede her tenure bid.
Here is a case where the institution has failed, and is continuing to fail, to deal with a blatant situation that should have been solved years ago.
Is there a class war between the university and senior faculty on one side and graduate students on the other?
I want to go back now to the Clancy et al. paper. The authors discuss a 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which makes a number of recommendations for addressing sexual harassment. As Clancy et al. summarize it: "To change course, the National Academies report recommends that institutions take active steps to cultivate cultures of respect." Some of these measures could include issuing explicit statements about harassment, hiring leadership coaches, follow the advice of experts to avoid hiring "toxic" people in the first place, and withhold perks from those who are abusive.
But in their next section, "No Quick Fixes," I think the authors get a fundamental point wrong. They write: "Everyone and their Associate Dean wants to find a fast fix for sexual harassment." But Clancy et al. then go on to point out that sexual harassment, along with "its related forms of racial and gendered disrespect, are entrenched in long histories of exclusive and exploitative practices in the American higher education system."
The second point is absolutely correct, and obvious to all honest academics. But that makes the first statement highly suspect. Deans and administrators, in so many, and perhaps most, cases, DO NOT want to fix sexual harassment, not quickly or any other way. Why? Precisely because to really do so would require the kinds of dramatic changes in the institutions they run that they do not want to make and have resisted making for decades if not longer.
What institutional leaders want, in this so-called "#MeToo Era," is the appearance of fixing the problem, without actually doing it. And I do not offer that as hyperbole. I offer it as fully demonstrated by the evidence, not only in academia but in all walks of life from Hollywood to politics to the media to journalism itself.
And, in all too many cases, senior faculty (or even middle range faculty still climbing the academic ladder) do not want to rock the boat on which they have sailed the often rough seas of academic advancement. (With apologies for the mixed metaphors, but there are so many possible ones.)
The reality, as I suggest in the title to this last section, is that when graduate students and other junior researchers try to do something about abuses that they or their colleagues have suffered, they inevitably run up against not only the administrations of their institutions, but, so unfortunately, the senior faculty whose job it should be to protect them and fight for them, side by side.
In the case studies I cite above, I give examples--exceptions, it should be made clear--of faculty who have sided with the survivors and victims of abuse. In the case of Danielle Kurin, in which I now have a personal stake, there are such brave faculty in the UCSB anthropology department, thinking hard about what they can do and how they should do it. But they are thinking about this in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and retaliation that the university administration has allowed to continue, even as I write.
Thus have so many senior, tenured, privileged faculty made themselves the objective enemy of the most vulnerable colleagues they should be duty bound to protect.
It takes courage to change sides and do the right thing, and it can be scary, and maybe some of your colleagues won't like you and maybe they will give a negative review to your grant proposal or your journal submission or not invite you to their faculty parties or not vote for you to be promoted. But when you make an enemy of the younger generation, you lose all rights to sympathy for your personal career goals and risks. Even worse, you lose the right to be called a truth-seeking academic, because the truth remains buried even though you know it full well.
I applaud Kate Clancy and her colleagues for continuing to provide the research and the ammunition that can allow researchers and other academics to do the right thing. The time is long past to reach out, grasp that ammunition, and load the weapons.