Over the past weeks I have been Tweeting about the misconduct investigation the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has been conducting on its long-time curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, Mark Siddall. More recently I reported that he had been fired.
The official word comes today:
From: Michael Novacek <firstname.lastname@example.org>Subject: Message for Curators and Division of Invertebrate Zoology staff membersDate: September 4, 2020 at 3:01:14 PM EDTDear Curators and Division of Invertebrate Zoology staff members,We write to let you know that Dr. Mark Siddall was terminated from his employment with the Museum, effective September 3, 2020, due to violating the Museum’s anti-harassment policies. As a result, Dr. Siddall will not be available for any Museum-related work. If you have ongoing projects with Dr. Siddall, please contact your supervisor or the Provost’s Office.Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President and ProvostKala Harinarayanan, Vice President of Human Resources
It's too soon to say much about the details, but let's just say that he made the museum's women, and men too, miserable for many many years. He finally went too far, apparently, and now he is gone. Good riddance.
By the way, reports have reached me that Siddall is trying to find a new job, and telling people that he left the museum voluntarily. That is obviously a lie. Don't let this harasser get passed, please.
than the single individual who was outed, and the circumstances in
which that happened, for several reasons. The people who ignored or
covered this up for years are still firmly in control. The steps taken
to address the systemic problems are band-aid solutions, creating the
appearance that something has been done when little has changed on the
ground. Finally, and most importantly, there are others who have
conducted themselves at least as badly, in terms of 'violating the
Museum's anti-harassment policies', without ever being called to
account. This is actually quite well known..."
single him out while others escape scrutiny, and the administration
gets a pass for turning a blind eye. As the saying goes, the fish rots
from the head."
Adjunct Professor of Journalism "emeritus,"
To: amnh-staff <email@example.com>
Subject: [AMNH-Staff] Message for the AMNH Community
Dear Members of the AMNH Community:
Last week, we informed curators and members of the Invertebrate Zoology Division that Dr. Mark Siddall’s employment with the Museum was terminated, effective September 3. This action was taken following the Museum’s receipt of formal complaints, a full investigation, and a finding that Dr. Siddall violated the Museum’s sexual harassment and bullying policies. In addition to sharing this information, we want to underscore the Museum’s commitment to a workplace and academic environment that is safe and respectful, and free from harassment of all kinds.
We understand that many of you may have heard this news informally and may have questions or concerns, and we wanted to directly inform our community of our decision. We also share this information because many of you have collaborated with Dr. Siddall, and this decision may affect your work.
We also recognize that an occurrence like this may raise questions about the Museum’s work environment, and the desire for more details, particularly when some individuals are publicly sharing their own perspectives and personal accounts. However, the Museum does not share details of individual investigations or personnel decisions. We strive to balance our commitment to supporting the valid concerns of members of our community with the goals of ensuring a fair investigatory process and outcome, and an environment that encourages future complainants to come forward.
It is also important to acknowledge the movements that have led to meaningful changes in recent years around issues of sexual harassment and discrimination. In recognition of those changes, the Museum has taken concrete steps to strengthen internal policies, training programs, and processes to make them more robust and comprehensive, and those improvements have been critical to this termination. These policies, and Dr. Siddall’s termination, reflect the Museum’s strong commitment to ensuring a workplace and academic environment that is free of harassment or bullying of any kind.
We affirm our commitment to maintaining an environment that is safe and respectful, and free from harassment of all kinds, and to continuing to listen and learn. We look forward to ongoing conversations about how we can best live up to the highest moral and ethical standards in our dealings with each other.
To that end, we would also like to remind everyone of the processes in place to both prevent instances of harassment and bullying and to provide avenues for those who feel they have been harassed or bullied. Soon, all Museum staff will receive details on our required annual anti-sexual harassment training, which this year will be conducted online. Additionally, in the fall there will be outreach from the Museum’s Title IX Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Specialist, Ben Marzolf, to schedule meetings to further discuss the resources available to the Museum community and how the Museum can support and improve workplace experiences.
Finally, all members of the Museum community may contact Ben Marzolf at 212-769-5316 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call the confidential hotline at 1-800-620-5571. Taking advantage of the full spectrum of these resources is a crucial component of achieving our common goal of protecting our community.
Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President and Provost
Kala Harinarayanan, Vice President of Human Resources
Several people have already commented to me about this particular passage, carefully worded to be somewhat ambiguous:
"We also recognize that an occurrence like this may raise questions about the Museum’s work environment, and the desire for more details, particularly when some individuals are publicly sharing their own perspectives and personal accounts. However, the Museum does not share details of individual investigations or personnel decisions."
Some are interpreting this, I think rightly, as a veiled admonition not to speak publicly about what has happened, including to the media. If that is wrong, perhaps museum officials can reassure museum staff that they have every right to speak out without fear of retaliation. As one researcher put it: "If Michael Cohen can write a book then victims can Tweet."
The passage also implies, as one colleague put it to me, that any experiences made public and outside the official investigation do not really count. But of course they do.
(People wanting to comment on this letter or any other aspect of this case are very welcome to use the Comments section of this blog, which is moderated. I will moderate comments as fast as I can.)
Update Sept 18, 2020:
There's likely to be important developments soon in the news coverage of this case. I hope that the issue of AMNH's accountability, or lack of it, will be raised.
Meanwhile a colleague who knows Siddall writes:
"They hired him for his reputation as a renegade in his science and his sharp critique of those with differing views that always bordered on bullying, but was hailed as clever. Turns out those traits are not restricted to his scientific writing."