When Jason Lieb was a professor at the University of North Carolina, he was sleeping with one of his own graduate students. He was investigated by UNC for sexual harassment, and then left for Princeton. He left Princeton within a year, and was hired by the University of Chicago. The search committee at Chicago was fully aware that he was having sex with his own graduate student at UNC, because Lieb told them this fact. And they hired him anyway.
Did I mention that Lieb has three concurrent R01s? You don’t think that’s a mere coincidence, do you?
The University of Chicago put prestige and money ahead of the fundamental safety of its own students. And then, Lieb raped one of the graduate students in the department during a retreat. I doubt this is the first such incident.
The University of Chicago was informed of a history of sexual harassment at UNC and Princeton. When he was at UNC, having sex with your own student was explicitly banned by the university. But the folks in Chicago said they couldn’t judge him without evidence. EVEN THOUGH LIEB OPENLY ADMITTED TO HAVE SEX WITH A STUDENT.
I wonder which university is going to hire Lieb next.
Here are some other scientists found to have committed sexual misconduct:
And this is only within the last few months.
This is hideous, but am I entirely wrong for seeing the recent news as a step forward? Assault and harassment of women in science — and in everything else — has been the norm for far too long. Now, academic science, in part thanks to leadership in the Astronomy community, is actually doing something about some very high-profile scientists who have been the most overt in their misconduct. They apparently thought that their positions of relative power could shield them from their criminal acts. I find the fact that these people are now experiencing real consequences — and exposure of misdeeds to the public — an improvement over the shadows.
But it’s not enough.
Slater, Marcy, and Lieb were hired into their current posts after their misdeeds were already known to their colleagues on other campuses. It seems everybody was fine keeping their own mouths shut to get rid of the danger to their own students, only to enable further predatory behavior at a different institution. When we identify sexual misconduct, we cannot pass the buck to other institutions.
There has been concern that Ott has gotten off light at CalTech — he will have unpaid leave, including training in appropriate behavior. When he gets back to campus, he won’t be able to interact with students or underlings without direct supervision. If CalTech didn’t do this, then I presume what would have happened is that he would have been fired. And then like Lieb, would then just get hired by another university. I’m okay with a zero tolerance policy throughout all Science. But Science is not a monolith, and merely kicking the predators off campus only shifts them to another venue. I don’t have the answers. But I know that hiding what they’ve done, and letting someone else hire them without knowing the circumstances, is wrong. Obviously.
After seeing what Lieb and The University of Chicago has done, I thought the least I could do is discuss it here. How, as a community, should we handle harassers and assaulters, other than just firing them? I see what isn’t working, but I don’t know how to make things work.
For too long the victims of harassment– often women and minorities, but not always– have been afraid to come forward with stories about sexual harassment in science.
They’re afraid that if they bring up sexual harassment, people will judge them based on their role in the harassment case rather than their scientific work.
I want that to change. Instead of students and lab technicians living in fear of bullies who end up running labs, I want the powerful “rising star” scientists–often white and often male, but not always– to be the ones who worry about what a sexual harassment scandal will do their standing in the field.Jason Lieb has some good ideas, and I hope he finds a way to share them with the molbio community, but at this point, it’s fairly safe to say he shouldn’t be trusted to run a lab or teach students. But even before The New York Times story broke, the mere possibility of Lieb’s harassment history stopped me from sharing his ideas.
The campaign to end sexual harassment isn’t just about addressing the human harms (although we should never lose sight of those); it’s also about how harassment tears a rift in the fabric of empirical science– by stopping people from being able to engage in and exchange ideas.I hope my sharing this account of Lieb’s science helps people realize what sexual harassment is costing science…but I doubt it will.