I’d like to think I’m not a clueless ignoramus when it comes to navigating university bureaucracy, but sometimes evidence gets in the way. Let me attempt to recreate some dialogue from our Academic Senate meeting from last month, as an illustration.
Today, the House Committee on Science had a hearing about sexual harassment. The whole thing is worth your time, but holy moly there were two moments in particular, 6 minutes of your time, that I feel compelled to share:
First, Dr. Kate Clancy delivered testimony on what sexual harassment is, and how deep and pervasive the problem is, and how our academic culture allows it to persist. The entire testimony is filled with mic-drops and moments of searing truth, I can’t even pick a few pull-quotes because the whole thing is golden:
This situation can be a bit of a conundrum if you haven’t dealt with it.
Let’s say you review a manuscript for the Journal of Scientific Stuff. Ultimately, that paper ends up getting rejected by JSS. Some time goes past, and you are asked to review what appears to be the same manuscript, by the editor of Proceedings of Scientific Stuff.
What to do?
The term “passing the trash” is commonly used to describe when sexually abusive K-12 teachers and priests get quietly shifted to new schools and parishes, where they assault more people.
We also use this term in higher ed, when professors who commit sexual misconduct are allowed to slink out of their universities with the approving silence of their administration, only to harm more students in their new jobs.
I hear this a lot: “Bad behavior in academia comes from the guys who have been around for a long time. Times have changed, and they’re stuck in the old ways. We can’t change these guys, but they’re on their way out — and once they retire, things will get better.”
In some narrow cases — an isolated department here or there — this might be true. But as a general principle, I think it’s deeply mistaken.
I’d like to tell you a story about speaking out.
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.
A student recently dropped by to tell me about an exciting opportunity. She was going to spend a few weeks doing research in a gorgeous location, camping with a field crew led by the professor who taught her Intro course last semester.
I asked her how much the job paid, and she said it was a volunteer gig, but the opportunity of this short trip would would be worth it on its own. And she would be getting academic credit.
I had more questions.
I live in the city where Richard Feynman did a bunch of amazing things. I’ve chatted with a number of people who knew him. He is fondly remembered as an inspiring teacher, engaging writer and phenomenal scientist. He is also remembered as a creepy guy who frequented a local strip club, and for misogynist quips, even in his popular writing.