one possible policy to address harassment in the academy

It is hard to prevent or control harassment in the academy because graduate students and post-docs often rely exclusively on a single person for professional support. Thus, if your adviser or supervisor acts inappropriately, it is very, very hard to find a replacement without wrecking your career.

This fits with a more general theory that harassment is facilitated by situations where men monopolize a resource. In the academy, we give a monopoly to the adviser or lab directors, in the case of post-docs. This is what prevents many graduate students from lodging complaints. While the university slowly adjudicates a complaint, the adviser can ruin one’s life and there isn’t much you can do.

One possible solution is to institute a policy of “adviser bankruptcy” and an “adviser credit rating.” Bankruptcy is what is sounds like. If the university receives credible evidence that a faculty member is abusing graduate students, their chairmanship of the dissertation committee is dissolved and the university actively seeks a replacement, possibly from another school. This last issue is important. If a whole department is toxic, or the university believes that the faculty will seek revenge within the department, or simply that there is no qualified member within a program, an external chair may be needed.

The credit rating policy is what it sounds like. All graduate faculty start with a “good” rating but if the university receives credible evidence of harassment or other misconduct, they are down graded. Downgraded faculty are suspended from the graduate faculty until (a) all charges are cleared or (b) an appropriate punishment has been served.

I don’t claim that this sort of policy will magically make a severe problem disappear, but it opens up options for victims abuse where there aren’t any right now.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 13, 2017 at 5:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. This is kind of unrelated to this post. But if I want to enter organizational science, Fabio, do you have any recommendations of books (1-2), for me to get jump-started?



    December 13, 2017 at 2:03 pm

  2. Two comments.
    (1) Advisors are often uniquely qualified and dissolving the committee almost certainly hurts the student’s career. There was a case at my uni (not my dept) in which the advisor was falsifying data reports to the NSF. Two grad students, after much anxiety, were the whistle-blowers. Both of their careers were materially harmed. The advisor denied wrong-doing and quit the university. One student just gave up and left the academy. Another was picked up by other advisors in the program but had to change research topics and was materially slowed in their career. I was on the graduate school committee at the time. Most of the people sitting on that committee saw no good way to indemnify the students in that case, and over half of the faculty sitting at the table didn’t even think the university had a moral responsibility to try to indemnify the students, they just said “of course the students are screwed if their advisor is a criminal.” Now substitute the charge of sexually harassing the students. How would the outcome be any different?

    (2) Much sexual harassment is perpetrated by people who are not the student’s direct supervisors, frequently people from other institutions. A lot of this is at meetings, or by visiting scholars. High-profile people in your area are important for your future career, but you cannot get to them through institutional mechanisms. The #metoo cases also describe people who control important sets who demand that women scholars put out to get access to the data.

    I agree with the sentiment that we need to take collective institutional responsibility for the problem, but there are important structural reasons why victims either withdraw entirely or keep silent in the hopes of keeping their careers on track and only speak up later when they have a secure position.

    Relevant to response to problems, I had an advisor who was trying to block my career because he thought I had falsely accused him of sexual harassment. He had been accused and I was a witness to the accusation, but he had not harassed me and I was not the complainant. He was overtly retaliating. We had a conversation in which he finally signified why he was being so passive aggressive. I salvaged my career by networking: women faculty and grad students intervened to make sure I got out the door with a PhD in hand. I never told this story until I was safely a full professor at a top university.

    Why I ended up with an advisor who manifestly did not want to work with me is another story about another bad advisor who dumped me on the hostile advisor because I had my own ideas about what I wanted to do for my research and refused to advise a project that didn’t really interest him.

    Notice that it is over 30 years later and I am still not naming names.

    Liked by 4 people


    December 13, 2017 at 2:28 pm

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