Academics, we need to talk, because I am sick and tired of this.

This is my personal response to the recent Mother Jones article about sexual harassment at the University of Rochester.

tl;dr Sexual harassment is pervasive in academia. The solution first lies in every professor acknowledging their privilege and being brutally honest with themselves about the role they play in perpetuating it. The more power you hold, the more important it is to do. And then we need to take action. I propose that we must create a way of ‘calling in’ potential aggressors, so that they can grow as individuals and we can thrive as a community, and so that we no longer get to the stage of having to call them out.

At a recent international conference I was struck by the sheer number of conversations I had with other mid-career, female colleagues that independently all ended up on the discussion of gender discrimination or gender disparity. (You might think that I was the common factor here, but when I started noticing the pattern I actually intentionally stopped bringing up the topic, myself, just to see if it would happen. And it always did.) After swapping personal stories, we often talked about how we’d noticed clearly inappropriate behavior by some senior men at the conference towards junior women. Some of us agreed to address the issue by talking to all of our graduate students and junior colleagues, alerting them to be vigilant when interacting with those men. And we left it at that. We didn’t talk to the men, directly, because they were more senior than us. These are the people who will be reading our submitted journal articles, our grant applications, and our promotion applications. So we focused on training the next generation.

At a another recent conference, I heard about some unwanted advances one conference attendee had made to another. The latter said she questioned her worth as an academic: was this person saying her work was good as an honest academic evaluation, or because he had other intentions? This time, the aggressor in question was more junior; someone I felt I could talk to. Then I realized: I didn’t know how. What could I say that wouldn’t put him on the defensive? What could I say that would actually convey the fact that I wanted him to become aware of the probably-unintended consequences of his actions, and to become a better person (which I believe he can become)? I fretted about this for days. I talked to several different people about it. In the end, I contacted someone who knows him better than I do. A woman. I didn’t contact him directly. I passed the buck.

And then this morning I woke up and saw this article:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/09/she-was-a-rising-star-at-a-major-university-then-a-lecherous-professor-made-her-life-hell/

It’s happened again. And, again, it’s someone I know. Someone who I could have said something to, had I known that this was happening. But would I have? And what would I have said, exactly?

I went to graduate school with Florian Jaeger. He was a couple years ahead of me. I am not shocked that he’s been called out for sexualized behavior. I am shocked that he’s been called out for non-consensual behavior. It is totally okay to be a sexual being. It is utterly deplorable to be a sexual bully. His actions are not only morally reprehensible, but they are damaging to our entire academic community, and harmful to academic progress. Because I might have once called him a friend, it’s all the more disappointing and frankly frustrating that he has behaved in this way. (And yes, I am intentionally using active language here because we know that the default in discussions of sexual harassment is to use passive voice to protect the aggressor.)

Florian and I had lunch not too long ago, where he gave me some genuinely good advice about, ironically now, how to foster collegiality as a graduate supervisor. I’m not writing this blog post to demonize him, although he should clearly be held accountable for his actions. The point is not to shake our heads at one person, and then totally give up on that person, and just chalk it up to an isolated incident, and move on with our lives as if it has nothing to do with us. The point is that we are all complicit. This is a systemic problem, and has been for a long time. I believe the only way we’re going to change it is if we academics take responsibility for ourselves, and have hard discussions with one another, and try as much as possible to listen humbly and fully and not get defensive. Especially those of us with relatively more power. Especially men.

In discussing this Mother Jones article with other women who went to grad school with us, one made the excellent point that this particular incident has happened because Florian carried his borderline sketchy behaviors from graduate school into postgraduate life, without calibrating for his increase in power relative to the grad students he was interacting with. One grad student flirting with another grad student is one thing. A professor flirting with a grad student is another thing entirely. The options for responding are severely constrained in the latter case in a way they aren’t in the former case. Because power. When someone gains power without checking themselves and their behavior, this is what happens.

[EDIT: And, clearly, this particular case is about actions far more severe than ‘flirting’. See the full complaint here (PDF download), or read Tom Church’s tweet-summary of it, here.]

If you feel like commenting on this post, whether here or on social media, I want to know one thing: How would you want to be ‘called in’ to a conversation about your own behavior that someone else found questionable? Are you in a place where you’d be able to hear that your actions (unintentionally, we assume) made someone else feel unsafe, insecure, or non-consensually objectified? If you’re not, what would it take for you to get there? Because that’s the kind of conversation we need to start, with ourselves, our students, and our colleagues. This will not be solved by women-talking-among-women about which men to avoid. We’ve tried that. This will not be solved by supervisors telling their students to watch out for one another at conferences. We’ve tried that. This will only be solved by stopping the problem at its source. This problem belongs to us all.

[EDIT: My suggestions are not meant to be the end-all, be-all solution, by any means, especially for cases where it’s obviously too late, which this one very much appears to be. And I certainly don’t mean to put any burden on survivors; they are clearly not the ones that should be doing any of the calling-in. After reading the full legal complaint, I want to say that I would’ve written a very different post if I’d read that first, rather than the Mother Jones article, which actually seems to have downplayed the actual severity of the case. It’s extremely clear from the report that no amount of calling-in, or out, would’ve helped in this instance. The problem here lies squarely on those still supporting his career and still defending his actions. The immediate action all of us should take is to demand that the senior management at the University of Rochester do the right thing. They are the ones who now need to be called out.]

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48 Responses to Academics, we need to talk, because I am sick and tired of this.

  1. lstaum says:

    Thanks for writing this, Lauren. I love your question at the end, because it focuses on the most important thing – what can we all do to change ourselves and each other for the better?

    I have sexually harassed someone once (that i know of – maybe more times that I was not aware of?). There was a woman I met in college who was one of the most active in the campus lesbian scene, and very funny and smart. I thought she was cool, and started hanging out with her and flirting with her. As a mostly heterosexual woman, it had never occurred to me that my flirtations could be threatening or unwelcome to anyone (because i was an idiot). One night we were at the same event, and when she left I followed her outside to talk to her. She turned to me and said, in a very calm but firm voice, “You’re making me uncomfortable.”

    That stopped me in my tracks. She didn’t accuse me of doing anything on purpose, she just made her feelings clear. And of course it was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do, and I left her alone after that! I felt super embarrassed about having been such a jerk, but that’s all it took to get me to rethink and change my behavior.

    The fact that I was not in a position of power over her, though, may have been crucial in making her feel able to say that to me herself. But, if it had been an unequal power situation, I think those words from someone else (“you’re making her uncomfortable”) might have been enough. I don’t know if they would be enough for a serial sexual harasser, though.

    What happened to Celeste Kidd is so appalling largely because of the institutional failures that followed her attempts to change the culture. Not that having been sexually harassed and intimidated is not appalling in itself, but because if we can’t even fix these things after they’ve happened, how can we prevent them from happening more in the future? The message of this case and others like it is that there’s no reason for perpetrators of sexual harassment to change – they can just continuing ignoring the consequences of their behavior.

  2. pater2013 says:

    Thank you for this Lauren. I think what you are proposing sounds like exactly the way forward. Yes, I would be willing to hear the concerns someone has, and I will also aim to initiate that conversation if need be. There is clearly a lot of disagreement about what is considered harassment – having a conversation with someone in a potential grey area about the power imbalance issues seems like it may well have the effect of their checking their behavior.

  3. I’ve been called out once by a colleague, when I was sharing an anecdote about how the small number of female computer science students at my University (Bonn, Germany) used to comment amongst ourselves about whether our male lecturers were hot or not. Valid pushback, I remember it to this day. I prefer frank discussion instead of beating around the bush, and I’m grateful for her comments.

    Regarding Florian – what you described sounds totally plausible to me. The cool grad student doesn’t realise that professors have power, and with that power comes the responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries. I am saddened to see that he doesn’t seem to be learning anything from the situation – he probably thought he was being friendly and kewl and totally rad. Is anybody getting through to him? Is he happy to have turned into an asshole and a predator? Or is he another one in the long list of people who pretend to be allies, but are in reality creepy jerks?

    Anyway, I’m with Celeste, and I’m happy to be called in. We all need that.

  4. vocalised says:

    A Facebook comment from a friend who has given me permission to share:

    “…I worry that if the primary response to this case is how we can intervene earlier or talk to abusers about the behaviour a decade earlier, that we are giving a pass to the individual behaviour within a systemic societal problem. Perhaps there is nuance here, but mostly I feel there unambiguously isn’t. No amount of engaging with abusers will prevent abuse, worse, I feel that advocating for that in place of other methods of prevention and justice alienates the victims. It also implicitly places the responsibility for righting the ship on the vulnerable. As if, oops, couldn’t help abusing, it’s a systematic societal problem, wasn’t me! Of course I know you are not at all advocating any of these points, I am just honestly expressing how the post and responses to it have made me react/ how it triggered me.

    Another way to say it: intervention or calling out makes sense on the level of dick jokes and body-part-staring at defenses or interviews, but I fail to see how not doing that enough (we need to! You are right) makes me (as a survivor) complicit in systemic sociopathic abuse that goes beyond the norms of structural unequally/ “socially acceptable bad behaviour”. This kind of abuse can’t be prevented by calling out. It must be unambiguously and consistently publicly condemned by the entire community. And I think you are playing an important role in doing that.”

  5. vocalised says:

    A Facebook message from a (different) friend who has given me permission to share:

    “Reflecting all day on the events surround a person I once knew quite well in graduate school, I want to say a few things. The point is not to add to the accusations of this particular person but to share some thoughts on the character traits that I think made the situation possible. Some of the discussion has been around “calling out” people who engage in this kind of behavior. I think this wouldn’t have helped. We are not dealing with an idiot; he understands very well the boundaries that he is crossing. In fact, that’s sort of the point — he’s deliberately crossing them, publically and visibly. Back in the old days in grad school I had many discussions with Florian on various topics, sexual and otherwise, and a common theme was his disdain for social norms of all kinds. The sexual aggressiveness isn’t just about sexual pleasure — there’s a mental side to it; it’s about freedom, about flaunting norms. Anything that’s enforced, arbitrarily as he perceives, is subject to active challenge. Like drug laws, like traffic rules, he perceives sexual boundaries as arbitrary, and transgression is an assertion of one’s freedom. Never mind that women, unlike drugs, are human beings who experience the events from a different side–of course the narcissist has no capacity to understand others’ dislike of himself. Even when all evidence points to the contrary. So, about “calling out”: an authority figure who comes and tells him that he’s doing something wrong is only stoking the fire, only reinforcing his idea that he’s breaking down arbitrary normative boundaries. I wonder if other serial abusers share some of these character traits. I have no idea what would have helped. I have no idea what could get through to someone like that to tell them that they’re doing real wrong and harm as opposed to being at the cutting edge of social liberation, as they think. But I think the appeal to “calling out” and talking about things is more likely to reach people who are already in the habit of self-reflection that will set them on the right path. Sorry to be so pessimistic in this comment, but I guess human nature is a tough thing…”

    • Mary Rose says:

      You’re not pessimistic — this is the truth about Florian. And the truth about institutions who protect sociopaths.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, I was there around the same time as you Lauren (and Laura and Mary). I’m male, and I’m aware of the privilege this involves, so I want to make clear from the outset that the focus on sexual harassment of women is certainly the right priority.

      But I think I should highlight that Florian was often a bully to our male peers as well. Read points 53-64 in the EEOC. They resonate very profoundly with the way that I remember Florian from those years. I remember some male peers of ours who were close to him, who I had gotten along well when they got to the department, gradually became more and more hostile toward me. They would make insider jokes among themselves in front of me that were evidently at my expense but to whose details I was not privy. I was once earnestly warned by a (female) friend from another department who knew him and his closer male buddies that I should not count him as a friend, but she wouldn’t elaborate on why. I’m sure some people in this thread can actually attest to these details better than I can. (And I don’t particularly care to revisit those years, anyway.)

      I don’t want to derail this conversation away from sexual harassment, but rather, what I want to highlight is that when people say things like these:

      “The sexual aggressiveness isn’t just about sexual pleasure — there’s a mental side to it; it’s about freedom, about flaunting norms. Anything that’s enforced, arbitrarily as he perceives, is subject to active challenge. Like drug laws, like traffic rules, he perceives sexual boundaries as arbitrary, and transgression is an assertion of one’s freedom.”

      …I can’t help but roll my eyes, having experienced far more banal (and far less harmful, to be clear) forms of bullying from him, that don’t lend themselves to any florid rationalizations like those. He wasn’t “transgressing norms” out of a quest for “freedom” when he endeavored to ostracize me from our peers. So I just do not think highly of such attempts to attach a bigger meaning to his alleged behavior in these more serious accusations.

      • anonymous says:

        I think you’re right in your assessment, though wrong to “roll your eyes”. I was sort of part of the in-group for a while and I also remember being a target; he had a way of finding your vulnerabilities and exploiting them. but that’s beside the point. I can think of lots of people who are unkind or hard to deal with or cliqui-ish or even bullies — and I’m sure I’ve been unkind to people on various occasions — but that’s different from being a sexual creep. So your assessment is very much compatible with my point that a serial aggressor understands very well that they’re doing something that’s thought by most others to be wrong.

  6. Mary Rose says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Lauren. I agree that it’s certainly important for individuals around the perpetrator to begin calling him out, early and often. But mostly, it’s absurd that we imagine universities as organizations that “just don’t know how to handle” sexual harassment cases. Other workplaces have figured it out – so why not universities?

    Since changing careers out of academia, and partly because I then went to work for a labor union, I’ve been thinking more and more about how academia as a culture simply denies itself a self-definition as a WORKPLACE, and clings to the cultural frame of SCHOOL, not WORK. Formally institutionalized workplaces, from businesses to large public agencies, survive because they have policies and processes for recruiting, hiring, training, supporting, and exiting their employees.

    Those processes include the expectation that employees will do work, that they will be shown how to do that work, that they will behave professionally (or they will be exited) — basically, that the organization has responsibilities to them and they to the organization. I know that as a new grad student, I didn’t recognize myself as an employee, didn’t understand that I had been hired there to do a job. To work toward a degree, while generating work products. We got ‘training’ on sexual harassment when we were about to be TAs, but that’s it.

    Other workplaces have structures *outside of the chain of command* where employees file complaints about sexual harassment or other hostile work environment claims. Those workplaces are by no means perfect — but without self-recognition of academic departments as workplaces, there are no clear expectations for grad students’ behavior as employees, no protections for non-tenure track workers, no clear definition for tenure-track workers as to how they advance in the supervisory structure. And in this and so many other horrifying cases, no process or training for employees (faculty, grad students) about what sexual harassment looks like from the outside, how to call it out, where to make a complaint, and how sexual harassment and sexual violence cases will be fully investigated and prosecuted.

    • itamar francez says:

      This is so very true, Mary. One of the things I was thinking when I read the MJ article is that this is one more reason why we should support graduate student unionization efforts, accentuating the fact that a university, including grad school, is a workplace.

      • Unions are a good thing, but they represent another power structure meant to balance the power of the employer. In my experience, they are not very effective in dealing with such issues. Their goal is to augment the wages and benefits of the employees. Upsetting the employer is kept to a minimum. What I’m saying may not apply in all cases, I’m sure there are unions who deal with this sort of situation in an irreproachable way, however one cannot expect them to always do so, especially if they are in the middle of a negociation phase. In those moments, everything is used as leverage, one way or another, it can play for the victims or against the victims. That is why an independent body like the EEOC is needed and must have the means to enforce its rulings. Not being American, however, I don’t know how efficient they are, if they are sufficiently funded or if their work can sometimes be undermined by politicians.

      • itamar francez says:

        Luc, I’m not suggesting a union would address this kind of thing. But unionization is a step that can help everyone involved recognize graduate school as a workspace.

  7. Milan Pei says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Lauren. Sadly, unless the academy, as yet another institution that protects men who behave deplorably, takes a stand, women will not receive the protection and the restitution that they are due. I applaud Celeste Kidd for her courage in filing the complaint, and hope that UR takes action to censure that serial harasser. UR might be more inclined to take action were Kidd and others at UR who suffered the same type of harassment inclined to sue.

  8. Bob K says:

    I’m not sure which of the many threads to pipe in on, but holy crap this is such an enraging story. Nevertheless I so appreciate what a thoughtful discussion this is here – and I’m heartened to see people affirm they would hope to be “called in” in order to resolve a potentially hostile situation in which they’re implicated (that’s how I feel too). Everyone participating in this discussion has enough emotional intelligence to engage in some critical self-evaluation that leads to trying to change their behavior. But clearly some ppl won’t see problems in their own behavior, and if the question is how to deal with them, I wish I knew. We’re not trained as interventionists and in fact some of what I understand of “protocol” is *not* to intervene but to report to supervisors who do have such training (and I suppose this applies to late intervention rather than early intervention). Thus the extra level of outrage at this story, bec eventually this is what happened, but it seems the institution did not respond appropriately or sufficiently. (also, aside, such complaints can’t be anonymous, at least at UC schools, which is a pretty blatant disincentive). As for early intervention, like calling out (or calling in) peers when the power differential is not as egregious, maybe that’s ideal, but it puts a lot of pressure on such peers to (1) know that the behavior is not OK and (2) assume the right &/or responsibility to say so. So it’s like we’re caught between trusting the HR experts to do their work, and not being able to trust them because of situations like this. Maybe, more workplace professionalism training in the first place could have warded off (1) the predatory behavior, and if not, at least (2) the retaliatory consequences that ensued.

    • Anon. says:

      There’s a difference between people who will listen and try to change (even if they have hamfisted responses) when they are told that their behavior is an abuse of power — and people who won’t.

      All the people who knew Jaeger appear to be saying that he’s a person who wouldn’t — someone who deliberately wants to continue abusing his power. One name for such people is “bullies” — and people seem to be saying that he had a record of bullying everyone.

      The minimum thing to do to bullies is to actively ostracise them.

      One does not want to do that to the people who will listen — even if they are ham-fisted — but it’s easy to tell the difference between the two. A candidate for local legislature where I live just dropped out of the campaign because it was revealed that he had committed sexual assault while severely drunk once years ago. His statement dropping out of the race says that he did not properly understand consent then, that he was impaired by alcohol, and that he knows now that his actions were wrong. This is a person who is *rehabilitated*.

      But someone like Jaeger who has a long record of abusive behavior and refuses to be corrected? First step is ostracism. If that isn’t sufficient, second step is to enforce the ostracism with physical restraint and ejection. If that isn’t sufficient, arrest and imprisonment. That usually stops them, but if *that* isn’t sufficient, society’s next response is execution.

      Jaeger appears to fit a very specific profile: the predator. The predator likes to pretend that he’s confused or that he “disagrees with social norms”, and often blends in well, but really he’s just using it as an excuse to go on a power trip.

      Unfortunately there are quite a lot of predators in upper administrative positions of organizations, for unsurprising reasons (those who wish to abuse power seek power) which is one reason predators lower down can get protected so often.

      Greg DeAngelis should have criminal charges filed against him; it is quite clear that he is also a predator, because people who are not predators do not protect predators with records like Jaeger. Heck, even some predators don’t protect predators with records like Jaeger’s, because some of them are smart enough to maintain plausible deniability.

      Deans Taubman and Clark are probably simply trying to avoid doing any work at all, but they also deserve criminal charges.

  9. ellenlauumd says:

    What I do like about your post is that it presumes that at least some people that do bad things are not irredeemable, and that we can try to give them opportunities to redeem themselves. It’s hard to remember that when we’re very frustrated by how often bad behavior is tacitly ok’d, and when some people still won’t choose to take those opportunities, but I still believe it’s the right thing to do.

  10. Jim says:

    I read the EEOC complaint and if it’s true, that definitely seems like harassment to me.

    As for what to do about it: at most universities, undergrad and grad students are more females than males. Faculty may not be there yet, but it will get there soon based on more females than males earning doctorates. Will that make it easier to change?

    • Mary Rose says:

      In the field of linguistics, a majority of graduate students have been women since the late 1980s at least. I think we’ve still got another 30 years to wait before a majority of women in leadership positions in the academy will save us from ourselves. And Betsy DeVos is a woman who’s vowed to remove protections from claimants in sexual harassment cases.

      • Jim says:

        I think the DeVos action will actually help. Based on the article in this case, the claimants weren’t allowed to have a copy of the report from the investigation saying Jaeger was not in the wrong. They were only allowed to read it in a conference room, with someone watching. In a real courtroom, the judgment would be fully public to all.

        The goal with the DeVos action, I think, is to introduce due process just like we have in the court system, so both sides are protected. It still boggles the mind when I hear of on-campus sexual assaults that are not immediately turned over to the local police as soon as they are reported to campus police. The real police are best equipped to fairly investigate, collect evidence, and prosecute the perpetrators.

  11. Elinor Mason says:

    Thanks for this, the more discussion the better. I don’t have much to say about *how* to call people out effectively. I think that is incredibly hard. But a couple of related thoughts: first, we need to be intervening more with our grad students. As you say, this behavior starts with grad students, but as it is peer to peer, we tend to act as if it is not our business. But I think it is important to talk to our students about these patterns, and how power functions, and how habits becomes invisible. I also think that (as some others have said), calling out will often be futile. But social and professional ostracism is not. Ideally we need clear disciplinary action. But often the behavior is not serious enough to merit that, but it is serious enough for concern. Obviously I will be open to the accusation that I am encouraging a PC lynch mob, yeah, whatever. Imagine how we would collectively behave if someone was a known wallet thief, always stealing wallets at coferences (for whatever reason never formally sanctioned). We wouldn’t be hanging out with that person at the bar.

    A good account of roughly that idea is in Jenny Saul’s piece on sexual harrasment in philosophy:
    “Stop Thinking So Much About ‘Sexual Harassment’. 2014. Journal of Applied Philosophy. It is on her website.

  12. pater2013 says:

    This discussion has been very useful – thanks to everyone. On reflection, it seems like early “calling in” likely wouldn’t have helped in this case, and it’s definitely not the right response for this level of sexual harassment. But I do still think it could help to address some broader issues.

  13. Donna says:

    I get the idea of trying to directly address the behavior in someone who is your equal but in some cases there is no way to challenge an individual because that would mean really taking on a whole subculture of people with lots more power. See https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/9/7/16262722/texas-tech-sexual-misconduct-investigation-sexism-biology

    • vocalised says:

      I agree, which is exactly why I think we need a cultural shift, especially among those with more power. I know that sounds naive to some, but over the past two days I’ve been hearing a lot of encouraging things from people who are in precisely these positions of authority. (Unfortunately not UR, of course.)

      And, as I said, the ideas in this post are not meant to cover all cases.

  14. vocalised says:

    In case there was any doubt that power is at the root of this, from p73 pt235 of the complaint: “In a meeting on November 1, 2016, between Aslin and University Intercessor Lynnett Van Slyke to discuss this possibility, Van Slyke told Aslin that the only reason the investigation had gone on as long as it had was because of Aslin’s stature as a member of the National Academy and as a former Dean.”

    • Anon. says:

      Well, power is… powerful. It’s important that we have good people like Aislin in positions of power; the only way to stop abuses of power is to have decent people who have enough power to do so.

      It’s important that Aislin is punishing the University of Rochester with *ostracism* for its unacceptable behavior, and it’s important that he’s doing so from a position of power where he can get many many people to follow.

      What’s grotesque is that a department chair, two deans, and even *administrators* were willing to destroy the university’s reputation just to protect a bullying sexual harrasser. They must really really love misgoyny and/or bullying to defend it so aggressively and at such great cost to themselves.

  15. Anonymous says:

    One thing that could help as early intervention is providing guidance on appropriate ways to talk to someone you like.

    I think it’s worth remembering that in a lot of these cases the men involved are in fields where they are in the vast majority, a situation that only gets more pronounced as they become more senior. This means statistically they’re likely to have had much less romantic experience than anyone else their own age, just based on opportunities to meet people. And that’s before we consider that nerds get less romantic interaction as a rule — there are 1000 Hollywood movies about it.

    With this being the case it’s much easier to accidentally cross a line. But it also means that they’re going to be getting lessons on how to do this very late in life. Meaning if there are poor examples in their departments that no one does anything about, those are the habits they will likely pick up.

    One thing we are all looking for in a partner is someone who shares our values and interests. 20 per cent of people end up marrying someone they work with, for scientists that percentage is higher. Everyone in academia is a scientist for the love of it (which is where analogies to commercial workplaces break down). As a result scientists are more likely to marry scientists, and for obvious reasons female scientists marry male scientists at a much higher rate — they have more opportunities to meet someone.

    I bring this up because it is relevant to understanding how vulnerable and frustrated some men are, and also perhaps why the rate of mental illness is so high amongst them. Whilst this is no excuse for clearly harassing behaviour it does help explain a lot of borderline inappropriate behaviour.

    To come back full circle, I think many of these men can be helped and ultimately prevented from crossing the line if we offer them guidance on how to approach women appropriately and how to recognise and respond to rejection.

    I’ve often thought that conference information should contain a section titled ‘So you think you’ve met someone you like.’ for instance.

  16. anonymous says:

    Thank you for creating a place to discuss this news article, and for asking for input on productive ways to react to someone whose behavior is inappropriate. I am a female who has been sexually harassed but also was once accused of creating a sexual quid-pro-quo. Being on both sides was educational, to say the least, and I hope my feedback below helps:

    As a victim, if you’re comfortable, tell the aggressor that their actions are making you uncomfortable, much like the person in lstaum’s story (thank you for sharing that lstaum!). Of course, depending on the aggressor’s actions and the vulnerability of the victim, asking them to directly confront the aggressor might not be realistic. But, IF they are comfortable, it can be a good way to clue in a bumbling-but-not-misogynistic coworker.

    If the victim is not comfortable with a direct rebuke like that (and, again, totally understandable if they are not), then the victim should go to HR. Now, at this point people will jump in and feel like they might rather help the victim with an intermediary step, such as the victim plus a friend confronting the aggressor, or a kindly professor confronting the aggressor. No! This is not a good strategy! First, the friend/kindly professor doesn’t have training on handling this, it should be handled by someone who does. Second, this flips the power imbalance against the aggressor – now they are in the position where their reputation is being maligned by someone with power against them – and remember, the complaint hasn’t been proven yet. The accused aggressor is innocent until proven guilty, and restrictions or stink-eye on them without an actual formal determination they’re deserving of it would be harassment against the supposed aggressor. It’s bad for workplace morale and can end up with the friend/kindly professor on the receiving end of a harassment charge.

    The friend or kindly professor can provide the victim with emotional support while the victim goes to HR, but ultimately HR should handle this through a formal process.

    HR should have a good process for investigating the harassment while still protecting the victim’s and aggressor’s rights. For the aggressor’s rights, this includes treating them as innocent until proven guilty. For instance, it might make sense to separate the victim and aggressor while an investigation is ongoing, but that separation shouldn’t interrupt the aggressor’s progress on their academic goals, or reduce the amount of pay they’re getting. HR shouldn’t spread the story that the aggressor is a harasser unless it is proven after an investigation. HR should educate the aggressor on their rights during this process, including ways they can help prove their innocence or appeal findings. And, if an investigation shows the aggressor is indeed guilty, HR should provide clear understanding of exactly what behaviors were wrong and, if the aggressor remains in the organization, clear steps to redeem themselves and avoid problems in the future. (As an example, I was told to by the “victim’s friend” to “not smile”, which is impossible and a standard normal employees are not held to – I was guaranteed to fail at that.)

    Another way for advocates to help is to familiarize themselves with their HR department and harassment policies, and work to improve them, before an actual incident makes it an emergency.

  17. vocalised says:

    From another friend who also went to grad school with us (and who has asked me to share it),

    “I recently tried to help a grad student and a junior colleague in a (non-sexual) harassment case and the university looked away after an “investigation” which amounted to asking the alleged perp and his close collaborators if anything was wrong. I have previously had repercussions from the administration for voicing my concerns regarding this professor’s bullying style twd both our colleagues and students. He was awarded an award for his teaching, which makes me sick to my stomach.

    I cannot speak publicly on this without fear of retaliation. Other profs know, and support me in private, but when I try to speak publicly, no one backs me up, because they are all afraid.”

    • Anon. says:

      On a really, really big-picture scale, this is why I wish everyone was independently wealthy. Those who are independently wealthy need almost never be afraid of speaking the truth (except when armed thugs are around, which is another issue). Most people are afraid because they are afraid for their livelihood.

  18. J says:

    Lauren, I do not know Florian, but I am surprised to see that most people who know him think his behavior here was and is consistent with his character. That’s really telling. To me, it’s unbelievable that Rochester would double down on its defense. Its president, President Seligman, compared these allegations to the anonymous allegations in the Rolling Stones story! Unbelievable. Colette Kidd and other professors here had the courage to *publicly* put their reputations on the line. While some of the students have anonymized their names — they are real individuals who the university can contact — not the “Jackie” in Rolling Stones. A university should have a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. If even one of these allegations is true, Florian should be fired. Yet, it is obvious that the university has chosen to protect and enable his behavior — choosing to believe one individual — who has a history of sexual bullying — over the painful stories of almost a dozen other students and professors. Students beware — if this is how a university chooses to treat its *own professors* when claims of sexual misconduct are brought — you should have no confidence that your claims will be treated fairly.

  19. anon says:

    With regard to comments above about Jaeger’s penchant for transgressing boundaries and questioning societal rules, it seems relevant his official page at Rochester U includes a personal section where one can find, among other things, a vignette entitled ‘Cafe’ that mocks “society’s laughable constraints” and starts like this:

    Friends, I don’t intend to waste our time defending myself against antiquated accusations. I have heard my share of arguments. I have seen words like “objectification” fall out of mouths (some beautiful ones among them) like overripe berries. Drawn to the floor by gravity rather than by sense. Do you see her nose, curved slightly upwards at the tip? Cute? We agree. Fine. I see her cheek bones carry some rouge. She has seen me. Her eyes, clear, dark, and Hawk-wise, assess me while her gaze passes through me. We meet. The ancient ritual makes our gene pool shiver. Hope, fear, disinterest, curiosity, eternal love, and violent desire in less than an eye blink.

    This was apparently written when Jaeger was still a grad student. It is telling, though, that a highly personal piece like this is hosted his official university page. When personal writings reveal an apparent attempt to normalise behaviour of exactly the kind that would, a decade later, result in a serious barrage of complaints about harassment, it provides ample food for thought.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Directed to male readers:

    This discourse has brought up a lot of complex feelings in me, enough so that I’m nervous about expressing myself well. But here’s the state of play as I see it. Sexual harassment, and even more so sexual assault and exploitation, is overwhelmingly a problem of men oppressing women. So the responsibility for the situation where female academics feel under siege, and are in fact unsafe, lies with male academics. And this is not an arbitrary statistical fact.

    The scary thing here is that men, on average and by default, show an inclination to exploit situations and resources, i.e. whatever power they have, in order to gain access to women’s bodies and maintain control of that access. (There’s a couple whole literatures on the underlying reasons for this default, so I won’t go into that here.) And by saying it’s a default, that is to say, it doesn’t require special effort: it’s an easy inclination for men to follow effectively, even if done unreflectingly, and even semi-consciously (though it is often also with full consciousness). This inclination is made more dangerous by the fact that men generally have more power in our societies, and so more resources to exploit in pursuing access to female bodies. This is not arbitrary, of course: it’s set up to be that way, to enable this. So the horrific abuses we’ve all been talking about are part of a pattern, and there are many other “lesser” offenses that go on constantly, and many more men participate in, or tolerate as “lesser”.

    Now we come to academia, where we have very large power differentials between men on average and women on average, economic incentive for departments to cover up abuses, particularly if done by grant-getters, and a lot of realistic fear about what will happen if you challenge the powerful men. The fear is not only the purview of female survivors of abuse, but also on the part of other men, who are afraid to call out sexist behaviour, of any level of severity. (And it all should be called out.) Now, men have a lot less to fear at the hands of other men, but also less at stake, since the whole situation is in line with their own default inclinations. (And maybe they won’t even notice the “lesser” offenses much of the time because of this.)

    So, this is pretty bleak. I agree that men should be vigilant in “calling in” each other, but in order for us men to even be candidates for either doing the calling in/out or receiving the calling in, we need to undergo a deep enough process of introspection about ourselves and the level of suffering our women colleagues are going through that we begin to suffer as well. I don’t know how many men are capable of this, but until we suffer enough to be motivated to call in/out (and simply agree that sleeping with students is off limits), it won’t happen. We need to suffer through the realisation that we represent a danger, and can only hope to be aware of our danger and mitigate it; we can’t proclaim that we’re safe. And I hope women can organise themselves strongly and under the radar, such that men can’t get away with the exploitation that has been historical fact, even if men fail to come to sufficient consciousness to help.

    Oh, and academic men, give money to your local Rape Crisis centre or refuge. Seriously, get your wallet out right now.

  21. “he had a way of finding your vulnerabilities and exploiting them”

    Psychopath.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure this is a helpful response at this point. That quotation describes standard manipulative behaviour, and a standard way of men controlling women for the purpose of extracting sex…even in situations that much of society accepts on a regular basis; it is not only “psychopaths” who do this, and we can’t excuse the rest of the population. This behaviour is common, and WRONG.

  22. Betsy says:

    I appreciate this whole conversation a lot. I have also seen examples of men positively responding to being called in/out publicly, and seen how that can have a positive effect on the other men around them. As a woman, I basically never want to tell someone they are making me uncomfortable – most people get defensive and/or weird.

    But having other men take on that threat (of having someone respond defensively to being called out), and also demonstrating undefensive reactions to being called out (e.g. “oh, thanks for letting me know, I’m sorry I made you feel uncomfortable” and then move on) is a huge step in the right direction.

    Also, interpersonal interactions aside, I’ve seen a lot of academic men post reactions on Twitter. Men who I’ve previously seen as “neutral” (i.e. “potentially harmful, because that’s the default”) I now see as potential allies. Speaking out helps, and lets me know where I can expect support if I should need it.

  23. Scott Jackson says:

    I tried to reply a few days ago, then my phone ate my response, so trying again. Will be shorter, since I think a lot of people have said the right things already. So maybe you dodged a bullet/ Oh, who am I kidding, it’s still going to be long 🙂

    First, thank you and all of the other commenters for discussing all of this. It’s incredibly important.

    Second, I think it’s way past due that we (as a field, profession, community, society) draw a bright line on power-differential relationships. The whole idea of saying, “oh, I’m so sexually open and un-repressed, but oh, I didn’t know it would hurt anyone and we’re all adults, so what?” is just bullshit, and it needs to be called out as such. Ignorance (feigned or otherwise) is not an option we should tolerate. If you have someone in charge of subordinates, they need to be held accountable for treating that power differential very sensitively and thoughtfully. Just as we would expect that a basic competency of being a good teacher is not to verbally abuse students in front of their peers (or anywhere else, for that matter), we should expect people in academe and in other professions who have supervisory or other power (and the power a professor has over students, *especially* grad students, is enormous) to wield that power very very carefully and respectfully. No one should get a pass for being incapable or unwilling to do this. Period. This is why I think Florian’s intentions/beliefs are irrelevant. He was clearly hurting a lot of people, and whether or not he knew better or had kinder intentions at the time or was unaware of harming anyone (which is obvious bullshit in this case, but whatever) should not matter when it comes to consequences, in my opinion. This is an area where I do not believe we should accept “mistakes” as excuses.

    Third, one of my worries is that we won’t take these lessons home with us. I’m worried that we will all break out the torches and pitchforks and Florian will become the effigy for “bad prof behavior” and we’ll all go back home and be glad that It Doesn’t Happen Here. I think this happens EVERYWHERE, especially if “this” means “poorly-managed power relationships that harm people’s careers and/or mental health.” Clearly there are different degrees, and my hope (though I’m not terribly optimistic) is that this case is on the bad end of the spectrum. But even if this shit is not happening in your own department right now (and I think the odds are probably at least 2:1 that it is, though maybe less extensively — *maybe*), then I think the odds of it happening in your department at some point in your career are essentially 100%. I think we all need to work very hard to prepare for when this happens in our own department/company/organization, because it almost certainly will.

    Thanks again for the discussion!

  24. vocalised says:

    I’ve been asked to post this comment anonymously:

    “As someone who spent some time in BCS at UR in the previous decade, I’d like to add two points of discussion:

    First, I’m really glad this thread exists. In this particular case (leaving Florian aside, because boy can we all agree he’s a bully who made lots of poor/wrong/stupid choices), I want to point out the hopelessly intertwined politics in this department make this whole thing really complicated. There are notable voices missing among students, staff, postdocs, and faculty who have a lot of firsthand, relevant experience; this feels not fully accidental. Many members of this department are paired off in long-term relationships, creating nested political/power dynamics (glossed over in the mass media reports.) Those underlying dynamics make interpreting what’s offensive or what’s retaliation really really hard; not always, but often.

    Second, this vast outpouring of support for victims of sexual harassment is on the one hand great, but on the other hand just highlights how clueless many men are about sexual harassment dynamics. I’ve seen 3 separate people in our field who proudly support the complainants in this case on social media, who I know have either themselves committed some of the sexual harassment wrongs Florian is accused of, or else enabled such wrongs to be covered up. I don’t know what to make of that.”

    • vocalised says:

      (and now to seemingly reply to myself, when in fact I’m reply to the person who wrote this comment…!)

      This is exactly what I’m talking about. If you can find a way for those three people to be called in, or called out, ideally by someone they respect, then that’s exactly the kind of action we need.

  25. Lisa says:

    I am replying to the post “We need to talk…” which is probably the most rational post on these events that I have seen. Thank you for that.
    I want to stress that I do NOT support any acts that constitute sexual harassment in any sense. For this reason I believe that the University of Rochester should have at the least placed Dr. Jaeger on academic probation when email evidence was presented by Celeste Kidd.
    However, I am appalled at the current media crucifixion that is taking down the entire university and many faculty who are not involved, but will suffer for this current debacle.
    I would like to point out that many of the “events” stated in the EEOC letter of complaint (it was written by Aslin and Newport and is not a “report” but is a letter of opinion) are, in fact, not true. For example:

    1. Dick Aslin announced his plan to retire in 2015 before the harassment charges were made. He spoke about grooming Celeste Kidd to take over his laboratory because of her excellent work and recent successful publications. The Letter to the EEOC states he left due to the dismissing of the harassment charges by the University.
    2. Greg DeAngelis did not ignore the charges and should not be thrown under the bus here. He acted exactly as a Chairman is required to act – he reported the complaint to the University administration. This is all a faculty member can do. Only the deans and admin have the power to hire, fire or issue probationary actions. He did what he was allowed to do in a situation where he is supposed to stay neutral. He is a department chairman and not able to make judgments or dole out punishments.
    3. It must be made clear that this EEOC letter is trying to build a case that the University of Rochester personnel and administration created a hostile working environment and acted in retaliation against the folks who filed harassment complaints. If proven, this will not result in punitive actions towards Jaeger – it will result in actions towards the University deans and Admin staff named in the letter. If the object of the letter was to invoke punitive actions towards Jaeger, it has failed. If however, the letter was designed to obtain revenge against the deans and dept chairs, then it has already succeeded. Is this really what anyone wants?
    4. The crux of the letter is that there was retaliation against the faculty who levied harassment complaints against Jaeger, creating an environment that caused several leave and left others suffering. What is the evidence that this occurred?
    – Ben Hayden was on the job market and interviewing at Duke and other schools in late 2015 prior to the first complaint in March 2016. He and his wife, Sarah Heilbronner, who was a postdoc in Suzanne Haber’s laboratory at the time, were looking for 2 jobs, a somewhat difficult task. When Heilbronner interviewed for a BCS position in late 2016, she was not ranked in the top 3 candidates and therefore was not made an offer. She and Hayden received offers from several schools including Univ. Minnesota which they accepted in May 2017. In fact, she was given an offer by the University of Rochester Neuroscience Department in May which she declined stating that the offer was not as good as the University of Minnesota. This is why they left.
    – Celeste Kidd worked very hard as a young faculty member to establish herself. Her work was noted and supported by her advisor, Dick Aslin, and by her colleagues and chairman. She will be taking over the Rochester Baby lab that Aslin has vacated in his retirement and has recently received tenure. Despite her difficult past with Jaeger she has succeeded in her field, though the Mother Jones article title would have you believe otherwise. When the Administration did not find fault with Jaeger after she lodged her complaint it clearly created a difficult environment for her. the University was wrong in this finding. However, the EOCC letter states that the University retaliated against the complainants. What was the retaliation against her?
    – As mentioned, Dick Aslin, announced his planned retirement in 2015 and has retired as of 2016. It is possible that the Jaeger case hastened his leaving by a few months but it was clearly not the motivation for his retirement which was already planned. He had interviewed at Yale University Haskins laboratory in 2015.

    It was a grave mistake by the University not to deliver some sort of punitive action against Jaeger such as removal or academic probation, etc. However, the media frenzy and assassination of what I considered an excellent academic department with hardworking and intelligent faculty and students is wrong. As a faculty member in the UR, I am hopeful that this runaway train can be stopped before an entire department goes up in flames. It would be a tragedy and a terrible loss to the cognitive science, linguistics, neuroscience and the visual science communities if this department is torn apart and potentially abolished by a media feeding frenzy.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I know most of the people involved in this case, both professionally and socially, as I was working in Rochester during the time of the most egregious allegations. I was at one point even privy to one of the situations and relationships described in the report. That being said, I’m really skeptical about the more serious allegations leveled against Florian in the EEOC report . For one thing, if the behavior discussed in the report is as serious as the complainants claim, this means that a large contingency of the BCS department at the time (e.g., graduate students and postdocs attending his various soirees, BCS faculty) as well as people in neighboring departments, were complicit in rather serious wrongdoing (myself included). I’m not cynical enough to believe this, and I have more confidence in the people involved (and myself). If you talk with members of Florian’s, admittedly cliquey, group from that time, I think they would have a much different perspective on the social environment in the department at that time (disclosure: Florian’s group of students and I had a mutual dislike for each other (to put it mildly), so I was in no way an insider. Even so, it’s a bit silly to me that the EEOC complaint puts so much focus on Florian’s in-group mentality, as if in-group behavior is something usual…. I found the Aslin/Newport/Tannenhaus circles, if you like, to be no less unaccommodating to outsiders.). I don’t doubt that some of Florian’s behavior was completely inappropriate, but I’m tempted to side with the University’s assessment that none of this raises to the level of a dismissal, it certainly doesn’t warrant hunger strikes, calls for the President to resign, and the general hysteria that seems to be taking over the university campus at the moment (e.g., young students protesting on the steps of Rush Rhees by broadcasting their awful rape experiences, as if this is relevant to the investigation in any way).

    I should mention that I have a very low opinion of Celeste. I hesitate to write this, since it will likely seem that I am critiquing the report by unfairly questioning the integrity of the supposed victim (I usually hate when people do this). If it helps, I can also say that I have a rather low opinion of virtually everyone involved. Suffice it to say that it was not a surprise to read that the University, according to what’s claimed in the EEOC report, also questions Celeste’s reliability as a witness. I sincerely trust that other people from that time, whether they would admit it publicly or not, know what I am talking about… Given what’s written in the report, and what I observed at the time, if she really believed that Florian was a dangerous sexual predator, then her behavior (e.g., living with him, driving him around, spending her personal time with him and his group…) was wildly inappropriate in it’s own right (of course, this doesn’t absolve Florian from any wrongdoing).

    It might seem inconsistent with what I said above (but it really isn’t!) but I am very sympathetic to many of the criticisms discussed above towards Florian. Rather than elaborate, however (much of this has been covered already), I want to mention one issue that has been playing on my nerves since I first dove into the report last week, and that hasn’t received much attention. Regardless of whether any of these allegations are credible and worthy of serious discipline (again I’m skeptical, I agree with the official position of the University, but I believe that reasonable people can disagree here), I’m disturbed by how several innocent people associated with Florian have been revealed so publicly. There is one person in particular, I will not name her here so as to avoid additional attention, who has had deeply personal details of her sex life revealed, and her professional integrity questioned (I’m tempted to think, given their assessment of this individual in the report, that the BCS department was already a toxic environment before the situation with Florian exploded). There are other people who had relations with Florian (e.g., non-students, faculty members, in other words, relationships that are very clearly not in violation of even the fuzziest of University guidelines), who, despite disguises to their name, can be easily identified after a few Google searches using the information provided (in many of the cases described, it’s unclear what these incidents contribute to the overall EEOC complaint, other than tarnish the personal reputation of Florian, which the report has clearly succeeded in doing.) . I think this is a very bad precedent, and I hope that author’s of the report, who will likely only benefit from this whole affair (judging by the prevailing popular opinion on social media and elsewhere), realize that they have likely ruined the reputations of these innocent people.

    I hope my post is not misunderstood (I’m certain that it will be): there are serious issues at play here, such as the relationship between faculty members and students, the University’s role in resolving these issues, and so on. I also sincerely think that sexual harassment and female discrimination is a very serious problem in academia. I’m just not sure that this case is so straightforward as everyone wants to believe. The eagerness of people to believe the worst allegations at face value (and to invent new charges, totally unwarranted by the available evidence) is quite disturbing to me, if I’m honest…

    • Lisa says:

      Anonymous,
      It sounds like you have quite a bit more information about the situation and the various players than most of us and I appreciate your position. I am sure the information that has been released is lacking in many essential details. Are there any that you can share? You mentioned the stability/reliability of some folks? I have many questions about the situation – why did it take 9 years for Celeste to report this? Who would rent a room from any professor – even when financially crunched? I think we also need to keep in mind that most of the students we are referring to here are graduate students in their mid to late 20s and not young college kids. Does that put an extra burden of responsibility for their actions on them? The media’s portrayal of Jaeger as a lecherous predator acting out towards defenseless girls is out of synch with what I witnessed in the department.

      • Anonymous says:

        I probably don’t have any privileged information relevant to the investigation (I was somewhat of an outsider, as I mentioned already), I can only provide various anecdotes and describe what I remember thinking at the time. As for the situation described in the report that I was privy to, the details seem consistent with what I remember (and are admittedly rather ugly), however the conclusions and it’s relevance to the overall case are, in my view, wildly exaggerated. Since we are talking about adults and not children, as you point out, I think that some of the alleged victims bare some responsibility (I hate writing this because it makes me sound like a monster, I realize this…but I truly believe that some of these cases require very careful consideration, and a deeper understanding of the social dynamics in the department at the time… to be clear again, this doesn’t absolve Florian of all wrongdoing).

        I don’t want to elaborate too much on this one situation, since I’m really worried about revealing myself, especially given the mania that has taken over the UR campus (to be safe, I even created an anonymous email account to use when posting on this blog). In terms of Celeste, I have the same questions as you do. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that she is acting out of pure malice. I actually don’t think that she has the mental capacity to wreak so much havoc solely in order to advance herself. I have no doubt that she believes what’s is in the report, and that she was subjected to some inappropriate behavior. While it’s true that many people have come out in an official capacity to support her (I have in mind here her fellow complainants, including members of the BCS faculty), much of the critical testimony is still based on what Celeste has said, and her own (possibly exaggerated) interpretation of various events. My essential point remains the same: I’m quite certain that other people around her at those critical moments have a different interpretation of these events, otherwise they would done something (I’m not cynical enough to believe otherwise, we are talking about really really serious accusations here).

    • anon2 says:

      i would like to say that i strongly agree with almost every single one of the points this person has made; i too spent a lot of time in BCS in the time-frame in question, maybe we even overlapped and i just don’t know who you are. whoever you are, thank you for adding these complex dimensions to the ‘facts’ of the matter.

  27. Anon says:

    I am familiar with this department, and can corroborate a number of the points mentioned above. Of course, times are perhaps different there now than when I was there, so without speaking about the rest of the allegations, I’d just like to point out some things that probably aren’t obvious to those who haven’t spent time in Rochester and which may influence how one reads the report.

    The media is portraying the complainants as independent points, which is not entirely fair. Aslin was Kidd and Bixby’s advisor. Cantlon and Mahon are married. Piantadosi and Kidd are married. Aslin and Newport are very close, and the Cantlon/Kidd/Piantadosi often collaborate. The whole group is very much it’s own social circle, with perhaps as much of it’s own “in-group”/”out-group” dynamic as Florian’s group.

    I was surprised to see that Aslin and Newport were depicted as singlehandedly responsible for the BCS department. I’m referring to points 14-15 of the EEOC. While I don’t deny their role, the department owes its beginning to many more than these two. It just strikes me as odd to see even this basic easily verifiable history misrepresented in this way. When even this is misrepresented, what does it mean for the rest of the report?

    • Anonymous says:

      I strongly agree with the points made here. To add to this point about the origins and prestige of the BCS department, there’s a claim repeated throughout the report (in some places, rather explicitly) that Florian ruined the reputation of an otherwise famous department since arriving. While this might be true as of two weeks ago, and it’s true that Newport and Aslin (and Tannenhaus) continue to be major names in psycholinguistics/language development/…, I think it’s largely because of Florian and his group that the department became a major center of research in the last decade or so (I now work in a neighboring field, where people are much more familiar with Florian than anyone else at Rochester). I would even go so far as to say that Rochester psycholinguistics was slightly stagnating before his arrival (as often happens in academia) , not surprisingly given major changes that were occurring in the field at that time and the advancing age of many senior faculty.

      There’s a clear attempt in the report and elsewhere to discredit Florian’s professional integrity, which I find unfair. People might think it’s fair to do this, on the grounds that his behavior is so bad that he doesn’t deserve praise of any kind, or that everything about him should be questioned …. I have sympathy with this way of thinking, but people either need to make this point explicitly, or focus on the harassment charges independent of his scientific and professional accomplishments (of which there are many).

  28. Anonymous says:

    Sexual harassment is wrong, the focus should be on prevention and effective punishment and rehabilitation of perpetrators, and targets of the abuse should be supported.

    However, it is simplistic and harmful to compare universities to industry and the private sector. First, what is the evidence that industry or even other public institutions have this figured out better than universities?

    Second, and in my opinion more importantly, universities have academic freedom, including freedom of speech, enshrined as a core principle, for example in the concept of tenure, whereas industry and other public institutions do not. To what extent do we want to jeopardize that core value in order to allow university administrators more power to punish sexual harassment? It would create a chilling effect and further empower the segment of universities who are themselves least accountable to meaningful oversight or reprisal (the administration). Indeed, we already see this chilling effect reflected here: many including myself do not feel at ease in discussing this issue non-anonymously.

    Universities need to do better on the issue of sexual harassment, but cannot and should not do so in all the ways open to industry and other public institutions, because that would be in fundamental conflict with the core value of academic freedom, including speech.

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