Reporting misconduct

Feminists say that sexual harassment in academia is underreported, but do we know it is?

I do not know if rigorous research on this issue has been done, but Nature reports today on scientific research integrity and some of the lessons revealed suggest something we feminists have long know:  whistle-blowers can have a very tough time.  Scientific misconduct and sexual harrassment are very different, but the report suggests academic cultures do not encourage the reporting of bad news and they can fail miserably in self-regulation. 

First of all, the conclusion:

Nearly one generation after the effort to reduce misconduct in science began, the responses by NIH scientists suggests [sic] that falsified and fabricated research records, publications, dissertations and grant applications are much more prevalent than has been suspected to date. Our study calls into question the effectiveness of self-regulation. We hope it will lead individuals and institutions to evaluate their commitment to research integrity.

And one of the researchers’ recommendation described against a background of concealment:

Protect whistleblowers

Careful attention must be paid to the creation and dissemination of measures to protect whistleblowers. Responders to our survey said that reporting would be most likely to improve if institutions and the federal government increased the whistleblower protection. Indeed, more than two-thirds of whistleblowers, in a Research Triangle Institute study, experienced at least one negative outcome as a direct result of their actions. Plus, 43% reported that institutions encouraged them to drop the allegation.

The article is fully available online.

7 thoughts on “Reporting misconduct

  1. I went to the staff development office (at an academic institution where I used to work) over a potential sexual harassment issue. They encouraged me to find another job — since I was on soft money, they said there was no point in pursuing the claim and it would only hurt me and my future career prospects. I took their advice but I’ve always felt a bit sorry for any future female who would be unwittingly put into the same situation simply because I did not call attention to the problem. I’ll never know if it actually would have hurt my career or not.

  2. NFAH: do you have good reasons for thinking that if you had pushed the complaint, the guy would have been removed or even reprimanded? In my experience, that too often doesn’t happen.

    I remember trying to help a staff person whose boss, the dean, wouldn’t fulfill his legal requirements about giving her timely reviews. I went up the chain to the provost, who told me that some people don’t deserve reviews.

  3. I know a woman who in the latest round of interviews at the Central APA was approached at the smoker and explicitly asked for sex by a senior male faculty member who interviewed her for a tenure track job earlier that day. She did not make a complaint because she was terribly embarrassed and certain that if she complained her chances of getting a job, any philosophy job, would shrink to nil. Not that she would have accepted a job at that institution if they offered her one. Her main feeling now is one of guilt for not protecting other women who might suffer the same treatment in the future. Is this a case where one has a duty to be a whistle blower?

  4. I would like to hear others respond. For myself, I’m inclined to think there is probably nothing safe she could do, she should not feel guilty and none of this is her fault.

    One thing that can make one feel much better is to try to fight this stuff when one is in a position to do so. She might look to see if there is anything she can safely do to help other women, either at her school or through the APA. She could remember this as she has a career and realize that very junior women are experiencing the same thing.

    It would help enormously if we just had more public awareness of all this, and talk about what a shameful thing it is to hit on vulnerable young people.

  5. Wow, that is horrendously bad behavior. I agree with JJ that none of this was her fault, and that she shouldn’t feel guilty for not saying anything.

    I also doubt that she is obligated to do something, since she would be taking a real risk to herself. (I don’t think her chances of getting a philosophy job anywhere would shrink to nil, but I can see how being caught up in something like this could easily have shitty consequences. And i’m no crazy self-sacrificing utilitarian.)

    That said, it might be superogatory to out the individual to whomever is the chair of his dept. (If the person is the chair, that’s really bad, but there are higher-ups one could talk to.) The behavior of that individual seems so extreme to me that it would not be surprising (would it?) if he were to do that sort of thing frequently, and in which case, someone has to step up and stop it.

  6. mm, I think you may live in a better world than I do, based on the one experience I had with accusing someone of sexual harassment. Here’s the response I got from someone with authority over me: “I think less of you for saying that.”

    The chair in the present case might figure they were dealing with someone who was getting her own back for not getting the job. Perhaps for some reason she – the stranger, the outsider – was blaming his colleague. The very best I would expect is that he wouldn’t think badly of her because he knows already that it is going on. But if that’s so, he’s not doing anything about it.

    Now to my institution’s credit, the administration did pull the person who said that to me in for re-education. But the much more senior perpetrator remained in place, free to go on, e.g., teasing one of my male students about whether he was ‘getting any’ from his girl friend, whom, the perp said, he quite fancied himself. Even after the grad student got up enough courage to tell him to stop it. Ugh!!

Comments are closed.