“This isn’t even a slap on the wrist”

What happens if someone is found responsible for multiple violations of a university’s harassment policies after multiple individuals allege they have “repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping”? In one case, it turns out, basically nothing. Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at University of California Berkeley, was found to have violated Berkeley’s policies, and according to BuzzFeed: “As a result of the findings, the women were informed, Marcy has been given ‘clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students,’ which he must follow or risk ‘sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal.'”

David Charbonneau, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, said the matter has broad implications.

“Geoff Marcy is undeniably the most prominent exoplanet researcher in the U.S.,” he said, referring to the study of planets beyond our solar system. “The stakes here couldn’t be higher. We are working so hard to have gender parity in this field, and when the most prominent person is a routine harasser, it threatens a major objective nationally.”

. . .“After all of this effort and trying to go through the proper channels, Berkeley has ultimately come up with no response,” said Joan Schmelz, who until recently led the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. (Schmelz was not a complainant in Berkeley’s investigation.) “I’ve seen sexual harassers get slaps on the wrist before. This isn’t even a slap on the wrist.”

8 thoughts on ““This isn’t even a slap on the wrist”

  1. Couldn’t the victims file criminal charges with the police?

    Not to excuse the university, but surely criminal charges are appropriate.

  2. Some of the actions described are criminal in nature, but, not all, and of course, there are a multitude of really good reasons why some victims might not want to file criminal charges (including but not limited to, low rates of prosecution, secondary trauma caused by dealing with the criminal justice system, not wanting to see your assailant end up in prison, fear of not being believed, statutes of limitations for criminal sanctions, risks to one’s career, expending huge amounts of energy in a process that you didn’t want to be in a position to avail yourself of in the first place, lack of confidentiality, and so on, and so on).

  3. Thanks Alison — that post is well worth reading for a number of reasons. One thing that really strikes me is how the shitty injustice of sexual harassment and assault extends beyond the immediate victims. What do you do when your adviser is a problem, but he’s not a problem for you? Do you keep working with them, knowing that you’re benefiting professionally in a way that others can’t, from this relationship? Are there ways of balancing that complicity? It comes out here (for those who haven’t clicked through, the post is written by one of Marcy’s former advisees):

    “In 2013 I received tenure. Leading up to my tenure decision, I decided that I would use my position, voice and male privilege to finally do something about the open secret—Geoff’s long con of holding the community in fear to provide himself cover to continue harassing our junior female colleagues. Yes, I have greatly benefited from Geoff’s letters over the years. But his publication record shows that he has benefitted from my scientific productivity. In 2013 I figured we were square, and I effectively ended our 13-year collaboration. I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak out sooner. I hate that academia’s power structure, which allows a single phone call from a senior member to sink a person’s career, so often forces junior people into silence for fear of losing their jobs. For this reason I am in awe of the bravery of the women who spoke out all the more; they were far braver than I and other male astronomers have been over the years.”

  4. (Also, that letter from Broughton is deeply disappointing, just in case doesn’t go without saying.)

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