Two graduate students at Caltech complained that they were being sexually harassed by their advisor…and the administration took them seriously!
The Institute followed its formal procedures for evaluating the allegations and per policy the allegations were communicated to the chair of the division. This resulted in a comprehensive investigation of the situation by a faculty committee that reported to the provost. The faculty committee concluded, and the provost concurred, that there was unambiguous gender-based harassment of both graduate students by the faculty member. The faculty member was placed on unpaid leave for a full academic year, and he is restricted from coming on campus. Importantly, in order to make sure that the two students involved and other students are protected against continuation or new instances of such behavior – while also endeavoring to ensure that their academic progress is not adversely affected – communications between the faculty member and members of his group are being carefully monitored. In addition to these professional and financial sanctions, the suspended faculty member must undergo professional coaching and training in how to mentor students before returning to campus. A demonstrable change in behavior and mentoring approach will be required before unmonitored interactions with students can resume. Structural changes in the division’s advising approach are being put in place to ensure that students are properly and effectively mentored. The faculty member appealed these imposed disciplinary actions, but the appeal was denied.
Ouch. First thing I noticed was the penalty: no pay for a year, and booted off campus. If the faculty member was sufficiently prestigious, they may have multiple appointments at other campus so it isn’t the total kiss of death, but still, that’s harsh. Which is good.
The other thing, though, is that it’s not just about slapping down Dr. Handsy — it’s also about making institutional changes that help these students and others. Read the rest of the memo, especially the part about instituting changes in the divisions of the college. That’s how you do it.