No, not my alma mater!

It’s yet another academic scandal, this time at the university where I was an undergrad, the University of Washington. A top virus researcher, Michael Katze, has been committing all kinds of inappropriate behavior.

In the summer of 2014, as Ebola ravaged West Africa and unleashed panic across the U.S., Michael Katze was a voice of reason. As head of one of the biggest virus labs in the country, he frequently appeared on TV news spots — sharply dressed, with his signature black glasses and deep tan — preaching calm in the face of fear.

But away from the cameras, the University of Washington lab in Seattle that Katze had led for nearly 30 years was descending into chaos. Over the next year, one of his most important collaborators severed its $1.2 million partnership. Employees left in droves. And a lab administrator filed charges accusing him of sexually harassing her and a colleague. In August 2015, the university banned Katze from entering his own lab.

This past January, a university investigation concluded that Katze, 66, had violated the school’s sexual harassment policies with both employees. A second investigation, by the university’s School of Medicine, determined that in the process, he had misused university resources for personal gain, including by asking an employee to do chores for him and solicit a prostitute. It recommended a comprehensive internal audit to determine how far this misuse of public funds went.

This was a guy who was rolling in grant money — he was sitting on top of $30 million in awards — and he acted like some petty pimp, doling out grant money explicitly for sexual favors. And no one noticed?

One of the employees was an administrator whom Katze had hired, at an unusually high salary, on the implicit condition that she submit to his sexual demands. He personally rewarded this woman, known as Mary Roe in some court documents, with “thousands or even tens of thousands” of dollars a year in cash and gifts, the investigation found.

The university found that Katze also sexually harassed another administrative employee, known as Jane Doe in court documents. According to the investigations, Katze asked her to clean his apartment, purchase marijuana and Percocet for him, email escorts and place personal ads for him, and “schedule his manicures, pedicures, haircuts, and hair lightening appointments.” Meanwhile, he joked about having sex with her, made sexual comments about her appearance, sent her sexually suggestive emails, and, on two occasions, tried while drunk to kiss or touch her

He’s still getting paid, but he’s lost his lab, his employees, and his grant money. I guess that’s good. But I still can’t imagine the lack of oversight that would allow such a sleaze to run rampant. There’s clearly a problem with Katze, but there’s also a problem in UW grants administration.


  1. says

    I was hoping that with the first paragraph of your blockquote this was one of your sarcastic scandal posts. That people were talking smack about him because he did something right. And then I got a sad when I read the rest. And now I’m all like, WtF.

    C’Mon, Humanity! Do friggin’ better.

  2. Becca Stareyes says

    When pressed about his treatment of employees, however, Katze told the university investigator: “My job is to get grants. I am singularly focused on training scientists. This kind of shit is completely unimportant to me.”

    This is the quote that is getting passed around my social circles, at the total lack of awareness that apparently ‘basic workplace ethics’ and ‘how to interact with office staff’ is not part of ‘training scientists’.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    … And I just made a hash of my blockquote tag. First paragraph is the quote, second is my commentary.

  4. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    . . . and BANG! goes the idea that higher intelligence and greater education will automatically make people act with grace, generosity, kindness, self-awareness, and probity.

  5. Erp says

    I would say more of a lack of H/R and general financial oversight than grants administration in particular. It sounds like he was using people he was managing inappropriately but that the various personal items (such as the escort, parking ticket) were not charged directly to university accounts so would not be picked up by the finance people (on the other hand they might not have done a full audit of those accounts yet). In addition Mary Roe as an administrator would likely not be paid directly from grant money (though some of her salary likely came from indirect cost recovery paid to the university); her higher than usual salary seems in great part to be because he was paying her a full-time salary though her actual work time was quite a bit less nor was she doing work at the level her job position called for. Reading through it seems most of the witnesses or possible witnesses feared retaliation. I note btw that complaints date back to at least 2006 (including harassment, pornography on work computers [and having it visible to the staff], retaliation).

  6. says

    This was a guy who was rolling in grant money — he was sitting on top of $30 million in awards — and he acted like some petty pimp, doling out grant money explicitly for sexual favors.

    Great. Now all the climate deniers who peddle the bullshit that “scientists are making stuff up to cash in on the environmentalism gravy train” when it’s clear that the vast majority of scientists aren’t swimming in pools of cash – they’re going to point to this. Regardless of the fact that it’s unrelated to climate science.

    Or maybe I’m making too much of that aspect.

  7. Larry says

    He’s still getting paid…

    One could reasonably ask why that is. His behavior and actions aren’t considered to be fire-able offenses? UW doesn’t have some contractual clauses with their faculty that sets standards of behavior with respect to the school, other faculty, and their students? Just what kind of actions would it take before one is fired and taken off-salary?

  8. toska says

    From the link in the OP:

    As for the women Katze was found to have sexually harassed, both lost their jobs.

    Mary resigned in March as part of a $150,000 settlement from UW. “She was able to get her specific issues resolved with the university,” her lawyer, Patrick Reddy, told BuzzFeed News. “She has to find a way to move on.”

    In the case of Jane, who filed the original complaint against Katze, the university offered her $30,000 to sign a settlement and resign. She turned down the offer and was then laid off when the lab closed.

    To me, this sounds like they pressured Jane to resign as a consequence of reporting sexual harassment. Along with the fact that they’ve been hearing complaints since 2006 and only acted after UNC pulled their grant from his lab, UW acted very poorly in this case. I’m so infuriated right now. As a student of UW. As a human being. Ugh.

  9. Ichthyic says

    To me, this sounds like they pressured Jane to resign as a consequence of reporting sexual harassment.

    OTOH, I’m thinking they might have considered they were doing her a favor, since she was clearly complicit in getting hookers, and in selecting Mary for Katze. From the emails, it doesn’t look like Katze pressure Jane nearly as much as he pressure Mary. but then, we don’t, and likely never will, know the full story.

  10. Ichthyic says

    One could reasonably ask why that is. His behavior and actions aren’t considered to be fire-able offenses?

    it saves them from any wrongful termination lawsuits that might be filed by Katz, if they don’t actually fire him until all civil and criminal investigations are complete.

    just that simple.

  11. Dave McCone says

    Since he has tenure, they can’t fire him until the UW Faculty Senate goes through a formal hearing process . The documents that I’ve seen so far are basically the internal investigations and recommendations by UW senior management that the matter be turned over to the Faculty Senate for the Senate to make a formal decision as to whether to terminate . The whole sordid mess has also been prominently featured in the Seattle Times (local paper) as well, so there’s likely going to be more reporting on this in the future.