Does David Marchant believe he provided a quality learning experience?

Multiple women are filing sexual harassment charges against a prominent geologist, David Marchant. After reading the accusations, if true, Marchant is not at all suited to a life of teaching.

Willenbring alleges that Marchant, her thesis adviser, then 37, greeted her daily with the words: “Today I’m going to make you cry.” He slept in his own tent and Lewis in the cook tent, leaving Willenbring to share a tent with Jeffrey Marchant, she writes. According to Willenbring, Marchant told her repeatedly that his brother had a “porn-sized” penis, and said she should have sex with him and feel lucky for the opportunity.

One week, Willenbring alleges, David Marchant “decided that he would throw rocks at me every time I urinated in the field.” She cut her water consumption so she could last the 12-hour days far from camp without urinating, then drank liters at night. She says she developed a urinary tract infection and urinary incontinence, which has since recurred. When blood appeared in her urine, she alleges, Marchant prohibited her from going back to McMurdo for treatment.

“Most days,” Willenbring writes, “I would listen to long discussions about how I was a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore.’” When she disagreed, she alleges, “he would call me a liar and say, ‘There’s no place in science for liars, is there Jane? Is there Jane?’” repeating the phrase for up to 20 minutes.

As they neared camp near the end of one arduous day, Willenbring alleges in the complaint that Marchant waited above her on a steep slope. He said, “I noticed someone hasn’t cried today,” grabbed her by the backpack and threw her down the slope, she writes. She climbed up twice more; each time, she claims, he shoved her down again, leaving her bruised, with an injured knee and a twisted wrist.

In another instance, Willenbring alleges in the complaint, Marchant declared it was “training time.” Excited that he might be about to teach her something, Willenbring allowed him to pour volcanic ash, which includes tiny shards of glass, into her hand. She had been troubled by ice blindness, caused by excessive ultraviolet light exposure, which sensitizes the eyes. She says she leaned in to observe, and Marchant blew the ash into her eyes. “He knew that glass shards hitting my already sensitive eyes would be really painful—and it was,” she writes.

That isn’t just sexual harassment, it’s sadistic abuse of a student who is dependent on her instructor and isolated from any support network of any kind. There is also corroboration from other students who were in the field with them.

Willenbring writes that she waited to file her complaint with BU until October 2016, shortly after she received tenure, for fear of professional reprisal from Marchant before she had established herself as a scholar. Several of the women involved and two male witnesses say they feel guilty about not speaking out at the time, guilt that fuels their desire to speak now.

I would hope they feel guilt. Allies ought to speak up when they hear of these things.

Speaking of allies…

Nearly all of the women say they considered reporting the abuse at the time. Doe met with then–department chair Carol Simpson after returning to BU to discuss filing academic charges against Marchant. Doe’s letter alleges that Simpson, noting Marchant’s “sizeable” reputation and funding, “asked me if it wouldn’t just be easier on me to complete my degree and leave. I was astonished, deflated, and, I believed at that time, left without recourse.”

Jesus fucking christ. An academic reputation ought not to shield you from criminal failures to meet your academic obligations as a scholar and a teacher and a citizen of a research community. Bringing in grant money is not the weregild for mistreating those in your care.

I’m impressed with Willenbring for persisting in the face of such traumatic abuse to earn a career of her own in science. I’m not at all impressed with Marchant, no matter how many publications and grants he might have.


  1. Raucous Indignation says

    How many of those publications did he steal from students? Will that number ever be found out? Or redressed?

  2. Doc Bill says

    Women in science have been putting up with this shit for a very long time. One geologist woman I know was playing darts at a pub, went to retrieve her arrows and a young professor, known for hitting on students, thought it would be funny to toss a dart. Unfortunately, it hit her in her index fingernail and stuck there. She turned around, yanked out the dart, but said nothing. Later, at the bar the professor was mocking his poor throwing ability and the faux bravery of the young student when the woman grabbed him by the tie, slammed is head into the bar and held a dart to his face. “Make one more comment and you’ll be wearing an eye patch.” The pub went quiet, the professor slinked off and apparently transferred to another university to seek “better opportunities.”

  3. rayceeya says

    This man sounds absolutely vile. It sounds like he was more interested on his pathetic power trip than actually forming a normal human relationship, like the grown man he was supposed to be. He was 37 then, but it sounds like he was acting more like a 13 year old, who just figured out how attractive girls are, but couldn’t get past the “eww girls have cooties” mentality of a pre-adolescent.

  4. yazikus says

    From the article:

    Others praised his character. Marchant is “a person completely absent the stain of misogyny or unchecked anger,” wrote Berglund

    Oh- okay then! Never mind all those ladies and their evidence and whatnot!

  5. wcorvi says

    ” Bringing in grant money is not the…”

    Evidently you aren’t at a major research institution.

  6. Holms says

    Others praised his character. Marchant is “a person completely absent the stain of misogyny or unchecked anger,” wrote Berglund

    Let’s not report this, we wouldn’t want to harm the reputation of such a fine citizen – he has a clean record. And so the record is kept clean. Next incident: Let’s not report this, we wouldn’t want to harm the reputation of such a fine citizen – he has a clean record. And so the record is kept clean…

    I wonder how many ‘first’ chances some people get due to this habit some administrators have of not wanting to enter that first incident to someone’s history?

  7. Petal to the Medal says

    Wow. And I thought a couple of my grad school profs were unduly harsh at times. If those allegations are true, Marchant not only should be booted out of academia; he should be in prison. And the colleagues who defend him are right up there with church officials who shield child-raping priests to prevent harm to the priesthood.

  8. guido says

    This story is gross, of course. But, after living life for awhile, it seems to me that things like this occur more often than my innocent younger self would have thought. In grad school at a large urban university, a young tenure-track prof told me that their department head had reminded them not to “fraternize” with students. I know that in the geoscience department, a lot of that was going on. What I heard of involved male profs and female grad students. Perhaps there were other permutations of that, but I didn’t hear of them. I did hear of a well-known geophysics prof in California who rode his bike off a cliff (to his death) after it came out that he was messing around with male students. I don’t like to be judgemental about such things, but i get upset when people use their perceived position of power to take advantage. However, sometimes it is the student who is trying to leverage an advantage. So … I think its good to careful not to be too quick to judge unless one knows the facts of the situation.

  9. rietpluim says

    guido I think the facts of this particular situation are clear enough.

    Also: professors should refrain from anything romantic or sexual with their students. It’s their obligation.