What is this? Another case of academics behaving badly? And specifically, academics involve in neuroscience research?
The Psychological and Brain Science department at Dartmouth is experiencing a bit of upheaval, again based on sexual misconduct. The stories have all been a bit vague on the details, but it was serious enough that one faculty member’s tenure was about to be revoked, and two others are under investigation.
Psychological and brain sciences professor Todd Heatherton has elected to retire immediately following a recommendation from Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith, upheld by the faculty-elected Review Committee, that his tenure be revoked and his employment terminated. Smith’s recommendation follows a review of Heatherton by an external investigator for sexual misconduct. Professors Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen of the PBS department, who are also under investigation for sexual misconduct, remain under review.
In a press release provided by his lawyer Julie Moore, Heatherton stated that he retired because he thought it was best for his family, the College and the graduate students involved in the investigation.
Oh, that familiar song. “I was a reprehensible shit for years, but now I’m committing a selfless act of career suicide for my family’s sake, so forgive me.” Late-in-life remorse is such a useful card to play, especially when the hammer is about to come down anyway.
This has been building for a while — there were reports months ago about a growing criminal investigation.
Three tenured professors from the psychological and brain sciences department at Dartmouth College—Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley, and Paul Whalen—are targets of a criminal investigation, according to official statements from Dartmouth’s president and the New Hampshire attorney general on Oct. 31. The school, which has variously described the allegations as referring to “serious misconduct” and “sexual misconduct,” had already launched its own internal investigation of the three men. Heatherton, Kelley, and Whalen are all on paid leave with restricted campus access, according to the statement from Dartmouth’s president. Heatherton also lost his affiliation at New York University, where he had been a visiting scholar since July.
Again, the details are lacking, but whatever they were, they were sufficient to prompt 15 students and post-docs to make a complaint and bring in outside law enforcement. University administrations hate bringing in the law from outside, and that more than anything tells me there is an awful lot lurking beneath the official statements. And also that they’re actually revoking tenure for at least one professor.
The professors — Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen — are under investigation by both college and law enforcement officials for sexual misconduct.
“We wish to dispel any sensational or inaccurate accounts of these allegations and to counteract any efforts to minimize their severity,” the statement reads. “In our collective experience, these professors have all created a hostile academic environment in which sexual harassment is normalized.” (Scroll down to read the statement in full.)
Beyond the written statement, several students also described to the paper a culture of drinking where the line between professional and personal interactions was often blurred.
OK, I confess: I’m also a graduate of a neuro program, the Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Oregon. Also, for many years it was a tradition for the lab to stroll over to a nearby bar late on Friday afternoon and shoot pool and share a pitcher of beer, and faculty were often there, socializing. That’s a good thing. But there was no drinking to excess, no sex talk, and I honestly cannot imagine my advisor, Chuck Kimmel, behaving in any way other than with respect and kindness to his students.
OK, sometimes he could get a little cranky. There were a few clashes. But nothing where we ever felt a lack of decency in our treatment.
While informality and social interaction are good, there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed — lines that are there to protect students and faculty together. Dartmouth PBS seems to have made a practice of crossing them.