Whisper Network vs. Old Guys’ Network

Theres been another development in the story of BethAnn McLaughlin. To recap: she’s a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt who also has a reputation for activism for women’s rights in science. She was up for tenure, which she was initially awarded, and then, in a peculiar maneuver, suddenly a second committee was convened to revoke tenure, something I’d never heard of being done before.

The shocking new development is that a member of the second committee was abruptly placed on leave a few months ago. Why? Because he’s accused of assaulting a graduate student! Furthermore, Vanderbilt had been sitting on this accusation for almost a year before deciding they needed to take action.

As of August this year, Vanderbilt University neuroscientist David Sweatt has been on leave while the university looks into allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted a student at a conference, according to documents obtained by Buzzfeed News and published in a report yesterday (October 31). The school initially became aware of the accusations nearly a year before, in September 2017, but determined there were no grounds for action at the time.

“Nauseous in my kitchen reading this. Vanderbilt knew for 11 months Sweatt was dangerous and did nothing,” climate scientist Sarah Myhre at the University of Washington writes in a tweet about the Buzzfeed article yesterday. “Students and trainees – like lambs to slaughter,” she continues.

It was a tweet by Myrhe from August describing the allegations that prompted Vanderbilt to suspend Sweatt, Buzzfeed reports.

Here’s that tweet:

One has to wonder how this guy continued to get on committees that decided women’s fates while under this cloud of suspicion. I think there must be an Old Guys’ Network that gets activated when their privilege is threatened, and all we have to counter it is a Whisper Network.


  1. bowdsquared says

    As a dad to a teenaged daughter who is trying to figure out what she wants to study in college this sort of crap infuriates me. I already naturally have trust issues with humanity in general, but sending my daughter to a place whose sole function should be furthering knowledge and finding out that it is no better than a religious order sheltering predators makes me want to scream and break things (or people).

    Yes, I know I am not being sensible in this comment but damnit this crap is frightening to me and produces a knee jerk reaction.

  2. says

    And, of course, the guy gets to scream, “I’m being railroaded, it’s a conspiracy!” at the top of his lungs for months on end and if he is later found to have sexually assaulted or raped someone, his noisy insistence that he was innocent only adds to his hire-ability and credibility at the universities where he applies for future employment.

    Meanwhile, if someone like McLaughlin screams, “I’m being railroaded, it’s a conspiracy!” she’s fired for being too out of touch with reality to be trusted as an educator, even when she’s right.

    The act of defending yourself is so gendered that men defending themselves against true allegations gain credibility for their defensive efforts, while women defending themselves against false allegations lose credibility for speaking out on their own behalf.

    Separately … nauseated. Learn it, love it, use it.

  3. gijoel says

    @Crip Dyke

    You forgot the “I’m shocked and angry at these allegations” and the ‘not-apology to victims’ steps.

  4. chrislawson says

    And there I was thinking Vanderbilt railroaded McLaughlin because her protecting women’s rights made life difficult for them. That’s plenty bad enough from Vanderbilt. But now we find out that they put someone they secretly knew to be an accused sexual abuser on the committee to railroad her!

    Senior heads had better roll for this.

  5. Oggie. My Favourite Colour is MediOchre says

    chrislawson @6:

    Senior heads had better roll for this.

    They won’t. No senior heads will roll. They will just shuffle some positions and keep right on going rather than admitting there is a problem or fixing the problem. Just like if I get a flat tyre and just rotate the tyres rather than fixing the problem.