I am a member of a highly privileged class

I’m a tenured college professor. It took hard work to get here (and hard work to do the job!), but sometimes I’m reminded of how many advantages I have. Look at how one of my peers in geology acted in his job!

The first complainant, Jane Willenbring, now an associate professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego, alleges that Marchant repeatedly shoved her down a steep slope, pelted her with rocks while she was urinating in the field, called her a “slut” and a “whore,” and urged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip.

The second complainant, Deborah Doe (a pseudonym), who was in Antarctica for two austral summers during this era, reports that Marchant called her a “c–t” and a “bitch” repeatedly. She alleges that he promised to block her access to research funding should she earn a Ph.D. She abandoned her career dreams and left academe.

A third woman, Hillary Tulley, a Skokie, Illinois, high school teacher, describes her experience in a supporting letter filed with BU investigators. “His taunts, degrading comments about my body, brain, and general inadequacies never ended,” she writes. She claims Marchant tried to exhaust her into leaving Antarctica. “Every day was terrifying,” she says in an interview with Science.

That’s from a year and a half ago. At that time, after years of harassing students, he was the chair of his department at Boston University and was about to be honored by the GSA for his work. It’s amazing what we professors can get away with.

That’s changing though. Marchant has been fired, finally. He denies ever harassing anyone, which is part of the problem — he probably didn’t think his behavior was harassing at all. And he’s not alone.

Student journalists have been investigating professors of ill repute on the Columbia University campus. They found all kinds of interesting problems.

English professor Michael Golston was found responsible for sexually assaulting and harassing a student, according to documents from an investigation conducted by Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

However, months later, he still retained access to campus and his Columbia-owned faculty apartment. Over a year later, the University has given no official update regarding his teaching status or access to campus to either the complainant or the chair of his department.

Business school professor Geert Bekaert was convicted in federal court for retaliating against Enrichetta Ravina, former assistant professor of finance, after she reported him to the University for sexual harassment.

Today, Bekaert continues to oversee research projects and teach classes on campus.

According to a lawsuit filed by Jane Doe, former history and classics professor William Harris repeatedly sexually harassed her, then disparaged her to their colleagues when she refused him.

Although he retired as a part of a settlement with the University nearly two years ago, Harris still frequents campus, particularly reading rooms in Butler Library where classics students perform research. He also still lives in his Columbia-owned faculty apartment.

“It makes my skin crawl, and I basically can’t even bring myself to look at him or in his direction,” said one classics student on running into Harris in the library.

After prominent neuroscientist and Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute Co-Director Thomas Jessell was found guilty of sexual misconduct by the University, Columbia announced he would be removed from all administrative posts.

But eight months later, Jessell remained on campus, continuing to work with students and use research facilities.

Columbia has never formally dismissed a tenured faculty member who has been convicted of sexual misconduct, assault, or harassment, University President Lee Bollinger told Spectator in an interview last October.

Wow. So the “punishment” for sexually harassing students is not having to do any committee work anymore? These guys are still getting paid by the university?

Note that at the same time, these universities have an army of serfs, the adjuncts.

To be a perennial adjunct professor is to hear the constant tone of higher education’s death knell. The story is well known—the long hours, the heavy workload, the insufficient pay—as academia relies on adjunct professors, non-tenured faculty members, who are often paid pennies on the dollar to do the same work required of their tenured colleagues.

That’s from a story about Thea Hunter, a black woman historian who was basically worked to death as an adjunct.

She had a number of ailments that bothered her—her asthma, her heart—and the rigors of being an adjunct added to them. Had she been tenured, she would have experienced a sort of security that tenure is designed to provide: a campus office of her own, health insurance, authority and respect with which to navigate campus bureaucracy, greater financial stability. Without tenure, she was unprotected, at the whim of her body’s failings, working long hours for little pay, teaching large survey classes outside of her area of special expertise. As Terry McGlynn, a biology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Full professors benefit from the exploitation of non-tenure-track instructors.” Adjuncts often do the work that other professors don’t want.

There really is a deep rich/poor divide in academia. We have a moral obligation to end it.


  1. lemurcatta says

    This is horrible, and I do not want to detract at all from the sexual harassment going on in these stories, but I also wanted to say that there is a larger phenomenon of advisors torturing their grad students in many other ways and it’s time to shine a spotlight on this. When I was still in grad school, some of my peers were on the brink of suicide and when they sought help from university health, their PIs made things a million times worse by making them feel bad they were taking time away from the lab to deal with these things (suggesting explicitly that maybe they weren’t right for academia, making unhelpful comparisons between students, berating them, asking for time to be made up with late nights and weekends in the lab), my PI regularly told me there is too much focus on student wellness these days and she was always talking about how she had it worse. I literally felt like an inadequate, lazy human being when I myself had to step away from the lab for a summer to deal with my own health issues that stem from a chronic, congenital heart defect I was born with. One day my PI called my cell phone and essentially interrogated me about my commitment to the current project, misunderstood me, and then frantically fired off an email to the other students in the lab about how I was probably unreliable. And then there is the endless sexual harassment of a few of my fellow grad students who are women. It’s terrible and it all needs to stop.

  2. says

    The community colleges in my college district in California treat our adjuncts as our farm club, and make a point of including adjuncts as candidates in every hiring process for tenure-track faculty. (In fact, I was an adjunct at the beginning of my teaching in the district.) Not all adjuncts who apply for tenure-track positions get them, but the flow from adjunct to tenure-track is steady. However, what is typical for my community college district is hardly the norm for the four-year academies in the California State University or University of California systems, where part-time employment on short-term contracts can easily become a way of life, and adjunct service is an unending purgatory (as if part-timers are labeled with a scarlet “A for adjunct” and are permanently consigned to that role). But this is unlikely to change without pressure from outside from the legislature, because CSU and UC know adjuncts are cheaper and ever so much easier to boss around.

  3. lemurcatta says

    Follow up comment: the best teaching I EVER had in undergrad in my field was by a recent PhD who was seasonally hired as an an “instructor”. I’ve follows his career since and he is still doing adjunct work at my undergrad institution and nearby community colleges, years later.

  4. leerudolph says

    I wonder how much this varies by (general) field. I mean, there are certainly horrible cases of advisor abuse in the humanities (e.g., that story from last year about the NYU Ph.D. program in, I think, German?), social sciences (e.g., the Dartmouth psychology department), and mathematics (my own field: though I have no personal experience, or anything more than rumors from years ago—it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a position either to observe or to hear many rumors…), but the most horrendous stories seem to me to come from lab sciences (even when the horrors aren’t in the lab). Is that accurate or observer bias on my part?

  5. lemurcatta says

    I think it’s partly due to the fact that at least in my field (experimental evolution), the lab work has to be done and the grad students are the labor force that executed the work. So the PIs forced us to work 80 hours/week in the lab and skip important life events under the guise of good mentoring. Side note, my PI also never set foot in the lab the three years I was there. She worse skirts every single day to campus which was her excuse if you asked her to come in and look at something (campus regulations require pants and closed toe shoes).

  6. says

    I was fortunate in that my PI was supportive of his students, but yeah, there were others…I remember hanging out with the fourth & fifth year students of one particularly brutal taskmaster, and marveling at the cynicism and despair on display, and hoping I wouldn’t be that beaten down as I approached graduation.

    I wasn’t, I’m happy to say. But it is a harsh process for many.

    My daughter is currently in grad school, which worried me…but her advisor seems to be one of those genuinely good professors, too.

  7. says

    Which reminds me — my number one advice for students heading off to grad school is to pick your advisor carefully. Don’t go for the one with high academic reputation and a zillion papers, but pick the one who shows the most respect for you (they can be the same person, but it’s rare).

  8. Ichthyic says

    But this is unlikely to change without pressure from outside from the legislature, because CSU and UC know adjuncts are cheaper and ever so much easier to boss around.

    However… The UC regents are second in effective power in CA only to the Governor.

    not kidding. anyone who has ever dealt with politics in CA knows this.

    who the fuck is going to put external pressure on the regents to force change within the system? the war between the regents and the University staff/presidents has been ongoing for many many decades, with the universities themselves fighting an ever retreating action.

  9. Ichthyic says

    Don’t go for the one with high academic reputation and a zillion papers, but pick the one who shows the most respect for you

    that isn’t always an easy thing to recognize as a new grad student.

    as a more general rule, if you pick someone who is relatively new to being a professor, they will be far more invested in seeing you succeed, because your success = their success.

    it’s much more risky to pick someone who has been in the game for a long time; you can get caught in the shuffle all too easily.

    if you are doing research in the field, PICK SOMEONE WHO SPENDS A LOT OF TIME IN THE FIELD.

    that was my mistake.

  10. says

    However… The UC regents are second in effective power in CA only to the Governor.
    not kidding. anyone who has ever dealt with politics in CA knows this.

    It’s quite true, because the University of California is a constitutionally ordained institution, making the system’s regents a power unto themselves, like a fourth branch of California government. Still, they cannot appropriate their own budget, giving the governor and legislature significant leverage, if only they choose to use it. Reagan successfully forced the regents to impose tuition on UC students right after he became governor. Newsom could establish guidelines on the use of adjuncts, but I’m not aware that it’s on his list of priorities.

  11. jmc42 says

    I am in a unique position. I spent 36 years as a public educator in science as a teacher, science supervisor, assistant principal and director of curriculum in instruction. I retired and failed retirement as my daughter likes to say. I spent a semester as an adjunct. They liked what I did and hired me on a contract. I am full time and get benefits including money put into a retirement account, a percentage of my gross salary. The pay scale is the same as anyone with my credentials. The adjuncts and the non tenure track full time teaching professors are unionized. New adjuncts are on a year to year contract for the first two years. Commencing with the 3rd year the contract is a 3 yr one. At the start of the 6th year you can apply for status as a senior teaching professor (and complete the same paperwork as you would for tenure status as a professor) that includes a pay bump.

    This all sounds great but now there are rumors of people in these categories who are not being rehired. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    For me this works. But if I had not had a career before this and had a retirement already it would be problematic. No stability long term. How do you provide for a yourself and a family if you are always up in the air.