Remember the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, that field station where the boys ran wild and made life miserable for women scientists working there? Nature recently published a bit of a follow-up. It sounds like not much has changed. The Smithsonian is going to form a task force (they haven’t done it yet), and now they’ve finally put locks on all the bedroom doors. I’m not seeing any mention of changes to the culture of hard partying that was rife at the station, nothing but a recognition that people at remote field stations drink a lot.
The dynamics of an island-based research institute where people live, work and socialize together complicates efforts to protect researchers, Tewksbury says. “Strong power imbalances, coupled with close, informal working environments, large age differentials and alcohol all increase the risk of abuses of power and sexual harassment,” he says. “The two main venues where that wicked cocktail is mixed up are field research stations and conferences.”
“It would be a mistake to say [sexual misconduct] is a problem with STRI per se,” Crofoot says. “Assault, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions are a common thing at field stations. There’s a need for institutions to recognize that they can’t continue to ignore these problems.”
You know, these stations are work places. Most such places have rules about getting drunk at work, and age differentials are common. If, at the end of a long day of classes, I brought out a couple of bottles of tequila and started flirting with students, I would be fired so hard, and would lose the respect of my peers, and would probably be hauled away by campus police, not to mention getting kicked in the crotch by some 20 year old student athlete. Why are field stations being given a pass on “Assault, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions”? This dichotomy in how we treat professionals working in different environments is intolerable. I understand the privilege and responsibility of having a position at a university, why should being employed to work in a field station be any different?
But Crofoot is right. These are problems everywhere. It’s just that when people get away from oversight in a place with a “boys will be boys” attitude, some of them run amuck. Why, here in more civilized parts of academia, everyone knows you’re supposed to sneak around when taking advantage of your underlings.
Like the president of the University of Michigan did.
The University of Michigan Board of Regents has unanimously fired school President Mark Schlissel for cause following an investigation into a relationship with a subordinate, the board announced Saturday evening.
In a letter to Schlissel posted on the school website, the board spelled out its concerns and said his conduct was “particularly egregious considering your knowledge of and involvement in addressing incidents of harassment by University of Michigan personnel, and your declared commitment to work to ‘free’ the University community of sexual harassment or other improper conduct.”
He was exposed by a long history of suggestive emails between himself and the woman employee. He also had a history of talking big about stopping sexual harassment, while also promoting a system of reporting that disadvantaged victims trying to get justice.
Also, email? Does anyone really think the campus email system is a secure way to discuss your criminal activities?
Scott de Brestian says
I’m an archaeologist, and field sites (whether actually ‘in the field’ or just a big house in some rural village) are notorious boozefests. Partly it comes from being places where there isn’t a lot to do at night (of course, availability of Wi-Fi has altered that a lot), but a lot comes from tolerance of a culture of drinking. There is still the ‘work hard in the day, drink hard at night’ ethic in many places. Add in lower drinking ages overseas (and lax enforcement generally) and it can be bad.
bcw bcw says
more on Michigan
bcw bcw says
@2 “The firing comes after an anonymous complaint submitted on Dec. 8. revealed Schlissel had been in an inappropriate relationship with a University employee. A subsequent investigation was performed which found he had used his University email account to inappropriately communicate with said employee. “
And the Schlissel story comes on top of investigations of a university doctor who is accused of more that 2100 complaints of sexual assault.
PZ Myers says
Whoa, that story is so confusing. “The university overall had 1,212 reports of on-campus rapes in 2020, compared to 19 reports in 2019 and 43 in 2018.” They have a sky-rocketing frequency of rapes…why? What’s going on at UMichigan? That’s in a story about this Robert Anderson asshole, who’d been inappropriately fondling his patients since 1975, and the university knew about it, but did nothing? But Anderson can’t be behind the 2020 rapes, because he died in 2008.
Then there’s Larry Nassar, who was at Michigan State.
I think I’ll just have to stay away from Michigan altogether.
Can they please introduce Serrasalmus nattereri in Lake Gatun, so harrassed students can gang together and solve the causes of the problems without relying on unreliable authorities?
(reads article at link)
Whoa! (starts searching literature about useful carnivores in the Michigan region).
1.212 reports of campus rapes ion one year? What’s the enrollment there? That’s got to be an enormous percentage of the student body.
Marcus Ranum says
Just once I want to see: “everyone involved is fired”
Sure, accept and carefully vet re-hires, because no doubt there are some good people, but the entire management branch needs to be sawed off and reconstructed.
Committees and investigations inevitably become political footballs and every Tom, Dick, and Dershowitz has to weigh in. Shut it down and reconstruct it, takes less time than sorting bad apples from the barrel.
PZ Myers says
It would also set an example for the replacements.
Ninja Debugger says
“If, at the end of a long day of classes, I brought out a couple of bottles of tequila and started flirting with students, I would be fired so hard, and would lose the respect of my peers, and would probably be hauled away by campus police”
General results, even from your own school, sadly seem to disagree.
Scott de Brestian @ 1
I use to watch the Aardvarchaeology blog, and the archaeologist author makes an effort to provide trips around the region so the people in the team will get recreation during digs.
Also, there are plenty of students of both genders so there is no goddamn “boyish” culture.
I’m a public school administrator (and teacher). Every communication I have with anyone, including my personal texting, is subject to FOIA, so I keep that in mind in EVERY electronic communication I have. How stupid is this guy for not thinking his emails will be discovered?! (And my direct verbal communications with people are just as professional as my electronic communications, FWIW).
PZ Myers says
Right. I’ve been subject to several FOIA requests, so I’ve got a folder labeled FOIA that I use: I search my email for whatever keyword/subject they’re demanding, dump all the results to that folder, and then send everything in it back to the requester. It’s routine. I’d have expected a university president to be familiar with the concept.
And they think they will be able to send expeditions to…Mars? or another star? Hell, they can’t even manage to exist at a field station without chaos breaking loose LOLOL
When we got our first government email account many years ago, they made it clear that they were not confidential, and someone else may end up reading them. I was keenly aware of this every time I sent one.
“As the report explains, it’s attributable to the complaints filed against Dr. Robert Anderson once the investigation went public. … Of the 1,212 rape accusations, 1,194 were against Anderson… [18 non-Anderson-related rapes is more in line with previous years] …the university said these are 2,111 reports of abuse and not unique victims.”