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.
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?