What men can and should do about the awful academic sexual harassment.

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Lenny Teytelman Jul 01, 2016

Sexual harassment in academia is pervasive and scandalously tolerated by administrations across universities. There is a reason Congress is now looking at sexual harassment in academia. Representative Jackie Speier said in her comments regarding academic sexual harassment on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 12, 2016:

Mr. Speaker, some universities protect predatory professors with slaps on the wrist and secrecy, just like the Catholic Church sheltered child-molesting priests for many decades...

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In some ways, the situation is reminiscent of the Catholic Church's coddling of child-molesting priests. As in the Church, universities protect perpetuators with slap-on-the-wrist punishment and secrecy, while victims are left alone to try to put their academic careers and lives back together. One peer-reviewed study found that over a quarter of women surveyed (and 6% of men) have been sexually assaulted while conducting scientific fieldwork, and 71% of women and 41% of men also reported that they were sexually harassed.

Professor Julie Libarkin is keeping a depressing list of documented cases of sexual harassment in academia. It's growing constantly: was 372 a week ago, is 374 today, and should be 375 given this week's report on Michael Katze. Professor Libarkin is certain that this list is incomplete - it's just her doing searches in the evenings, after a long day at work, trying to find all reported-on cases. The truly heartbreaking part is that the list of document cases is just a tiny fraction of the total number of sexual harassers at colleges and universities.

Most cases involving faculty go unreported precisely because our institutions routinely protect the powerful professors and our entire system tends to only punish further the victims who do speak up. There are a million reasons for the victims and junior academics to say nothing against the senior academics who are guilty of sexual harassment. Moreover, even I feel powerless to do anything about the professors I personally know about. The universities and their departments protect them. I have told journalists, but they can't do anything because the victims and junior scientists who know about the cases refuse to speak to the media, even anonymously - afraid of repercussions. I can't blog the harassers' names because I will be sued.

There is an overwhelming feeling of desperation and powerlessness, and I'm not even the victim or someone whose career can be jeopardized by speaking out. So, I did a very simple thing yesterday. I took Azeen Ghorayshi's “He Thinks He’s Untouchable” about Michael Katze and e-mailed it to the professors that I know are established sexual harassers. A very simple, "I think you will find this article about sexual harassment in academia of interest..." or "In case you missed this..." will suffice, and you are not formally accusing the faculty of anything; you're just sharing relevant news stories.

Of course, not everyone can do this, even if you are a man and a tenured established professor. However, one thing we can all do when new stories of academic sexual harassment appear in the media is share them with our colleagues, post them on Facebook/Twitter, and strongly condemn in public the harassers and the universities and administrators protecting them. It is important to signal to the harassers that this is no minor issue and to set up clear expectations of the appropriate response to such disasters.

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