You probably have seen in the news today that star University of California-Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy has resigned because details of the university’s inquiry into a decade of sexual harassment charges and his weak reprimand were published by BuzzFeed last Friday. Here’s a typical take on the matter from Inside Higher Ed and republished at Slate this morning:
One of the biggest names in astronomy resigned his professorship at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday over the fallout from a damning investigation into his conduct with female students. The news demonstrates that not even star scholars enjoy impunity when it comes to sexual harassment, but in the end it was Geoff Marcy’s fellow scientists—not the Berkeley administration—who forced him out.
A vigorous peer pressure campaign launched Friday, upon news of the investigation and Berkeley’s lukewarm response, seemingly backed Marcy into a corner and, in so doing, sent a strong message to academic science: Even if your institution doesn’t reject you for harassing students, your colleagues will.
Oh, really? I mean, I completely agree that his astronomer colleagues are the ones who have known about this kind of behavior all along. For example, from the very same story:
One of Marcy’s former students, John Asher Johnson, now a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, said in a personal blog post that he and other colleagues had been aware of Marcy’s pattern of behavior for years, and that he operated by a calculated playbook of sorts. Johnson said that Marcy’s status among astronomers provided a kind of cover, and he congratulated the women who’d finally brought his behavior to light. (Marcy’s former department chairman was informed of student complaints back in 2005 but said he couldn’t respond to anonymous complaints, according to BuzzFeed.)
So instead of his fellow astronomers being the heroes of this story, they actually knew about his behavior with women students all along and covered up for him.
That’s the real story, friends: most of Marcy’s colleagues are just trying to jump on the bandwagon so as to avoid being rolled over by it! Now that Buzzfeed has picked up the story and has pulled the pants down on the entire profession, now we can congratulate those courageous women astronomers who have been jumping up and down and screaming about this for more than a decade.
Isn’t it nice that some want to “congratulate” the women in the field for finally getting their story heard outside of professional gossip circles?
This story is an excellent object lesson in something I’ve learned in the course of my professional life again and again: it never pays to shut up, so sing your song from the rooftops. Never. Whenever you see some bullcrap going on, speak up and refuse to shut up about it.
Again and again, I get emails and phone calls from friends, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers because of this blog in which a woman–usually a junior scholar, but not always–wants my advice because she’s being bullied at work, or because her tenure is being threatened by the behavior of colleagues or administrators. And always, always, always! she’s told at some point to shut up, keep it quiet, don’t offend anyone, STFU.
Why is the victim’s silence and discretion so important? Because if she doesn’t shut up, it will reveal the professional incompetence of someone in her university’s governing structure–it will reveal that the Chair of her department is an idiot, or that the Dean doesn’t know the tenure standards in the college, or that the Provost doesn’t understand or care to follow the policies and procedures of the college or university.
Pro tip: don’t take advice from people who want you to conceal their incompetence, abuse, or refusal to confront abuse. These people just want you and the problems they created to go away quietly so no one notices. So RTFM (read the frikkin’ faculty manual), study your uni’s grievance processes, hire employment attorneys, tell your story and look for allies and mentors*, and above all, make sure your Chairs, Deans, and Provosts know that you refuse to let them think that you’re poor, scared, and all alone.
They count on that, friends: they count on intimidating you into silence.
*Sometimes even your allies and mentors will tell you to STFU too, because they’ve been effectively intimidated in the past. Don’t take this advice! Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Explain to them why you just can’t shut up about what’s happening to you, and that as in an alcoholic family, the problem doesn’t go away just because everyone is polite and refuses to have an honest conversation about what’s going on.