Poor harassment investigations are a stain on academia

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“It’s a matter of Harvard’s decade-long inability to protect students from sexual violence and retaliation for ending their careers.”

This is the first sentence of federal lawsuit On Feb. 8, three graduate students filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, accusing university officials of allowing abusive behavior by Professor of Anthropology John Komarov. University challenges the claims.

Groping, frightening talk of rape and unwanted attention, which is accused of Komarov – all this is horrible. But it is also unpleasant that the people appointed by the university to investigate long-standing complaints against the professor did not take the complaints, and perhaps the complainants themselves, seriously.

After this and similar stories, several questions remain: influential people who have been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, harassment in the workplace, or both, and committees who fail to fulfill their duty to stop such behavior. As we work to hold prosecutors accountable for their actions, it is time to hold these domestic investigators accountable for their actions or their absence. And it’s time to prosecute other scholars in power if they “unite” prosecutors (uniting against people who have filed complaints, or helping to cover up this brutal behavior).

I am an associate professor at the University of Michigan. I am also a co-founder and director The Academic Parity Movement, a non-profit organization that aims to combat academic bullying, mobbing, abuse of abuse, harassment and discrimination at its roots to ensure that everyone can succeed and progress. My team and I have been researching the causes of outdated but unresolved issues of academic bullying and sexual harassment for many years. I myself was the object of bullying in my previous institution.

There are many reasons why allegations of sexual harassment or academic harassment face obstacles: people say that when they speak out, administrators or teachers who have to officially handle their complaints do not believe them or do not trust them. Academic bullies and sexual harassers are smart; many are trying do not leave traces their actions.

But one might think that as complaints accumulate and institutions see patterns in behavior, officials will act to tame this person. This decision not to act on complaints after the complaint seems to be part of the problem at Harvard, where before Komarov former students and teachers have filed complaints for decades against Gary Urtan and Jorge Dominguezboth of whom have only recently been disciplined.

Sometimes there are external factors. Officials tasked with investigating complaints may come under pressure to maintain the university’s reputation or maintain funding for the accused in the prosecution.

Even when Harvard finally took action against Komarov, Urtan, and Dominguez, committee members who reviewed previous complaints in these cases, or supporters of criminals at any institutional level, bore no responsibility. The scientific community should demand statements from these committee members, especially in cases such as Urtan, Dominguez and Komarov, which have many complaints.

If reports of bullying and harassment go nowhere, it sends positive signals to criminals that they will be protected, and negative signals that they have no right to protection and must put up with the situation. These signals may encourage the perpetrators to even use harassment as a career tool. These examples are the few cases that appear in the media; there are many others that have just been swept under the rug, including my own.

My pursuer had a proven history of bullying. After I filed a formal institutional complaint, a biased internal commission of inquiry was set up (the head of the committee of inquiry was an associate professor of the same department where the persecution took place). This committee found my complaint well-founded, but they decided only to rebuke the bully and send him to another training course, a tactic they had used in the past with this professor that had clearly failed.

However, during this process, I received waves of revenge: text messages from colleagues who pressured me, and strange, recently imposed restrictions on running my lab that were not shared by other associate professors. My only option was to continue working in the same research center and department where this threat held a very high position. Instead, I resigned and moved to a new institution.

Such stories are too common: limited action against perpetrators, lack of support from victims, little responsibility for people who support the perpetrator or conduct internal investigations at the institutional level, and there is no funding or reliable plan to help cure the psyche. and physical damage affecting not only facilities but also their families.

In many cases, people who are bullied and humiliated retain their positions (or promotions), their status, and their authority, even if the findings about the misconduct of their institutions remain confidential. However, the people they targeted do not have the opportunity to continue their affairs after an internal report of abuse. External legal assistance is rarely possible; universities have funds that people don’t pay for lawyers to defend.

Meanwhile, the objects of persecution are suffering. We must ask: how can they be protected? What are the long-term consequences of this misbehavior in the scientific community? How can we provide a cure for people who mock like goals can suffer for decades?

Academies have a long way to go to become a truly safe place to train young minds. There are recommendations and reporting systems for harassment and bullying, but too often administrators do not follow the rules and blame the targets more than the perpetrators. The wider academic enterprise must intervene to oversee these processes in a desire to provide safe workplaces and learning environments.

For all these reasons, it may be time to create an independent global committee on academic ethics of behavior, able to use standard protocols to educate institutions and those capable of combating academic bullying, on how to conduct a thorough, fair and impartial investigation of academic bullying and sexual harassment. Creating such an organization can shift academic culture to one where ethical behavior becomes the norm.

This may include funding agencies, which should require agencies to provide investigations and reports as a requirement for grants to individual investigators. Such oversight by financial institutions will make institutions more accountable and prevent “passing pursuer”Together to another institution. This practice is alleged in the charges against Harvard and Komarov; The lawsuit alleges that the university, when it was hired in 2012, was known to the university for harassment and revenge.

The National Institutes of Health has removed funding from more than 70 chief investigators who have been the subject of approximately 300 complaints of harassment. Such oversight can increase trust and confidence among people who have been bullied or persecuted by people in power, which will hopefully lead to more reports. Other stakeholders can follow; Institutional rating agencies, for example, could put pressure on research institutions to be more credible and accountable in their decisions and actions both against criminals and in support of goals within their rating parameters.

I firmly believe that only a timely and effective strategy What can reduce academic bullying and improve the health of our organization is the creation of interdependent cooperation between all participants, but especially between funding agencies and institutions.

Perhaps there is evidence that times are changing. Komarov was brought to disciplinary responsibility. The the investigating dean punished those scholars who rushed to Komarov’s defense before publishing the report. She reminded them how targets may choose not to express their experiences of abuse in the workplace in light of the number of influential people who will support the abuser.

But the scientific community and the public should be more active in these matters and demand accountability and responsibility from supporters and members of the investigative committee. Everyone must work together to ensure that people who report abuse receive support and that criminals and their supporters receive the following action. After all, academic bullying or sexual harassment has significantly affected many lives (including my own) and even scientific integrity. It is time to reduce this behavior in our scientific backyard.

Poor harassment investigations are a stain on academia

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