Bad Prof behavior is rampant

Oct 13 2015 Published by under Academics

In case you missed it, this is related to news of a UC Professor.

The Twitter responses to this indicated that my experience was a very common one. Now sure, one creeper prof can be the example for dozens or scores of graduate students. But still. For every one of these Geoff Marcy types that hit the news, how many more go unnoticed save locally? Scores? Hundreds?

34 responses so far

  • One suspects Mister Marcy was tenured at the time of the alleged incidents, eh?

  • Former Technician says:

    In my original grad program, the prof in charge of the program was fired due to abusing the program. He wasn't a creeper. He was telling everyone in the program that they had to rotate in his lab. He was using the free labor and not taking on any of the students. I left the program early because I felt that I had been lied to about the professors who were available to students in the program. Given my interests at the time, I should never have been in that program.

  • banditokat says:

    Ted, what makes you think that things would go noticed as reportable and serious offenses locally? Universities are not under any obligation to disclose current sexual harassment complaints much less publically shame those who are found guilty. There is zero obligation to disclose any findings of fault in sexual harassment cases.
    The women at Berkeley who were assaulted and harassed were the exception in that they were given access to the findings in their case and they, or someone else, went public with it. Universities will tell you openly they 'are not in the habit of disclosing this information to protect those involved'. Which is sort of hilarious. Even if victims ask for the information, they will get the same message unless they get the Dept of Ed or a lawyer to file a suit on their behalf.
    When there is a sexual harassment investigation, Unis clamp their sphincters down so completely it is ridiculous. It is this clamping that has gotten the attention of the Department of Education and these cases (like UVA) are after years of University mishandlings. Other cases you might have heard about? It’s because the complainant went to civil proceeding to seek $$. And when they are settled, everybody and their mother signs a non-disclosure.
    Take the example of neuroscience prof Tracy McIntosh at Penn. VERY popular professor who was known 'ladies man' amongst colleagues. Worked at Penn for a decade with several harassment complaints that were never disclosed. It was only after he drugged and raped his college roommate's daughter and she went to Philly cops vs. campus PD to seek justice. After the REAL cops (yes, cops working for a University are, by definition, in conflict) investigated that other cases /harassment charges came to light.
    So, yeah....if you a suspected of stealing bubble gum, you get charged and those charges are a matter of public record.
    You sexually harass and assault students/colleagues....the University will bury that for you. Even once you are found guilty. You think colleagues are going to bring it to the public? You're a naive little shoe, Ted. A harasser can claim everything was dismissed, found in their favor....hell, get a promotion, it doesn't matter...there is no record to compare it against that you and I can (ethically) access.
    Oh, and if you're wondering, the first judge who sentenced McIntosh for raping the student visiting Penn? He said McIntosh had suffered enough so gave him zero jail time.

  • drugmonkey says:

    How am I naive? Are you under the impression I don't know this shit?

  • Dave says:

    I know of at least one prof at my institution (well funded at the time) who was reprimanded for sexual harassment. This person had to attend classes with his boss, but essentially that was it. Unfortunately, most people seemed to find it highly amusing, and nothing ever came of it after the classes were over. No public knowledge, of course, and actually most people in the department knew nothing about it. I'm sure my experience is very similar to what happens at other places in the US. It seems common to me. I'm numb to it, and that's obviously wrong.

  • Susan says:

    I had not heard of the Penn case, so I googled. It appears that upon appeal, he was sentenced and delivered to jail in, 2008:

  • banditokat says:

    How am I naive? Are you under the impression I don't know this shit?

    Because you think that people would know if someone is being investigated. There is no obligation to share investigation or findings. What could go wrong?

    It's spelled shitte, BTW.

    Susan - yes, there was huge backlash spurred by social media. McIntosh is now running a consulting company.

  • Grumble says:

    "Hands up, everyone who had at least one prof in their grad training dept investigated for harassing a student"

    As far as I know, I should keep my hand down. Although, as the discussion above points out, I may *not* know.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    " Although, as the discussion above points out, I may *not* know."
    -Yeah, I'm willing to believe it is a problem, having seen how anachronistic and entitled some faculty can be, but I haven't personally witnessed anything. But, I suppose these are mostly private encounters, so I wouldn't expect to have seen them.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Because you think that people would know if someone is being investigated.

    I fail to see how surveying those who do happen to know about an investigation means that I don't also appreciate that many investigations may be kept on the DL. (that means sekrit, to you)

  • jmz4gtu says:

    There is some space between knowing that the dood down the hall is a bit handsy or starey and knowing, for sure, he's had a complaint filed against him.

    Apparently many of the faculty were not surprised by this guy's behavior, even though they were unaware of complaints or an investigation until the allegations were made public via Buzzfeed.

    Which seems odd to me. If I were the university agent in charge of investigating these allegations, the first thing I would do is talk to the faculty's colleagues in the department. If the reactions were shock and dismissal, I'd proceed very differently then if everyone just nodded and said they figured it would happen eventually. Unless of course, they were planning on minimizing the impact of the allegations all along.

  • banditokat says:

    If I were the university agent in charge of investigating these allegations, the first thing I would do is talk to the faculty's colleagues in the department.

    Okay, I'm trying not to be jaded here, but that's not what happens. That is the first thing you do if you are investigating. These people are not investigating. They are trying to make it go away for the University. Full stop.

    When there is a Title IX complaint, the victim lodges the complaint with the Dept of Ed or the home Uni. Almost everyone goes to the home Uni because all the links direct you there, the staff and admin encourage you to use that process and the DOE generally works on pooled complaints.

    University investigators bury stuff. Their job is to discredit every witness and protect the University at all costs. They will look at any evidence regarding the complainant's history, personal life, work life....whatever show that they would have reason to place the accused or university in the cross hairs.

    When the investigator goes out, they spend equal time asking 'witnesses' about the accused and the victim. And not in an unbiased way. But in a way where the accused can insert their information into the process so you'll often end up with questions like, 'yes, but the witness is (from a family of racists, use to work at Hooters, hates wo/men)'. Which will be weird because this is all the stuff you see excluded when you're hanging out on the couch watching Law and Order.

    So, say you lived a charmed and flawless life, are a 'perfect victim or witness'. And by some freaking miracle, the Title IX office finds against the accused. The Title IX office does not tell you this. You get a short email saying "the case has been closed and findings of racism/sexism/harassment/whatever were found to be insufficient to warrant further investigation."

    This email means you 'won'. They are just saying they won't go after the accused with your involvement anymore. Somewhere some dean of something is kicking the accused ass and telling them to really, really knock it off.

    In a couple weeks, you will get an email from a friendly person saying they want to take you out to coffee or whatever. They will offer you a job 'consulting' for the admin's office on similar cases because you were so loyal and quiet. You will get some slush fund for a couple ten thousand dollars and feel honored they worked you into the process. They will never ask for your help.

    In a few years, you will hear another complaint against the same person. But the complainant won't want to file because they heard you lost your case. Even though you didn't.

  • becca says:

    ... it's complicated. A database to cross-reference "stealing bubblegum" and find patterns of behavior is a minimal step universities should be required to do by law.

    Also, I heard only the dimmest rumors about profs. Postdocs, OTOH...

    #AndLetUsNotSpeakOfCoaches #SMH

  • Grumpy says:

    Isn't unwanted touching of the crotch a criminal offense? What would happen if the victim went straight to the police? Shouldn't this be encouraged?

  • Microscientist says:

    In my grad program, which spanned multiple departments, two faculty members were married to former grad students from their lab. Another was openly having a relationship with his grad student. With him the relationship became volatile (screaming matching between them in the lab), such that the grad director wouldn't let new 1st years do rotations in his lab.
    In my current department one faculty is married to his former grad student, and two others are dating former students who used to work in their labs. All of these are men. None of this was/is formal "harassment" but it certainly shows how easily the work relationship can become uncomfortable.

  • Newbie PI says:

    My hand is down. I honestly can't even remember any rumors about creepy profs in any department throughout my career. One of the best pieces of advice I got very early on when I was a TA in grad school was that those who complain the loudest are very often not representing the voice of the majority. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be rules in place and clear boundaries for faculty, but is this problem really "rampant"?

  • drugmonkey says:

    NewbiePI- I think if it is not exceptionally rare than we have a big problem. As far as rampant goes, well this biased opt-in survey suggests the unaware are in the small minority.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Grumpy- "can you prove it? Did anyone else see it? ......well young lady I advise you to drop it...."

  • Zee says:

    2/3 of the universities I have worked at had PIs who were not allowed to have female graduate students.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "Not allowed to have"....???? What!?!!???!

    How is that a solution?

  • Jo says:

    Well, he's gone:

    This morning Professor of Astronomy Geoff Marcy resigned from the UC Berkeley faculty. We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.

  • Namaste_Ish says:

    Grumpy- "can you prove it? Did anyone else see it? ......well young lady I advise you to drop it....

    Everyone saw it? And we agree it's bad? Huh.
    Well, it's not like s/he's going to RAPE anyone.

    So yes, the defendant can admit it and STILL you don't have to release that information.

    You can't simultaneously claim you are protecting students with Title IX confidentiality and then not share information on who sanctioned predators are.

  • Namaste_Ish says:


  • drugmonkey says:

    You need to put a back slash in your closing tag.

  • mH says:

    "the unaware are in the small minority"

    there are low information types in in every workplace... either by choice or by exclusion.

  • Anon says:

    5 of us went separately (I didn't even know about 3 of them at the time!) to the Ombudsman to complain about our PI's intense harassment/abuse of a grad student. I was told that unless I wanted to file an official complaint with my name on it, nothing could be done. I was also told that, in general, these kinds of complaints don't really have any effect (there would be a note added to his file!), so filing one wasn't a good idea. They did agree that everything that was happening was terrible and offered to help me find another lab to work in though (?!?!).

  • chall says:

    one of my universities had a "male prof can't close door when being alone with grad student in office". It had to be slightly ajar. This was due to a professor being accused of sexual harrassment, and they thought he was innocent but "couldn't support him" since the admin hadn't heard the convo. (in itself very odd but sure enough).

    As for the whole "PI relationship with grad/post-doc" and what it does to the lab culture... my view is that it seldom is a great plan for the others in the lab. I'm biased, and the fall outs I've seen have seldom been great. Never mind the start of these things that can make some other lab/dept members confused what is considered "appropriate" work place behaviour....

  • dsks says:

    one of my universities had a "male prof can't close door when being alone with grad student in office".

    With the exception of times when it is profoundly inconvenient (corridor traffic and noise), I think an open door policy for undergrads and grads is a good general principle to abide by for us all.

  • Grumble says:

    "Corridor traffic," "noise," and "having a shitload of work to do so go the fuck away" are all valid reasons to keep your door closed. And "it swings shut automatically and I don't have one of those door stopper thingies."

    I considered putting a couch in my office until a more senior faculty member said that when he did the same, the administration gave him all sorts of grief. What a world we live in.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    dsks, There are good reasons to have private meetings between profs and students. I am glad my university is not yet instituting such a ridiculous policy as you defend.

  • JustaTech says:

    In my dept, no, just a very senior PI who would hound and dissect and question the post-docs until they cried. Usually in private, occasionally in lab meeting.

    In other departments, yes, but I didn't know until after I left.

  • anon says:

    I heard a rumor that in my former grad program a male prof who was there at the time was later asked to leave for harassing multiple female students. I think that the details were kept quiet and he's working elsewhere now.

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