|Duke University/WikiMedia Commons|
In recent days I have put it out on social media that Duke University is investigating one of its anthropology faculty for allegations of sexual harassment. This particular individual has been the subject of conversation within the anthropology community for many years, but he became particularly high profile after verbally harassing colleagues at a 2015 anthropology meeting. His remarks to them, extremely sexist in nature and made in front of numerous witnesses, were reported on social media very shortly afterwards. Unfortunately for this harasser, he chose to target women who were actively researching sexual misconduct in their field. The incidents prompted the organizers of the meeting to make a statement to its members that this kind of conduct would not be tolerated, and to take further laudable action to develop strengthened guidelines for members of their professional association.
I became aware of these and other allegations concerning this anthropologist at the time I was reporting on the Brian Richmond case for Science, the story of the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I did not write about them at the time. But according to sources I consider reliable, the Duke administration was made aware of their faculty member's behavior at the meeting, and was reminded about this the following year when my Richmond story was published. According to those sources, no action was taken.
It would appear that this anthropologist's alleged behavior has finally caught up with him, as evidenced by the current investigation at Duke. Some colleagues in anthropology have raised questions about my looking into this case, out of concern that the Title IX process could be compromised. I responded to one of these colleagues yesterday, and I wanted to share my thinking about this here. Without identifying this colleague, and with editing to remove certain references, I am reproducing what I said here over the course of two email exchanges. I will come back with some additional thoughts at the bottom.
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You raise an important question, but I think there is a good answer to it.
Let's go back to the Brian Richmond case for a moment. The third investigation, the one the museum contracted with T&M resources to carry out, was a formal Title IX investigation (since the museum gets federal funds they are subject to Title IX, as I pointed out in my Science story.) That Title IX investigation would never had taken place were it not for the impending publication of my Science story, and by keeping tabs on it while it was going on there was some insurance that it would have some integrity and be serious. Indeed, Brian was forced to resign, and the museum did not sweep things under the rug as they had done twice before.
Now back to [the anthropologist.] Duke administrators have known for several years that there was a problem with [him], but did nothing. Anthropology faculty went to the Provost and to the deans after the 2015...events and asked that his travel funds be cut off, but they were ignored. So there is no reason to think that the current Title IX procedure, which they seem to have been forced into because it reportedly came from outside the university, will be honest unless it is closely watched and there is transparency. Secrecy only helps the institutions to protect themselves, and does nothing for the victim.
There is no question of "outing" the victim in this case. A few, including Duke administrators, have accused me of wanting to do that, but it is not true. My interest is in the process and in Duke stopping [the anthropologist] from going to meetings and continuing his harassment...
I hope this helps you understand why I am pursuing this journalistically, even if you still do not agree...
My purpose is to keep on top of the situation and to publicize, mostly via social media, the fact that the Title IX investigation is actually going on. I think, given Duke's history of ignoring the problem, that spotlight of attention needs to be kept on the university so they will do the right thing. Too many Title IX investigations have been conducted in total secrecy and led to exoneration of harassers who were clearly guilty according to the evidence...
In other words, in my experience, the university cannot be trusted to carry out a serious Title IX investigation without being watched carefully by the community, and by journalists. That there is an investigation going on is a fact, and one worthy of notice, even if the process is still going on.
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Additional thoughts: In fact it is not unusual for journalists and the publications they work for to report on Title IX investigations while they are still taking place. The Brian Richmond case is an example, as discussed above, and so is another recent case published by Science while the investigation was ongoing (that of Dave Marchant at Boston University.)
I would argue that coverage of these ongoing cases is critical to insuring their integrity, given the long, long history of universities and other institutions covering up even the most egregious and longstanding patterns of sexual misconduct. There are so many examples of this that I do not need to list them here. At the same time, alleged victims can be protected, and neither I nor any other journalist I know has identified victims unless they wanted to be. In keeping with longstanding practice in reporting on rape, assault, and other sexual misconduct cases, journalists name the accused but not the accusers.
Perhaps the day will come when institutions can be counted on to privilege the alleged victims rather than their own reputations. But that day has not yet come, and so investigative journalism into these matters if still necessary and desired.