More sex harassment scandals involving professors in STEM fields

Posted in Sexual Harassment on February 4, 2016

We have previously written about the pervasive problem of sexual harassment in academia. Many recent cases making news headlines involve male professors (especially those who have prestige in their field) sexually harassing female graduate students or undergrads. At least four high-profile cases have occurred recently involving professors who work in STEM fields, in which women are already underrepresented.

Within the past year or so, controversies have erupted at Caltech and U.C. Berkeley. At each school, a prominent male scientist had been accused of sexually harassing students and/or colleagues, and subsequent investigations by the school substantiated those claims. In both cases, the schools failed to release the findings of the investigations, and the public instead found out through information leaked to the media. A similar case occurred at the University of Arizona and was only reported because of a “bureaucratic error,” according to the New York Times.

The most recent scandal was widely reported earlier this week. A 43-year-old molecular biologist resigned from his post at the University of Chicago after several female graduate students came forward to say that he had made unwelcome sexual advances toward them during an off-campus retreat. He was also accused of engaging in sexual activity with a female student who could not give consent because she was “incapacitated due to alcohol.” The professor stepped down before specific disciplinary actions could be taken.

Scandals like these are disturbing in and of themselves, because no one should be forced to work in an environment where sexual harassment is occurring. But they are also disturbing because the fields of science, technology, engineering and math already have trouble attracting and retaining women. Until or unless substantive changes are made, women who might otherwise be attracted to STEM jobs may understandably choose different paths.