UPDATE: I am disappointed to report that the American Sociological Association did not follow this advice, and announced Kimmel as the winner of this award at their annual meeting award ceremony — while falsely claiming that he was “unable” to be there.
How the American Sociological Association can stop Michael Kimmel from winning the Jessie Bernard Award.
The ASA meetings are happening now in Philadelphia, and the association is confronting the case of Kimmel, a famous senior sociologist who specializes in men and masculinity studies from a feminist perspective. He was named as the winner of the association’s Jessie Bernard Award, which recognizes feminist sociologists. After the award was announced, but before it was formally given to him (which was to happen at the conference), the Chronicle of Higher Education (paywalled, bootlegged) reported that a former student accused him of sexual misconduct, and a senior sociologist affirmed the existence of rumors about a long history of sexual misconduct, in particular unwanted advances and demeaning comments toward women. Another former student, Bethany Coston, accused Kimmel of sexism and abusing students who worked for him. Kimmel told the Chronicle he would “delay” accepted the award to give people time to file complaints against him.
ASA has no authority over Kimmel. You don’t need to be a member of ASA to practice sociology. All the association can do is revoke people’s membership, although doing so publicly would presumably have damaging reputation effects. To do that, ASA would need to do an investigation, and that takes time (not a time specified by Kimmel, but time nonetheless).
However, because the award has not yet been awarded, so to speak, it would be entirely appropriate for the award committee to reconvene and continue consideration of the award in light of the new information that they have. This does not require a full investigation, because it is action limited to the award, which has not yet been formally bestowed. It doesn’t require action by the association’s top leadership. If committee decides they no longer believe he should win the award — which I believe is the correct decision — then he doesn’t get it. The leadership only has to acknowledge the decision. That’s my suggestion.
The very idea of a man winning a feminism award, over the objections of the feminists in the association, and maybe over the objections of the award committee members themselves, while he is under investigation for sexual harassment and other abuse, is intolerable for the association. Reconvening the committee solves the immediate crisis, and allows the association to pursue an ethics case on its own time.
Some people will object to this action because they want more procedural fairness. But an award is a privilege, not a right. Losing an award is not a death sentence, it’s not career-ending. It’s not even job-ending. It’s not an overreaction. It’s a prudent response to the emergence of credible damaging information. The association should err on the side of not giving a major award, which is totally discretionary, to a person under this major cloud. If it all blows over and turns out to be a big misunderstanding, give it to him later.
If the alternative is between doing nothing, or next to nothing, even for six months — and the fallout from that — versus the decision to not award the award, which some people may perceive as unfair, the choice is clear. You can’t give the award under these conditions, and there is no reason to drag that decision out. The MeToo experience has shown that swift institutional responses are considered prudent and reasonable, while dallying and equivocating is harshly punished by public opinion.
To respect the sentiments of the membership, and to protect the association from well-deserved humiliation, ASA has to find a way not to give this award to Michael Kimmel, and the award committee is the appropriate body to make that decision.