Category Archives: Me @ work

When the campus sexual harassment policy doesn’t work

Which is, let’s face it, a lot.

We would all prefer a system for handling sexual harassment claims that used a fair and rigorous process of investigation and delivered proportionate consequences in a timely way. We don’t have that, for several reasons.

As I think about harassment in academic contexts, I’m struck by the problem of conferences, job changers, and cross-institution collaborations. Even if the internal process on a particular campus worked well, that would only address a subset of possible harassment cases. Academics change jobs (sometimes frequently) and they harass people who don’t work at their own institutions — but people who are nonetheless subordinates in the reputation system, or co-authors, or reviewees, or people who hope to work for the harasser or their friends and colleagues in the future. How can the campus-based system address these cases? As far as I know, it can’t. (For example, consider this good advice to graduate students about how to deal with sexual harassment, and ask how it would work if the harasser didn’t work on your campus.)

And of course even when cases fall within the jurisdiction of campus systems, these systems are often seriously flawed, inordinately focused on protecting their institutions instead of the victims (past or future) and the perpetrators are protected by tenure.

For job changers, biologist Jason Lieb, a multimillion-dollar grant recipient who quickly moved from the University of North Carolina to Princeton to Chicago, apparently trying to stay ahead of the sexual harassment and abuse cases that were trailing him, even as he continued to carry out new offenses. I don’t know what he’s doing now, but it seems that only public exposure finally dislodged him.

picture of Jason Lieb

This picture of Jason Lieb was still up on the page announcing his new job at the University of Chicago two days ago when I mentioned it on Twitter. Now the page has been taken down.

For tenure protections, consider Berkeley astronomer Geoff Macy, who got a slap on the wrist after repeated findings of responsibility for violating campus sexual harassment policies. Only after Buzzfeed blew the whistle did he lose his job. Buzzfeed also has a great story by by Tyler Kingkade about how hard it is to fire tenured professors for sexual harassment. English professor Andrew Escobedo remains on paid leave 18 months after the university concluded he sexually harassed multiple people. The story also details cases in which professors quit before they could be fired, as local investigations dragged on, which could protect them as they look for other jobs. That’s what Jasob Lieb did: “Dr. Lieb stepped down last month before any action was taken.”

Is sociology better or worse than other disciplines? We don’t know. But it looks like public exposure is necessary to apply pressure to improve this system. To that end, last week, Liana Sayer and I offered to help people bring cases in sociology to light. Read the post for more information on that.


See also: Adia Harvey Wingfield, “Are Universities Enabling Sexual Harassment and Assault?” from June, way before all this recent news. The Chronicle also had a rundown of cases the other day.

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Sexual harassment: Et tu, Sociology?

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Unrelated picture of Women’s March, January 21, 2017 / photo pnc

I once asked a journalist to cover a case of sexual harassment I knew about in a sociology department. In the discussion that followed, they told me that journalists aren’t the only ones who can do this, and that academia should police its own kind. Further, those of us who have tenure should step up and take some of the risk associated with cleaning house.

So my colleague Liana Sayer and I have an offer. If you have first-hand knowledge of sexual harassment in sociology, tell us about it. We’ll collect information and report on it.

We won’t sully reputations based on unsubstantiated rumors. But if there are serious problems going unreported, we should do something about it. We shouldn’t have to wait for someone more powerful to give us permission to speak up. Liana and I can take a little risk. And if the reputations of bad actors get damaged, that is OK — professional reputations should not be a ratchet, even if the tenure system makes it seem like they are. This has nothing to do with “witch hunts,” and everything to do with making our profession safe and productive and equitable.

As sociologists, we know that many, probably most, professional women have experienced sexual harassment in their training or careers — and we know that both the prevalence and impact of such experiences is shaped by the cultural and institutional context within which they work. In economics, a feminist initiative has taken on the “pervasive misogyny” in the field, prompted by furor over the discipline’s anonymous rumor board. In sociology we have not yet had such a catalyst.

Here’s our proposed procedure: Send an email to my gmail address (philipncohen@), tell us as much as you’re comfortable with, or simply ask us to call you. You can do this individually or in groups. We won’t discuss it with anyone at all until we’ve contacted you and agreed on how to proceed. We’ll ask you for more information if we need to. Before anything goes public, we will take steps to verify anything we can, and corroborate with witness, and so on — like the reporters do — with your permission. Then, with your permission,  we will report on the findings, and name names. This will include giving the alleged bad actor a chance to respond, but only after we are satisfied that there’s something to report regardless of their response.

If we don’t hit a threshold for what we consider responsible reporting, we won’t report anything. Of course, you can tell anyone else, including journalists or the police, any time. We’re not trying to get an exclusive, we’re trying to shine a light.

We are not defining sexual harassment in advance here; there are legal and normative definitions you can follow or not. We don’t need to meet a legal standard to speak up, but we need to be responsible and ethical.

If no one contacts us and nothing comes of it, great. If instead people decide to use some other method and ignore this, that’s great. If people talk about this issue just to say how much they hate me or I’m trying to get attention or I’m acting badly, that’s probably a good thing, too. If you think we’re just virtue signaling, we’re OK with that. If you conclude, “Oh they just want everyone to know they’re against sexual harassment,” that’s great — despite its bad rap, “virtue signaling” is also how norms happen. (On the other hand, if we get swamped with messages we’ll have to decide how to triage the cases. With your permission, we might recruit help.)

We hope this will be part of elevating the discussion to the point at which we start to take steps to improve the situation more systematically. We want to see better policies and practices, which could at at the level of the American Sociological Association, our colleges and universities, or our departments. In light of the obvious retreat in federal policy toward Title IX and sex discrimination enforcement, we need to find creative, proactive responses. We hope evidence will help.

Disclaimers: We’re not lawyers, and we don’t give legal advice. We’re not doing this as a part of our job duties at the University of Maryland. If a court forces us to turn over what we have, we will. My lay understanding of the open documents rules in Maryland is that our private email is not subject to records requests to the state, but I could be wrong. If you choose to contact us, you’re trusting us to do our best, and we will do our best. We can’t promise any result (or any response at all if we don’t know what to do). If we fail and it becomes a disaster and people try to fire or sue us, I hope we’ll figure out how to win it.

 

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Interrogating Ethnography comments

pnc-sign-at-northwestern

Elite law schools have better views.

I’ve edited out 4 minutes of stammering and ums, and a couple of errors, from my comments on Steven Lubet’s new book, Interrogating Ethnography: Why Evidence Matters, from this conference held over the weekend. So here it is in 16 minutes:

It turns out some people saw things differently from how I did, and I had a lot to think about. Comments welcome.

(There was a court reporter and video, so a complete record of all the panels should be available at some point.)

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Sources for Interrogating Ethnography conference

I’m at this conference today for the launch Steven Lubet’s new book Interrogating Ethnography. Since I’m going to mention the things I’ve written about Alice Goffman’s work in On The Run, I’m putting the links here for easy reference:

My comment to the American Sociological Review about problems with the survey in her article and book is here. The rejection I received from ASR is here.

My blog posts are:

They say the sessions at this conference will be recorded and made available later.

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New books on the block: Enduring Bonds, The Family (2e), Contexts (3e)

Suddenly I have news on three books to offer.

My brand new book is called Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible. It is in press at the University of California Press, to be published in February (order from UCPress or Amazon).

EnduringBonds-cover

It’s a collection of essays that originated on this blog, all substantially revised and updated. For several chapters this meant combining posts in a series to make a longer essay, including those on sexual dimorphism in popular culture, marriage promotion, parenting and children’s names, and the Regnerus Affair.

The title comes from Anthony Kennedy’s Obergefell decision (at the suggestion of Judy Ruttenberg, my wife and the one with two history degrees, who knows about pulling titles out of primary sources). It’s about the good and the bad of bonds. From the introduction:

Kennedy wrote, “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” It took the late justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative Catholic, to point out that marriage isn’t really about freedom. In his furious dissent, Scalia mocked the idea that people find “freedoms” in the “enduring bond” of marriage. “One would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage,” he scoffed. “Ask the nearest hippie.” Scalia had a point.

I hope you like it, for you or your students.

The Family (2e)

Also on the block is the second edition of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. It’s also in press, available for adoption next fall (I don’t recommend ordering right now from Amazon, but you can check the book page at Norton for exam copies and instructional materials). In addition to integrating marriage equality throughout the book, and hundreds of updated references, the new edition benefits from reviews by many instructors compiled by Norton, leading to more material on gender identity, aging and old people, and role of technology. I also wrote a “trend to watch” feature for each chapter, with data-driven speculation about the future for classroom discussions. Norton will release it with their new InQuizitive instructional tool, which is state-of-the-art pedagogy. The new edition was a lot of work (for a lot of people) but I think it was worth it.

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The Contexts Reader (3e)

Finally, as we wind down our editorial tenure (sniff!) the editorial team of Syed Ali, Letta Page, and me have produced a new edition of the Contexts Reader, also with Norton (order info). It’s more than 60 of our favorite pieces from the magazine we’ve been editing for the last three years, most of them new for this edition (and with a beautiful cover photo from Scott Matthews, who has provided most of our cover images). Undergraduates are a huge part of the Contexts readership, and we’re super proud that this book has been a big part of thousands of students’ introductions to sociology. (Also, the royalties from this one go to the American Sociological Association, not us!)

reader3ecover

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Science finds tiny things nowadays (Malia edition)

We have to get used to living in a world where science — even social science — can detect really small things. Understanding how important really small things are, and how to interpret them, is harder nowadays than just finding them.

Remember when Hanna Rosin wrote this?

One of the great crime stories of the last twenty years is the dramatic decline of sexual assault. Rates are so low in parts of the country — for white women especially — that criminologists can’t plot the numbers on a chart.

Besides being wrong about rape (it has declined a lot, but it’s still high compared with most countries), this was a funny statement about science (I’ve heard we can even plot negative numbers now!). But the point is we have problems understanding, and communicating about, small things.

So, back to names.

In 2009, the peak year for the name Malia in the U.S., 1,681 girls were given that name, according to the Social Security Administration, or .041% of the 4.14 million children born that year (there are no male Malias in the SSA’s public database, meaning they have never recorded more than 4 in one year). That year, 7.5% of women ages 18-44 had a baby. If my arithmetic is right, say you know 100 women ages 18-44, and each of them knows 100 others (and there is no overlap in your network). That would mean there is a 30% chance one of your 10,000 friends of a friend had a baby girl and named her Malia in 2009. But probably there is a lot of overlap; if your friend-of-friend network is only 1,000 women 18-44 then that chance would fall to 3%.

Here is the trend in girls named Malia, relative to the total number of girls born, from 1960 to 2016:

names.xlsx

To make it easier to see the Malias, here is the same chart with the y-axis on a log scale.

names.xlsx

This shows that Malia has been on a long upward trend, from less than 50 per year in the 1960s to more than 1,000 per year now. And it also shows a pronounced spike in 2009, the year Malia peaked .041%. In that year, the number of people naming daughters Malia jumped 75% before declining over the next three years to resume it’s previous trend. Here is the detail on the figure, just showing the Malia in 2005-2016:

names.xlsx

What happened there? We can’t know for sure. Even if you asked everyone why they named their kid what they did, I don’t know what answers you would get. But from what we know about naming patterns, and their responsiveness to names in the news (positive or negative), it’s very likely that the bump in 2009 resulted from the high profile of Barack Obama and his daughter Malia, who was 11 when Obama was elected.

What does a causal statement like that that really mean? In 2009, it looks to me like about 828 more people named their daughters Malia than would have otherwise, taking into account the upward trend before 2008. Here’s the actual trend, with a simulated trend showing no Obama effect:

names.xlsx

Of course, Obama’s election changed the world forever, which may explain why the upward trend for Malia accelerated again after 2013. But in this simple simulation, which brings the “no Obama” trend back into line with the actual trend in 2014, there were 1,275 more Malias born than there would have been without the Obama election. This implies that over the years 2008-2013, the Obama election increased the probability of someone naming their daughter Malia by .00011, or .011%.

That is a very small effect. I think it’s real, and very interesting. But what does it mean for anything else in the world? This is not a question of statistical significance, although those tools can help. (These names aren’t a probability sample, it’s a list of all names given.) So this is a question for interpreting research findings now that we have these incredibly powerful tools, and very big data to analyze with them. The number alone doesn’t tell the story.

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Teach it! Family syllabus supplements for Fall 2017

This year we were working on the second edition of my book The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, which will be out in 2018. And my new book, a collection of essays, will also be out for Spring: Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible, from University of California Press. But I’ve still produced a few blog posts this year, so I can provide an updated list of potential syllabus supplements for this fall.

In addition to the excellent teaching materials to support The Family from Norton, there is also an active Facebook group for sharing ideas and materials (instructors visit here). And then I provide a list of blog posts for family sociology courses (for previous lists, visit the teaching page). So here are some new, and some old, organized by topic. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

1. Introduction

2. History

3. Race, ethnicity, and immigration

4. Social class

5. Gender

6. Sexuality

7. Love and romantic relationships

  • Is dating still dead? The death of dating is now 50 years old, and its been eulogized so many times that its feelings are starting to get hurt.
  • Online dating: efficiency, inequality, and anxiety: I’m skeptical about efficiency, and concerned about inequality, as more dating moves online. Some of the numbers I use in this post are already dated, but this could be good for a debate about dating rules and preferences.
  • Is the price of sex too damn low? To hear some researchers tell it in a recent YouTube video, women in general — and feminism in particular — have ruined not only sex, but society itself. The theory is wrong. Also, they’re insanely sexist.

8. Marriage and cohabitation

9. Families and children

10. Divorce, remarriage, and blended families

11. Work and families

12. Family violence and abuse

13. The future of the family

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