Tag Archives: sex harassment

Michael Kimmel’s American Sociological Association Award

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 (paywalledbootlegged) 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.

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Legal risks in reporting on academic sexual harassment

gossip

Gossip, according to Google Images

This is on the nuts and bolts of reporting sexual harassment.

Last fall my colleague Liana Sayer and I offered to help people report on sexual harassment in academic sociology (other posts on this: #MeToo). Although we have corresponded with a number of people, we have yet to make any public reports. One reason for that is legal risk.

The first advice I got from a number of people was to get a lawyer, and to get libel insurance. I did both of those things (libel turns out to be a kind of personal injury, like hitting someone in your car, so you can get covered for it under an umbrella policy).

After attending a media law conference (long story), and having gathered enough evidence to consider moving ahead with publication in one case, I spoke to several lawyers, and eventually retained Constance Pendleton, a media law expert and partner at Davis Wright Tremain. Here is some of what I learned from speaking with her.

First, if the case involves harassment within one workplace (school), it may be better to go through the official reporting procedure rather than making a public case, at least from the perspective of protecting the accuser. This involves lawyers and documents, which is good. However, for reasons I mentioned here, that often doesn’t work. And that process often ends with a promise of confidentiality that shields the harasser from public exposure (a key institutional goal of many university sexual harassment officers).

Second, the risk of getting sued as an individual is high. We don’t have a lot of experience in the current context with lawsuits against accusers, but the cases that have come forward have often involved major investigations by big organizations, not individuals publishing accusations on their blogs. So it’s hard to know how they will play. However,  even the cost of “easily” winning a case is likely to be a lot, something in five figures. And in the process, the accuser you are trying to protect could be forced to testify, or at least produce an affidavit, even if you have kept them anonymous in the story. Truth is a defense against libel, but if your true statement is “someone told me this,” you can still be found responsible if you can’t prove that what the person told you is true, or if it can be shown you acted maliciously in reporting it.

In the case of being sued, the things you need are the things a good journalist would want in reporting such a story, such as original documents, contemporaneous records, witnesses, and so on. There is a reason for that: journalists who report this stuff are heading off such lawsuits themselves. But I didn’t fully appreciate some key differences between a citizen journalist and a real news organization. These include the reputation of the news organization, which shields them (practically if not legally) from charges of acting maliciously. Also, they have lawyers already, so it doesn’t cost them as much to defend cases. And they have an interest in defending their reputation, so everyone knows they will fight. Finally, there are some legal protections for revealing information if you do it in the public interest, and that’s an easier case for news organizations to make. (This is my shallow, lay understanding of the situation, not legal advice).

Regardless of my thoughts on procedural fairness, which is hotly debated, these are reasons why I wouldn’t report on rumors alone, or report a case where I didn’t know the accuser’s identity and had no way of verifying the supporting information.

News reality

Given all this, The best thing might be for a news organization to report the story, rather than reporting it independently. I haven’t ruled out the latter course, but it’s much riskier. (And there may be hybrid solutions, such as writing a reported piece as a freelancer for a news organization.) Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, news organizations that are interested in reporting on sexual harassment are getting bombarded with cases to report. They have to choose selectively from among these cases, and the variables involved are beyond my control.

In the case of Michael Kimmel, for example, reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education (paywalledbootlegged), the story includes one accuser who requested anonymity, and one senior sociologist who affirms the existence of rumors, and the charge is unwanted advances and demeaning comments. In this environment, that would not normally be enough to warrant a news story by a major publication, naming the accused. Not very much evidence and not such an egregious case (no reported threats, quid pro quo, or violence). That’s not an excuse, that’s a fact of the media landscape. The difference here is Kimmel is famous, and that he is “delaying” receiving a major award (plus it’s an award for being a feminist). If you brought the same facts and evidence to a news organization, but about a non-famous senior sociologist, you are unlikely to make it past editorial triage.

In summary, the very cases that I most want to expose — the common harassment that occurs between non-famous people all the time in academia — are difficult to work with. Risky for the citizen journalist, but maybe not important enough to jump the line at major news organizations. That said, I still favor public exposure as an approach in this environment, where policies remain weak and formal proceedings are unlikely to produce satisfactory results — but harassers and their employers are on the defensive and much of the public is watching and willing to get involved. And I still want to help. But it’s harder than I thought it would be. Live and learn.

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Campus sexual harassment coverage, UMD circa 2003

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a powerful story about the Harvard professor Jorge Domínguez, who has kept his tenured job — and moved up within it — for decades despite repeated, substantiated claims of sexual harassment. That goes back to the early 1980s, surely a different world. Of course, after #MeToo, 2016 seems like a different world. But it’s not really.

Anyway, here’s a story to consider. This is from Page 1 of the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper, from November 19, 2003. (And thanks to the McKeldin Library staff for reminding me how to use the microfilm machine.)

This concerns Maryland sociology professor David Segal and a female graduate student in our program at the time; the story includes comments from Mady Segal, David’s wife, who was also a professor here. Both are now retired with honorary emeritus status at the university. (The student, who is not named, although she was identifiable to people familiar with the program at the time, consented to my posting this story.)

It’s important to think about the context, both institutionally and historically, that would produce a story like this, and what that means for women reporting harassment then, and now. (The Diamondback reporter did not respond to a request for comment.)

Because the photocopy from microfilm is hard to read, I extracted the text and include it below, but here is a PDF of the copy, too. A few questions follow the text.


Permanent open-door policy: Sociology professor says flawed sexual harassment policy ruined his reputation

Photo caption: Sociology professor David Segal now fears being accused of sexual harassment if he closes the door to his office when talking with a female student.

By Megan Watzin, Senior staff writer

When students visit David Segal’s office now, he either leaves the door open or explicitly asks the student if it is OK if he closes the door.

The sociology professor accused of sexual and ethnic harassment by a female graduate student two years ago said he never got to defend himself because of flaws in the university’s process for handling sexual harassment claims.

Segal was eventually found innocent of all five charges against him – bias, conflict of interest, discrimination, sexual harassment and ethnic harassment. However, he maintains the charges – which he insists are false – have permanently damaged his reputation and career. He is pushing for the University Senate to make significant revisions to the university’s sexual harassment process and policy this year.

Segal said he was accused in 2001 of telling a Mafia joke and a sexual joke involving Italian food that offended the graduate student, who is Italian. The other three charges were quickly dismissed by the university attorneys as impossible to prove.

The graduate student’s identity is protected by the university, and she could not be reached for comment for this story.

He insists the graduate student made up the charges, which is a violation of the student code of conduct. However, Segal was unable to file a complaint accusing her of violating the student code of conduct because of a single piece of paper, a detailed signed statement of the accusations against him, that may never have been completed when the harassment charges were initially filed.

“The accusations were lies and I could prove they were lies, but I couldn’t get the statement from the accuser,” he said. “It was like the Spanish Inquisition and the Stalinist purges during the Cold War. There was no justice.”

John Zacker, director of the Office of Judicial Programs, which handles about 600 cases of alleged misconduct each year, said the burden of evidence that false claims were made is the responsibility of the claiming party.

Segal said he suspected the university attorneys were hiding the statement from him, so he asked the associate provost, the provost, the faculty ombudsman, university President Dan Mote’s chief of staff and Mote himself for their help in getting it. None were successful – the statement may have never existed.

Segal said the statement would have provided the necessary evidence to file a complaint against his accuser, but it remains unclear whether it should have been completed in the first place because the procedures for filing a harassment claim are vague.

There are two avenues for filing a sexual harassment claim – formal and informal. The graduate student officially filed an informal claim. Senate Chair Joel Cohen said the problem with the current policy is there is no clear difference between the two processes, and therefore it is unclear what steps should be followed.

Two years later

The graduate student remains in good standing at the university and was also granted several requests after she made the accusations, Segal said. He said she asked for continued funding for her assistantship under him, and extension for taking her two doctoral exams and for Segal and his wife, who also works in the sociology department, not to be allowed to sit on the panel that creates and grades her doctoral exams.

Two years later, she has not taken her doctoral exams, Segal said. She had originally been preparing to take an exam in military sociology – Segal’s specialty area – but said she could no longer take that test because of him, so she was granted extra time to prepare for a different exam.

Segal noticed he was still listed as her adviser a few months ago, he said, and immediately asked sociology department Chair William Falk to assign her to a different adviser.

Segal and his wife, Mady, who also mentored the student, said she had been performing poorly shortly before the accusations were made. Segal sent her emails telling her she was not doing her job and was at risk of failing.

“This is a graduate student who is not fulfilling her work requirements and was not making adequate progress toward a degree, and was looking for a way to blame someone else and postpone her doctoral exams,” Mady Segal said. “She was trying to excuse her failings.”

Time for a change

Segal was summoned to meet with university attorneys Sept. 24, 2001, and was informed he had been accused of sexual harassment. That same day a tornado touched down on the campus and significantly damaged the Segals’ nearby house. At that point, there was already an ongoing investigation, which Segal said he only found out about from Falk.

Mady Segal sat on the Committee on Professional Issues in 1987 when it authored the current sexual harassment policy. She said the way the policy was carried out in her husband’s case was not the way it was intended to work.

“The original intent was there would be an informal resolution process when there is a complaint,” she said. “I think because of the perception of legal requirements on campus, they have eliminated an informal procedure, because any time there is an allegation, it goes straight to the president’s attorneys.”

The Segals advocate a clear informal process be laid out for filing a complaint – one in which the accuser is made aware they can contact the department head or human relations department to mediate the situation. Under the current policy, as soon as a complaint alleging harassment is received by a university employee, that employee is required to contact university attorneys, according to Senate documents.

“The process that’s being used now is bypassing an informal mediation by getting the attorneys involved,” Mady Segal said.

Mote’s chief of staff, Ann Wylie, made recommendations to the three-member Senate panel now examining the policy. The panel is expected to make a report outlining recommended changes by the end of the semester.

“I looked to see … how they handled cases, and the fact of the matter is the whole system that we have in place now is set up to protect the person making the complaint,” Wylie said. “It is appropriate with all policies to just sit down and go back over it and make sure it protects the innocent.”

After being accused and not being able to make charges against the accuser, Segal wrote to the Senate a list of recommended changes that stressed the student code of conduct be more strictly enforced in the cases of false allegations. He also suggested a written form stating the accusations be filled out in both formal and informal sexual harassment cases, and that the accused have access to it.

“People can file false claims and get away with it,” Segal said. “And people who file justifiable claims become victims again.”

The Senate Human Relations Committee found that similar questions needed to be addressed before assigning the panel the task of examining the policy.

Roger Candelaria, the campus compliance officer, said the number of sexual harassment claims that turn out to be false or the result of a student attempting to abuse the system represents only a very tiny portion of the roughly once-a-week complaints.

‘Damaged goods’

Segal said he doesn’t feel he can have close relationships with female students anymore. He stopped enjoying teaching – his one true passion – for two years. He said this semester is the first time since the allegations he has started to enjoy being in the classroom again.

“As this all unfolded, the campus became a frightening place for me. I go into the field with soldiers. I’ve been to dangerous places. The university was a sanctuary,” Segal said. “I had trouble preparing for classes and sleep disturbances.”

Segal has worked at the university since 1976 and has constantly received job offers from other institutions. He said he always turned them down out of a loyalty to this university. After the sexual harassment allegations, he considered for the first time leaving. But at that time, all the job offers stopped.

“I’m damaged goods,” he said.

Mady, who has been married to him for 37 years, said she doesn’t think her husband will ever be the same.

“It was a terrible blow to his reputation,” she said. “Nothing very serious was alleged, but it was a big deal to him. David has always been a very happy person … He was always cheerful. He has lost a lot of that cheerfulness.”


Questions an editor today might ask the reporter before running this story:

  • What does it mean that he “never got to defend himself”? Actually, what was the accusation, specifically, and how was it adjudicated to produce an “innocent” result?
  • Was the sexual harassment accusation really about a single joke involving Italian food, and if so, how is keeping his office door open relevant?
  • Is there some emergency that requires printing this story before the student can be reached to offer her version of events?
  • Did you verify with anyone the student’s academic status, which is offered as her motive to lie?
  • Followup question: How does this compare with more recent debates about due process for accused sexual harassers, such as those described by Laura Kipnis in Unwanted Advances?
  • Lots of questions.

Some related posts:

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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?

DSC_9979

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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The amazing lack of gender progress in Hollywood, Weinstein and not

With gender and Hollywood in the news because of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, I haven’t seen anyone count up the women who produced his movies. I counted off every tenth movie from his 300 or so producer credits on IMDB, and eyeballed their names (or images) for gender. The result: 23% of 373 producers were women.* (Some have a lot of producers, but if you use movies as the unit of analysis the average is also 23%.)

Here is the breakdown of these 30 movies, by decade:

harveydecades

Weinstein seems to be right in line with the industry on this. (With a range of 5 to 70 producers listed, none had more than 50% female producer teams.) Producer jobs are the most gender integrated of the major behind-the-scenes leadership positions in Hollywood movies, as reported by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. And, like the other major positions, in his movies and in general, there is zero movement toward gender integration in the last two decades.

womenintvfilm

In turn, Hollywood looks a lot like the economy in general, which also shows basically no progress on integrating women into leadership positions over the last two decades. Here is percent female among those employed in managerial occupations (using the IPUMS occ1990 coding scheme for consistency):

wommgrocc

Putting women in top leadership positions is not a panacea for gender inequality. But for the sexual harassment situation I am quite sure it would help a lot. Harvey Weinstein’s sex crimes may or may not have been an open secret in Hollywood, but the lack of women in positions across the industry, and the economy, is plain for all to see — and to act on, if they choose.

For other posts on movies, mostly having to do with gender, follow the movie tag.


* If someone wants to code all of his movies I’ll happily update this. Here’s the list I generated:

Year Men Women Percent Female
The Burning 1981 5 0 0.00
The Pope Must Diet 1991 7 1 0.13
Pulp Fiction 1994 6 1 0.14
Jane Eyre 1996 6 2 0.25
I’m Crazy About Iris Blond 1996 4 1 0.20
Cop Land 1997 8 2 0.20
Wide Awake 1998 6 2 0.25
Talk of Angels 1998 3 3 0.50
In Too Deep 1999 6 1 0.14
About Adam 2000 4 4 0.50
Backstage 2000 7 3 0.30
Mimic 2 2001 5 1 0.17
Heaven 2002 10 5 0.33
Chicago 2002 8 3 0.27
Bad Santa 2003 7 1 0.13
Finding Neverland 2004 6 3 0.33
The Brothers Grimm 2005 11 0 0.00
Scary Movie 4 2006 5 2 0.29
Death Proof 2007 6 4 0.40
The Great Debaters 2007 6 4 0.40
The Meerkats 2008 7 1 0.13
Halloween II 2009 10 1 0.09
The King’s Speech 2010 14 1 0.07
I Don’t Know How She Does It 2011 5 4 0.44
Escape from Planet Earth 2013 13 3 0.19
Lee Daniels’ The Butler 2013 31 10 0.24
Suite Francais 2014 8 4 0.33
Regression 2015 13 2 0.13
Wild Oats 2016 54 16 0.23
The Upside 2017 7 0 0.00
Total 288 85 0.23

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