Whispered warnings among women in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Sociology Department, senior male faculty making promises about book co-authorship or shared research data while making sexual advances on graduate students, sexual misconduct by male Ph.D. candidates — all are included in a recently compiled rundown of sexual harassment incidents in higher education.
“It’s an open secret that several senior male faculty are serial sexual harassers, and have gotten away with it in plain sight for decades,” wrote one anonymous poster in December of the UW-Madison Sociology Department.
Jim Raymo, chair of the department, this week acknowledged there have been problems.
“After I became chair in fall 2016, I became aware of concerns regarding sexual harassment and departmental climate and began working with faculty, staff and students to make changes,” Raymo said in a statement provided in response to questions from the Cap Times about “Sexual Harassment In the Academy: A Crowdsource Survey.”
The survey, created as a shared Google spreadsheet on Dec. 1, had 2,345 entries as of Friday, all anonymous, recounting incidents of sexual harassment involving institutions ranging from big public research universities like UW-Madison to small liberal arts colleges, across the United States and abroad.
Sixteen of the allegations concerned incidents at or involving people associated with UW-Madison. Eight of those, including one of unwanted genital contact, involved the sociology department.
Raymo said he's committed to providing a “welcoming, supportive environment in which students, faculty and staff are able to perform to their full potential.” He said he learned of two cases involving sexual harassment when he was briefed on department personnel matters, and had taken the following steps in response over the past 18 months:
- Created a climate committee of faculty and staff intended to be a “permanent, transparent and safe mechanism” for anyone in the department to raise a concern about “behavior that interferes with their ability to perform to their full potential.” The committee is working with the Sociology Graduate Student Association toward developing a climate in which “all can thrive,” Raymo wrote.
- Held a special training session this fall for graduate students, faculty and staff on bias and harassment, in addition to new mandatory sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention training for all UW-Madison employees.
- Provided resources and training for graduate students, including training on effective mentoring relationships.
Other UW-Madison departments mentioned in the crowdsourced survey include English, linguistics, nuclear engineering, chemistry, German, economics, psychology and education.
UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone repeated this week that campus efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment were stepped up following a 2015 survey that found concerning rates of harassment reported by graduate and undergraduate students. Key steps were instituting mandatory prevention training for all faculty and staff and updating policies.
“Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf has emphasized to deans and directors the importance of promptly addressing concerns when they arise,” McGlone said.
Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor who hosts “The Professor Is In” academic career counseling website, started the open survey.
“I am proud to be one of the many exposing the scourge of sexual predation in the academy, where it is aided and abetted by deeply entrenched hierarchy, a preponderance of powerful males acting as gatekeepers to scarce jobs and funding opportunities, and a culture of silence and evasiveness,” Kelsky wrote in her blog.
The survey is just one online space where allegations of sexual harassment in academia across the country are being shared or collected.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has on ongoing log of reported sexual harassment cases in academia. They include reports of harassment and sexism in the UW-Madison Department of Urban and Regional Planning and a tally of 40 sexual harassment complaints over four years at UW-Milwaukee.
At Michigan State University, professor Julie C. Libarkin has been compiling documented cases of sexual harassment or misconduct by college faculty and administrators for nearly a year. Her website posts links to 600 cases dating back to the mid-1990s.
And at the Twitter hashtag #MeTooPhD, posters share their stories, updates on cases of sexual harassment in academia making the news and analyses of the problem in various branches of study.
Stories about sexual harassment also have been shared — and their authenticity debated — on blogs popular within certain academic communities, like Political Science Rumors.
In academia — as in entertainment, media and politics — the word is getting out.
Wrote Kelsky in a Chronicle of Higher Education column: “I hope the survey makes academic men profoundly uncomfortable. I hope it makes them second-guess every word and gesture they’ve ever made. I also hope it removes all plausible deniability from academic institutions. You are all on notice.”