When news of the Geoff Marcy sexual harassment case at the University of California at Berkeley broke last week, a number of astronomers across academe asked why the university hadn’t been tougher on him. An investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 determined that Marcy, a professor of astronomy, had violated Berkeley’s sexual harassment policy over a decade, and that he’d allegedly groped, kissed and inappropriately touched a number of students, critics said, so why had the university only given him a firm warning not to repeat the behavior? Now the majority of astronomers at Berkeley are joining those critics. In an open letter to the Berkeley administration, 23 members of the department -- all but a few -- including the chair, asked the university to “reevaluate” its response to Marcy.
“We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member,” the letter says. The professors also appear to address some claims that Marcy’s behavior was a kind of open secret among his colleagues. “We regret the harm caused by our faculty, and reject any suggestion that our sympathies should be with the perpetrators of sexual harassment,” they wrote, adding that Berkeley policies led to a lack of communication with the department about the case. “We are committed to developing and maintaining a supportive, open climate in which all members of the department can thrive, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religious faith.”
Marcy did not respond to a request for comment. A Berkeley spokeswoman referred questions to an earlier statement outlining Berkeley’s response to Marcy’s case. "Professor Marcy and the vice provost [for the faculty] entered into an agreement that states he will abide by clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students," reads that statement. "Were he to fail to meet those expectations, the terms of the agreement provide that he would be immediately subject to sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal; such sanctions would be imposed summarily by the vice provost." The university said it took the matter very seriously, and that its consequences for Marcy amounted to "strong action."
The New York Timesreported that Berkeley placed Marcy on probation over the summer, but eventually opted to put him on a tight leash instead of pursuing dismissal proceedings -- the outcome of which would be "uncertain." Marcy reportedly has waived his due process rights, should he be found in violation of the university's sexual harassment policy in the future.
Research from the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at the University of Southern California suggests that better support for non-tenure-track faculty members leads to better student outcomes. The project also has urged a more thoughtful, less-haphazard approach to filling the growing non-tenure-track faculty ranks. But reform has remained largely at a “standstill,” argues a new report from Delphi. Why? Because various groups, from tenured faculty members to administrators to governing board to adjuncts, lack a “shared vision for the future of the faculty.”
With “The Professoriate Reconsidered: A Study of New Faculty Models,” Delphi offers a rough outline of that collective vision, via the results of a survey of some 1,550 faculty members, administrators, accreditors and state-level policy makers. The respondents, about 1,200 of whom were faculty members, weighed in on ideas and priorities such as ideal faculty pathways; contracts; unbundling of faculty roles; promotion, development and evaluation; and flexibility. Delphi found a surprising level of agreement in responses across categories, suggesting there is common ground on which to move forward on reforming the faculty role. “Our findings dispel the pervasive myth that there is a tremendous and impassable gulf between groups’ views about the faculty,” the paper says.
A major theme that emerged was the need to maintain and restore professionalism to the faculty role, such as protecting academic freedom, offering professional development, including faculty members of all kinds in shared governance and working toward equitable pay. Responses from unionized participants did not differ significantly from those of nonunionized respondents. Participants did express practical concerns that about the feasibility of proposals such as creativity contracts, customizing faculty roles, creating more flexible roles and creating consortial hiring agreements.
“The areas of agreement identified in this study can serve as starting points for discussion, providing points of consensus to help move the greater dialogue about the future of the faculty from mere exchange of ideas to the creation of a reality,” Delphi argues.
An outside study on gender equity at the University of California Anderson School of Management has found that female faculty members tend to feel bias of various kinds in the hiring and promotion process and in decision making. The bias isn't of the "women can't be promoted" type, but a devaluing of any nonquantitative research, while almost exclusively valuing quantitative research.
The report says women are much more likely than men among business school faculty members to engage in nonquantitative work. Judy D. Olian, dean of the school, attached a letter for the report, calling for a faculty retreat to discuss the findings. She also said she was concerned about the way many female faculty members feel a lack of respect for their work.
Bryan College, in Tennessee, has set new requirements to be met before faculty members can organize faculty meetings, The Times Free Press reported. Now faculty members will need to go through a seven-step process to obtain approval to hold a meeting, and then will be required to have a waiting period of at least a week. Faculty members are noting that the new rules follow a vote of no confidence last year in President Stephen Livesay. College officials said that the new process is designed to give more legitimacy to faculty meetings.
Could blind analysis of data — meaning that an investigator or computer program obscures data values or labels, or both, and that, more generally, as much analysis as possible is done “in the dark” in relation to expected results — help decrease bias towards certain research findings? Robert MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford University, and Saul Perlmutter, the Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Chair in physics at the University of California at Berkeley, say yes in a new essay in Naturethat’s getting a lot of attention, including on Twitter. The authors say that blind analysis is commonplace in several physics subfields but that it holds lots of potential for the biological, psychological and social sciences, as well — the latter two of which especially have weathered recent data legitimacy scandals.
“Many motivations distort what inferences we draw from data,” say MacCoun and Perlmutter, who is the 2011 Nobel Prize winner in physics. “These include the desire to support one's theory, to refute one's competitors, to be first to report a phenomenon, or simply to avoid publishing 'odd' results. Such biases can be conscious or unconscious. They can occur irrespective of whether choices are motivated by the search for truth, by the good mentor's desire to help their student write a strong Ph.D. thesis, or just by naked self-interest. …Working blind while selecting data and developing and debugging analyses offers an important way to keep scientists from fooling themselves.”