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More than 1,500 people have signed an open letter calling for the reinstatement of a chapter of a book on sexual misconduct in universities after the chapter was withdrawn by its British publisher following legal threats.

Chapter 12 of Sexual Misconduct in Academia: Informing an Ethics of Care in the University details what its three female authors describe as their experiences of sexual harassment at an unnamed institution where they were formerly Ph.D. students or postdocs.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, emeritus professor of sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, was reported as being “taken aback” by the “very offensive paper,” although he denied any criminal conduct.

Subsequently Routledge, a British multinational and publisher of the book, told its editors, Erin Pritchard, senior lecturer in disability and education at Liverpool Hope University, and Delyth Edwards, lecturer in inclusion, childhood and youth at the University of Leeds, that the chapter was being withdrawn. The future of the title as a whole is now mired in uncertainty.

The book was published in March. The chapter in question was written by Lieselotte Viaene of the Carlos III University of Madrid, Catarina Laranjeiro of NOVA University of Lisbon and Miye Nadya Tom of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Now an open letter calling on Routledge to reinstate Chapter 12 and the book as a whole has been signed by more than 1,500 people, including many of the book’s authors, who call on the publisher to stand up to legal threats.

“Sexual misconduct is rife in higher education. In the UK, for example, sexual harassment carried out by academic staff towards students was documented in a 2018 report, Power in the Academy, which found that one in eight students had been subjected to unwanted touching from academics,” the letter states. “These incidents are perpetuated by institutions historically rooted in patriarchal, racist, competitive, objectifying and hierarchical practices of knowledge and power.”

The authors of the book are academics from across the globe. The letter signers also include supporters from “the wider scholarly community.”

“By signing this letter, the undersigned join in solidarity with the authors and editors of the book, in particular the authors of Chapter 12,” the letter states. “We salute their strength and work, and support the editors and supporters of the book in calling on Routledge–Taylor & Francis Group:

  • “To publicly state why they have removed the chapter and the book itself from their website
  • “To reinstate chapter 12 and the book as a whole and to stand up to legal threats.”

Anna Bull, a lecturer in education and social justice at the University of York, who wrote the book’s afterword and co-founded the 1752 Group, a research group addressing sexual harassment in higher education, said that the withdrawal of the chapter was “very concerning.” She warned that the move risked silencing victims of sexual harassment.

“Routledge admit that they have bowed to legal threats in withdrawing the chapter. This move has serious implications for academic freedom in scholarly publications,” Bull said.

“Through the open letter to Routledge, we are hoping to persuade them to stand up to legal threats and reinstate the book. While they are also in a difficult position, they have chosen to take the least risky option, which involves siding with the powerful.”

Bull said if Routledge was not willing to reinstate the book, she hoped that another publisher would be willing to take it on.

Routledge said in a statement that the academic institution involved, one of the accused and others had made statements leading to the identification of some of those involved in news articles and on social media.

“Routledge then received a series of legal threats from various parties, including from a leading UK law firm acting for one of the accused, and was put in the difficult position of defending specific allegations against named, but previously unidentified, individuals,” the publisher said.

“After discussions failed to find a way forward, Routledge made the difficult decision to withdraw the chapter from publication and return the rights in the chapter to the authors.”

The publisher said it intends to reconvene with the editors at an appropriate time to explore options for the rest of the book, but the title will remain unavailable pending the conclusion of this process and the full resolution of legal claims.

Santos has not responded to Times Higher Education’s requests for comment. He has said in a YouTube interview that he had committed “errors, but never crimes” in an earlier period, making comments that “would be considered male chauvinistic things” today, such as complimenting women on their appearance.

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