Title

A Ph.D., 50 Years After Being Sexually Harassed

May 28, 2019
 
 

The University of Chicago helped Marylin Webb finish her Ph.D. in educational psychology some 50 years after she left her doctoral program due to sexual harassment, according to The New York Times. Webb says two professors who have since died made sexual overtures (one allegedly pinned her against a wall and “slobbered” all over her face) when she asked them to serve on her dissertation committee in the late 1960s. Distraught and feeling that she had no recourse, she dropped out of her program and moved to Washington, D.C., to become a women’s rights activist and journalist. In 2017, as a 75th birthday gift to herself, she says, she wrote to President Robert Zimmer at Chicago to ask if he could help her finish her degree.

A preliminary investigation found Webb’s story credible. Chicago formed a dissertation committee for Webb and allowed her to submit a book she’d written as her dissertation, with a new theoretical framework. She’ll receive her Ph.D. next month. “For a university, academic integrity is the most important thing,” Zimmer told the Times. “If mistakes have been made, they need to be corrected.” Webb said she’s had a fulfilling life and career but wanted to address past wrongs after realizing that “the culture changed.”

Chicago also will grant a Ph.D., in chemistry, to Cheryl Dembe, who could not find another adviser due to gender discrimination when her professor died unexpectedly in 1971. She had to drop out of her program with a master’s. But a faculty committee found that Dembe’s work as a doctoral student resembled work at happening at Cornell University around the same time that later led to a Nobel Prize.

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