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UCLA Suspends Ecologist, Scientists Ask Why

January 26, 2023

Nature reports that over 300 scientists are urging the University of California, Los Angeles, to rescind the discipline of a Robert H. MacArthur Award–winning ecologist.

The publication says UCLA suspended Priyanga Amarasekare without pay for a year and cut her salary by a fifth for a further two years. Her lab website says, “Professor Amarasekare is on leave for the 2022-2023 academic year.”

Furthermore, Nature reported, UCLA “forbade her from accessing her laboratory, maintaining her insect colonies, managing her grants or contacting students” and “barred Amarasekare from discussing the matter publicly.”

“A native of Sri Lanka and one of two women of color who have tenure in the ecology and evolution department, she has previously accused the university of discrimination for repeatedly denying her promotions that were granted to colleagues,” Nature wrote. “Former students and faculty members who are familiar with the situation think that Amarasekare’s suspension was retaliation for speaking out.”

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, UCLA declined to provide its reasoning.

“While many statements have been presented as facts and circulated publicly, we are bound to respect the privacy of the numerous individuals involved in this matter, which removes our ability to address any specifics. While this approach carries the risk that misinformation, if any, is not corrected or that the university’s actions are misunderstood in the forum of public opinion, fairness and policy require that personnel issues be addressed through a deliberative and confidential process.”

UCLA’s statement also said it “supports freedom of expression and does not condone retaliation of any sort, in any case.”

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Ryan Quinn

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