Dec 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

It is no secret that academia has a ‘no-snitches’ policy…one that is eerily reminiscent of the attitudes of impoverished URMs when faced with providing evidence to violent crimes. This issue, when combined with the total ineptitude of academia’s interpretation of human resources, can lead to situations where bad things happen, but no one wants the blowback from reporting it through official channels. This can be a combination of fearing blackballing within the profession (snitches can never be trusted) and a cynical knowledge that reporting shit rarely results in any official action.

Figure 1: Hermitage has been aware from a young age that snitches sleep in ditches, metaphorical or otherwise

Snitch break!
This issue has been bouncing around in my head for a while due to recent shenanigans where clearly inappropriate shenanigans were had, but due to the situation and context in which it happened, is a total hir-said, hir-said situation. Your cynical D-List Monktress was firmly of the opinion that dwelling on it was a waste of time, while her more idealistic friends were firmly of the ‘Report it! It’s wrong!’ mentality. Ignoring the fact that knowing who to even complain to, and to what purpose, is not always clear, how bad does something have to be before you are compelled to take a stand? Should the criteria be severity, or simply how easy something is to prove? Should you always do the right thing, or should your career come first?

13 responses so far

  • becca says:

    I see "provable" as a pretty small component in the calculus. It comes into play if you are the one in a position to punish the offender, sure. But not if you're just the witness.
    The moral responsibility is very high if it's severe, even if it's just your word against someone else's. It's also higher if it's something where it could reoccur and not reporting it increases that possibility.

    What did we learn from Mike McQueary?

    *If it's reportable to the police, report it. Not the uni police either. And be prepared to do so repeatedly, until they pay attention. If necessary, go to the media.

    *As a side note- it's probably best to be prepared to loose your job. Because apparently the alternative is to be prepared for the death threats that should have gone to your superiors.

    • thehermitage says:

      I'm not necessarily talking about extreme situations, obviously if you know someone is violating a law it needs to be reported. That is obvious and uninteresting from a discussion perspective.

      Most situations in academia are more subtle shades of gray, full of dick-moves that may or may not affect other peoples' lives in an obvious way. Those are what I am focusing on in this post.

      • becca says:

        There is no crime so heinous that it will always be reported. That is obvious and still interesting from a discussion perspective. Because everybody 'knows' they would report heinous enough things. And pretty much everybody is wrong.

        • thehermitage says:

          Heinous crimes that should be reported and are not is a real phenomena and is perhaps interesting from a psychological/sociological perspective. It is not interesting from a nuts and bolts 'should it be reported/fought for' pov, which is the discussion I'm attempting to start.

      • tough scenario says:

        It seems like the wrong kind of evolution, or maybe practicing of the concept of 'debating' excessively to the point that the actual goal is either forgotten or not worked on. So there it goes 'productivity', the result is the opposite of knowledge and useful applications.

    • tough scenario says:

      if you put the 'objective hat' on the reasoning is that there is got to be something very wrong if this type of situation happen at all, there should no valid reason for that, much less in the higher education and advanced or cutting-edge field.

      Reason and civility should prevail. If not, or rather the opposite happens and in a skew fashion, maybe is due to 'selection pressure' for that. And that yields no good.

  • gilly says:

    In grad school I reported an ongoing series of hostile comments and behaviors by one of my male peers. (I'm a woman, in case the name is unclear.) I was uncomfortable telling my (male) adviser about the problem and there weren't any female faculty in our dept, so initially I went to the (female) department administrator to tell her I was attempting to handle it on my own, but provided her with copies of troubling emails so that if I couldn't handle the situation there would be evidence of his bad behavior. I sucked it up for another year, counting the days until he would be gone. When it became apparent that he (a MSc student) would not be graduating on time, I cracked. The thought of another semester dealing with this dood was unbearable. I finally went to my adviser who immediately sent me to the equity office at our university and also set up a meeting between himself, the ill behaved student's adviser, and the chair to get me out of the shared office space. In the end, it was no one single act that pushed me to report the problem, just a wearing down of my patience and tolerance for bullshit, until enough was enough -- I either had to change the work situation or leave.

    I wish I had known sooner how to address these issues, and in retrospect, I wish the dept administrator had had the sense to assure me that this was not normal or acceptable (which I clearly knew to some extent), and that the chair and/or advisers should be told. I feel very fortunate, however, to have had an excellent adviser who, once apprised of the situation, helped ensure the rest of my PhD was unsullied by this other character (who was put on probation and ultimately dropped out anyway).

  • Bashir says:

    Does the person to whom this was done have any interest in making a complaint? If not then you aren't really going to get anywhere.

    It's hard to say what I might do without any details. There are a very wide range of hypothetical scenarios.

  • Mitigating damage to your career is paramount and a culture that allows inappropriate shit certainly works against your career, but probably not as much as snitching will. Proof helps, but there is no use complaining unless you can also tell the person you're complaining to exactly what you want to happen. The response that someone else is going to come up with is probably not going to be the one that will be the most helpful for you. A harassment suit is ultimately going to hurt the accuser as much as or more than the accused.

    In one of my labs, there was a group of rather fierce conservatives that made life a little miserable for me. They pushed me over the edge, however, by hanging a George HW Bush calendar printed by the Heritage Foundation on the lab fridge. The thought of looking at that every day for an entire year was too much. I never complained about the verbal harassment they dished, although their views were well known and much of it was clearly inappropriate. To do so would have labeled me and would have changed exactly nothing. When that calendar went up, I requested that that and all of the other posters come down and that I get a change of desk. Simple, easy and the PI immediately granted my request, lending implicit support to the validity of my complaint and my position which really improved things for me - more than the absence of Heritage Foundation GHWB propoganda greeting me every day for a year (although that was nice too).

  • anon says:

    If you don't report it, it will happen again. Someone else may or may not 'witness' whatever "it" is/was that's going on and whatever damage ensues will not stop. Do you think it's a "oh, it's just this once.." sort of scenario (which could already be enough of an offense), or if such behavior is allowed to continue, what will be the consequences?

  • Zuska says:

    1. Educate yourself about sexual harassment and discrimination BEFORE it happens to you. Believe it or not, this step alone will diminish the likelihood of your being harassed and/or discriminated against. Perpetrators are good at picking victims who don't know how to respond, don't know what their rights are, don't have strong self confidence, etc.

    2. If/when it happens, DOCUMENT everything thoroughly. Date, time, place, who else if anyone was there, what he said/did, what you said/did, keep copies of emails or notes sent or given to you, keep any offensive drawings or other crap stuffed into your mailbox or workspace (or take pics of it there, then save). Keep all this documentation in a notebook that you DO NOT USE FOR ANYTHING ELSE.

    3. After first offending incident, write a short note to the perpetrator. "Dear Douchebag: On such and such a day, you did/said x. It made me feel y. I would prefer that you not do/say x again. Thank you. Signed, Much More Fantastic Scientist Than You Will Ever Be cc: File" This will take care of 90% of Douchebags.

    4. If Douchebag persists, write second letter, cc to your PI, department head, or university personnel assigned to deal with stuff like this. Give them a heads up that you are sending them a letter. Tell them you don't want to take any action at this time. You just want to send them a copy of the letter to document that the incident occurred and that you responded to it by asking Douchebag to jump off a bridge, I mean, stop behaving in this manner. In this second letter, refer to the first letter. "I wrote to you on DATE, about incident x, asking you not to do it again. On OTHER DATE, you did XityX . I am writing now to remind you of my earlier letter and to again ask you to refrain from this type of behavior blah blah, cc Important Person.

    5. If Douchebag still persists then you may need to go even further and ask Important Person to intervene on your behalf. Keep in mind that if IP is your PI, PI may be (should be) required to report to an official university person that possible sexual harassment is taking place and an official investigation will likely be opened. It is not absolutely a guarantee that the perpetrator will be punished (for example, depending upon what they did/are doing, they may be asked to apologize, or make amends, and to refrain from further bad behavior, and/or to sit through some educational classes). Still, the investigation will be stressful for everyone involved. This sort of thing is NOT career-ruining if your Important Person is understanding and truly on your side. If Douchebag is himself a Big Swinging Dick it is of course a bit trickier, but here I have seen the letter writing strategy have good rates of success. They move on to someone else.

    6. It is not your job to heal academia of sexism and discrimination. This job is too big for you, it is structural, and there are people highly placed above you who should be dealing with it. Remember, if you get to the point where you have to sue - and it happens, you may - even if you win you lose. What you want is for the bad behavior to stop, the Douchebag to leave you alone, and you to be able to go on quietly with your work. Someone else can fix the World and Heal Sexism.

  • [...] most awesome Hermitage asked in a recent post Ignoring the fact that knowing who to even complain to, and to what purpose, is not always clear, [...]

  • [...] Zuska talks about when it’s appropriate to speak up. She gives some great advice to not wait until you have been harassed or discriminated against. But to have a plan ready ahead of time. She’s responding to this post by Hermitage where she wonders whether academia has an anti-whistleblower policy. [...]

Leave a Reply