A post last year in the December 2017 issue of Science magazine centered upon a major concern within the scientific community. That of harassment. In whatever manner or form you think of when the word harassment is used, I can guarantee you that from bullying to sexual harassment, all of it occurs in academia whether we care to admit it or not. Interestingly, this post in Science mentioned something very few journalists focus on, and that is harassment happens to both men and women, because it is an issue of power not gender. I might even add that those who might have introverted personalities, or those with milder forms of Autism are easy targets of harassment given the perception they are in a weaker power position than their boisterous peers. For whatever the reason harassment occurs, I would argue that current institutions still do not do enough to protect those that are harassed, and many times the victims of harassment are shunned to the sidelines of the academic community.
Is this a problem of resources? Perhaps. I can certainly attest to the fact that any office that investigates matters of harassment are poorly staffed, not well funded, and simply so not have the resources to investigate matters fully. Frankly, this is quite sad. Most R1 research institutions are funded by federal grant dollars and are considered equal opportunity employers. This actually means quite a number of things. Really it means academic institutions are obligated to follow, to the letter of the law, all rules regarding sexual harassment at both the federal and state level. In most all states sexual harassment is illegal and the result is employees get the appropriate sanctions that fit the crime. Additionally, all federal and state funding sources should be withheld as well.
However, it could simply be a people problem. This article in Science is correct in stating that change should occur from within institutions by preventing harassers from getting academic honors, accolades, or tenured positions. This also means everyone in academics needs to develop more of a professional mind-set. We are approaching 2019 folks. We all work with individuals of various ethnicities or economic backgrounds, everyone is unique, yet no one is special. I’ve said this before time and time again. Even if you are the director of a lab, you give everyone respect, even the janitors. We are all part of a team to make the research community a warm and inviting place to do business. There is a requirement by both employers and employees to provide a safe working environment for everyone within the institution. If research or academic institutions cannot provide these conditions then they should simply not be allowed to operate.
Ultimately if we fail at this, then all of academia will suffer since continuing innovations and advancements in technology and design are bolstered by academic diversity. Therefore, let us protect and support those creative thinkers out there, and continue our efforts to change the story by punishing those who to do otherwise.
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– Let’s End This!
Written by Brian D. Adams, President, CEO, Director of Research, The Brain Institute of America
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1.) DOI: 10.1126/science.aar6134