1000 Scientists Call on National Academy of Sciences to Oust Harassers
In the last five days, hundreds of scientists and science advocates have signed an online petition calling on the National Academy of Sciences to oust members guilty of sexual harassment, retaliation and assault. This was spurred by Meredith Wadman’s reporting in Science magazine on the decades long harassment of women by Academy member Inder Verma.
When news broke, Verma immediately resigned his position as Editor of the NAS’s flagship journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but even if he is found guilty of harassment, he can maintain his membership in the elite group of scientists.
Other members of the National Academy of Sciences including Thomas Jessell, Geoff Marcy, Joseph Schlessinger and Sergio Verdu remain active members despite a history of Title IX violations. Indeed, Verdu recently re-entered the spotlight earlier this year as the Daily Princetonian detailed how he was able to maintain not only his job, but his teaching responsibilities, after findings that he had sexually inappropriate relationships with students. A new wave of complaints are piling up for Verdu, who was accused of having students watch sexually explicit movies with him.
The petition asks that members found guilty of sexual harassment, assault and retaliation be expelled from the Academy. While this would not include Verma (who is still under investigation), it would likely require certification from home institutions that members have no prior Title IX reporting. While much of the information available on individuals who have been subject to allegations and sanctions by Title IX offices can be acquired by filing out Freedom of Information requests, the names are almost invariably redacted.
When a reporter from The Scientist contacted the National Academy of Sciences, a spokesperson said, “The National Academy of Sciences is extremely sensitive to the seriousness of the issue of gender and sexual harassment. . . .While we never condone sexual harassment, there are no provisions in the NAS bylaws to rescind membership for any reason; election is for life.”
Petition organizer and occasional Fighty Squirrel, BethAnn McLaughlin, balked at the idea that harassers be killed. “I’m surprised that the NAS is throwing down the gauntlet that they stay or die. It seems there is a lot of middle ground in there they should probably explore.” Asked for suggestions, McLaughlin said that removing anyone found guilty of violations and placing those who are under investigation under a ‘professional quarantine’ would be reasonable next steps.
“If the University of Rochester case of serial harassment teaches us anything, it’s that individuals need to be totally removed from any position of power or influence while these investigations are ongoing. In my mind, Verma would not be making any editorial or executive decisions or be allowed to participate in NAS functions until the investigations are complete. Those already found guilty of harassment just need to leave. Maybe with a bag over their head? It’s embarrassing to have these people in one of our most important scientific societies.”