#metoophd coming forward
November 28, 2018 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Firing Michigan State. Harassment - both sexual and otherwise - is par for the for course for female academics. Today historian of science Joy Rankin came forward with her proclamation of quitting her assistant professor position at Michigan State after she was the target of a public harassment campaign which an administrator latched onto after Rankin filed a sexual harassment complaint about a different administrator.
posted by k8t (33 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the middle of dealing with a public response to--put it like this, a then first year graduate student contacted a major academic news source about our department's biggest missing stair. This is the guy I've been trying to get organized warnings to the incoming students about for literally my entire seven year PhD because fuck whisper networks except when that's literally all you got, okay?

The publication in question released an article heavily featuring self congratulatory interviews with the Dean and a distinguished male faculty member and heavily implied that no one had done anything about climate before the student who contacted them stepped onto campus. They literally profiled our department as "taking on the next frontier of #metoo." I could vomit.

Bless this woman. Honestly, bless our first year. She's angry and she's got crappy impulse control and she's doing good work. Bless everyone who speaks up and tries. We hang together or we hang separately.

But fuck, am I done with faculty leadership right now.
posted by sciatrix at 6:48 PM on November 28, 2018 [48 favorites]

Oh, and let's note that, in light of all of this, the MSU Board of Trustees openly refuses to be transparent about the selection of the university's next president.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:50 PM on November 28, 2018 [11 favorites]

Stories like this always make me so, so happy that I never finished that PhD. I think about where I am now, which is far from ideal, and then where I would be if I had somehow powered through the…everything…and finished. And I feel so, so happy about how things worked out.

My advice to people considering a career in academia is: Don't.

I wish I could give different advice, I wish that the life of a scientist was all that I once dreamed it would be, but it's not and I can't. It's all broken and horrible.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:55 PM on November 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

NB Not just faculty, but staff too. Who have even less respect and recourse.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:43 PM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Man, I am trying not to buy books for a period, but I am going to shell out for Dr. Rankin's book, now.

This would not have been on my radar, thank you for the post.
posted by salt grass at 7:43 PM on November 28, 2018

sciatrix: please check your memail.
posted by cgs06 at 7:48 PM on November 28, 2018

I'm working on a panel right now for my major academic conference on giving students and early career researchers the tools to navigate harassment and assault during their research. We just have to assume that it will probably happen, and then arm students to protect themselves. Nobody armed me, I had to figure it out on my own in the middle of the rainforest. I'm not going to let other people be hurt in the same ways. And every single woman who comes out and speaks out and writes something helps put up new protective shields around the next generation. I'm so angry, but I have to believe that we can make things better.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:52 PM on November 28, 2018 [32 favorites]

Here's the book. It has a great cover.
posted by k8t at 7:53 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Related - should we cite harassers and sexists? (Interestingly the author became the target of social media and academic trade rag harassment because of this piece.)

Personally I try to not assign works by known or rumored harassers. Sometimes it can be hard to avoid though. I try my best to avoid putting money in their pockets.
I am more successful in not citing haraasers, following the plan discussed in the link above.
I actively warn my graduate students about rumored and known harassers.

But then I encounter collaborative projects that include a harasser and me reviewing them poorly or rejecting them hurts other people. That is really tough.
posted by k8t at 7:58 PM on November 28, 2018 [16 favorites]

With the disclaimer that I have no particular academic experience or expertise, I'd be personally tempted to cite such collaborations like "Rosalind Franklin et al., 1953".
posted by NMcCoy at 9:29 PM on November 28, 2018 [9 favorites]

With the disclaimer that I have no particular academic experience or expertise, I'd be personally tempted to cite such collaborations like "Rosalind Franklin et al., 1953".

Unfortunately the point of these citations is to a) provide sources for claims but also b) to place works within the contexts of larger academic conversations.

That means you need to be able to find the works in question, and authorship is part of identifying them. It's standardized so that the works can be locatable.

Choosing which works to acknowledge and converse with in the context of research can be possible depending on context; choosing how one wants to record and point people at a given work is emphatically not.
posted by sciatrix at 3:33 AM on November 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

That means you need to be able to find the works in question, and authorship is part of identifying them. It's standardized so that the works can be locatable.

To emphasize sciatrixes point: if record-keeping becomes more fragmented and complex than it already is, it is a betrayal of the women, POC and other marginalized people who slogged through the vile shit that society and the academy places in their way (on top of the shit-slogging prevalent in all scholarship).

If scholarly work can't be found, used and cited, it might as well not have been done.
posted by lalochezia at 5:40 AM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

(And to clarify: the Rosalind Franklin case is so well-known that many people would get the "Rosalind Franklin et al" idea.....but there are thousands of Rosalind Franklins).
posted by lalochezia at 5:42 AM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

We got nothing from our University when we filed with OIE. Multiple filings, an appeal, complaints of retaliation. Nothing happened until we went to the state commission on human rights and opportunities (the EEOC) and they got letters from an outside agency with more power than them. Then they listened.

They hate for someone else to tell them what to do.

To my continued regret, though, going this route meant we saved the graduate student's career who had been harassed, but the harasser was not punished in any way. He wasn't even tenured. The University admitted no fault. Saving her was the most important thing to do, but we both still hate the outcome.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 5:48 AM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

Re: citation politics, there are some good ressources here; let me know if you want access to this article or any others. Right now I'm trying to figure that out as I wrap up revisions on a paper. One of the foundational men in this subset of research is a known harasser whose behavior was hand-waved away ("aw, that's just Bill") over and over until he finally told two women at a conference that they had wonderful breasts literally hours after they presented research on how pervasive harassment and assault are in our field.

Anyways, I cannot cite him. But reviewers have asked where his publications are in my paper. And I am pretty sure one of them was his student. Do I just ignore that body of literature? Do I reward a harasser? Do I not get published for not exhaustively citing the literature? It's complicated!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:01 AM on November 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

I couldn't find a link to the Brian Dear blog post referenced in the medium article, so here it is.

posted by barkingpumpkin at 7:18 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

More #metoostem news:
The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge today honored two women who have played leading roles in advancing the #MeToo movement within science by awarding them, along with one other #MeToo advocate, its edgy, $250,000 “Disobedience Award.”

BethAnn McLaughlin, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, will share the prize with biologist Sherry Marts and #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke. The Disobedience Award, now in its second year, is funded by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman to honor people or groups “who engage in ethical, nonviolent acts of disobedience in service of society.” Hoffman has said he wanted to “recognize the people who help us look in the mirror and see who our better selves could be.”
posted by ChuraChura at 8:44 AM on November 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

NoxAeternum: "Oh, and let's note that, in light of all of this, the MSU Board of Trustees openly refuses to be transparent about the selection of the university's next president."

Well, this seems weird on the surface, but I'll let the board of trustees explain it themselves, copy-paste verbatim from an email they sent to alumni today:
Dear friends of Michigan State University:

On behalf of the presidential search committee, we would like to express our appreciation to the entire MSU community for its thoughtful comments following 22 campus input sessions. These comments are valued and will play a critical role in the search committee’s deliberations. Notes from the input sessions are available on the presidential search website.

The search committee has met several times since our last update and continues to make steady progress. Members have reviewed the information from the input sessions and have developed the position advertisement and the presidential prospectus. Copies of both documents also can be found on the presidential search website.

The search committee has begun accepting confidential nominations, which can be submitted to our search firm, Storbeck|Pimentel, at: MSUPresident@storbecksearch.com.

We also have listened to the MSU community, and we understand and appreciate concerns raised about trust and transparency in the search process.

We want to be clear: The committee’s role is advisory to the MSU Board of Trustees, which has the constitutional authority to “elect a president of the institution.” The trustees take very seriously their responsibility to hire the president.

However, in the interest of being sensitive to these concerns, the search committee will expand its scope of activities and will work in collaboration with the board until the trustees make their selection. Search committee members will have access to all candidate information, including names of nominees, references and background documents.

The search committee members represent the stakeholders of the MSU community and have diverse backgrounds and experiences that embody the highest ethical standards. Their opinions are valued and respected, and they will be important partners in the interviewing and vetting of candidates.

The board and the search committee also have had extensive discussions about whether the search should be open or confidential. The community input sessions also advocated for the search to attract the strongest possible pool of candidates for the president of MSU. Our consultant, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, and our search firm, Storbeck|Pimentel, both have advised that the majority of presidential searches at research-intensive universities during the past three years have been confidential, as most highly qualified candidates are not willing to be recruited for an open search. Additionally, MSU is competing for highly qualified presidential candidates at the same time as several other universities around the country, most of which are conducting confidential searches.

In order to draw the strongest pool of candidates, the search for the next MSU president will be confidential.

Again, we extend our thanks and appreciation for your continued support of our work as we search for the next president of Michigan State University.
So basically, it seems they are saying no one who would be qualified to serve as president wants to be outed to their current employer as seeking a job as president at another institution. And also, everyone else is doing it too! BUT. They appreciate input. And the Board of Trustees are elected officials. So, I guess, provide input, one way or another. Messages to the search committee, and provide your feedback to the Trustees via votes, if you're living in Michigan.

Personally, I'm tired of seeing the name of my university dragged into messes like this. There is a lot of clean up needed internally. I'm proud of my accomplishments and have good memories of my time as a student, but now I'm angry that things were buried and covered up, and I'm annoyed at Lou Anna Simon's signature on my diploma, because she failed to lead effectively (and her non-statement upon resigning was just awful, from my perspective). The Nassar stuff, this... and they wonder why I keep blocking the constant calls asking for alumni donations.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:11 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I couldn't find a link to the Brian Dear blog post referenced in the medium article, so here it is.

Thanks for that.

If you are outside of the discipline and would like an explanation of why Brian Dear's blog post was not received with unanimous high regard by the SIGCIS mailing list, see this response, as well as following the thread back to Dear's original post to SIGCIS.
posted by iceberg273 at 10:41 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

For anyone reading this, I highly encourage you to bookmark Title IX-A step by step guide and to share it liberally with everyone you know.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 1:07 PM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

With the disclaimer that I have no particular academic experience or expertise, I'd be personally tempted to cite such collaborations like "Rosalind Franklin et al., 1953".

Unfortunately the point of these citations is to a) provide sources for claims but also b) to place works within the contexts of larger academic conversations.

That means you need to be able to find the works in question, and authorship is part of identifying them. It's standardized so that the works can be locatable.

Seems to me an easy method would be to give the full (standard) citation in the references/bibliography section, then refer to the paper in the text as "Rosalind Franklin, et. al. [3] showed via x-ray crystallography the double helix structure of DNA." or something similar. If your in-text citations are codes rather than numbers, code that reference as [Fra1953] instead of [WaC1953] or similar. The references section always has the codes next to the full citation, so it would be super simple for any reader to trace.
posted by eviemath at 2:00 PM on November 29, 2018

I don't want to shit on Michigan State but a lot of stories have come to light that show that there are some institutional concerns.

For the time being, a lot of people I know are not sending our students there for graduate programs.
posted by k8t at 6:30 PM on November 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

I am the Brian Dear that Rankin wrote about in her Medium post. (I've also been on Metafilter forever.)

There is a lot more to the story than Rankin wants people to know, and she and her base at SIGCIS have done a stellar job with the viral propaganda to selectively tell small portions of the story, careful always to conceal what really happened. So I spent the weekend writing a 17,000-word rebuttal to her essay, complete with 28 exhibits of emails, tweets, and other documents.

If you are curious about the truth, and want the other side of this story, the one backed up by facts, then read my response:


Please read, and keep an open mind, it is so desperately needed in this weaponized social media age.

- Brian
posted by brianstorms at 11:55 AM on December 4, 2018

I don't want to shit on Michigan State but a lot of stories have come to light that show that there are some institutional concerns.

I have heard similar things, personally.
posted by sciatrix at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Brian, as someone else who is often cheerfully verbose when I am taking part in an online discussion, as a person who reads very quickly--

I'm reading your work, sir. But it is not painting you in as kind a light as you might think. (Castigating two journalists following up with you about breaking news to get your side of the story for not reading your 10,000 word blog post ahead of time? My dude, you know about the 20,000 word post I wrote here for Metafilter last year? I wouldn't necessarily expect someone to have read the entire thing end to end before reaching out to me to speak with me--only, perhaps, to skim the headings.)

You're not entitled to the time and attention of others, and the casual entitledness you present in the beginning of your own rebuttal is not doing you any favors with me as I dig into this story more thoroughly.
posted by sciatrix at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Having read Rankin's post in more detail (forgive me; I have been wrangling a response to the piece I mentioned in my first post here):

What the hell are you so upset about, Brian? She's not accusing you of anything related to #MeToo or sexual harassment. She is maybe accusing you of a) being tone deaf about the proportionality of response generally expected for a conference talk and b) complaining to your old friends about your vociferous disagreement with her conclusions. The harassment stuff is entirely being leveled at her department using your (and other PLATO researchers') criticisms to fuel pressuring her to leave the department, probably because the pending sexual harassment suit. Based on things I have observed, I am not surprised at her conclusions. But she's not looping you into any of that in her letter.

Frankly, if I had someone write a 10,000 word blog post based on my last conference talk arguing that my leptin work was garbage and I didn't know anything about what I was talking about, as a junior female scholar I would be pretty shaken and upset about it. That shit is disproportionate and nasty--I don't care what conclusions she was reaching or how offensive you found them. Jesus, man. She's showing work in progress to an audience of scholars for feedback and to publicize upcoming work; that is neither the time nor the place for that level of vigorous attempt to destroy someone whose career is in that delicate a place, particularly not given your own career's comfortable stature. Punching down, my dude?

Upon reading your original 10,000 word blog post, Brian:

Oh my god, I can see why the entire academic community closed against you, you asshole. Your methodology, let's start with that: tracking the subjects of discussion down twenty years after the fact and demanding that they characterize their workplace to you is not an acceptable methodology! Recollections certainly fade over time, and the sample of folks who remained in the system and your social networks all this time later is likely to be the people least impacted by any negative climate issues, so your sampling is totally fucked. Moreover, if you're tracking them down to demand that they share with you all their feelings about PLATO back in the day, when you're already clearly indignant and upset about it, of course that's going to heavily influence their responses and their framing to you!

By contrast, she is using primary data collected at the time that the social system was forming, without having to deal with the feelings and fears of the people whose careers are currently bound up in it, to look at a snapshot of one of these research paradigms and systems without allowing social relationships and preconceptions of the people involved to cloud her assessment. This is basic scholarship, man! You can't honestly assess social systems that you are part of without being swayed by your involvement in the social networks and without changing them by the process of observing them. Yet that's what you seem to have desired that she do. It is certainly startling to see yourself discussed by someone studying your work in this way, but the appropriate response is not to try to crush scholarship that is missing certain emphases that you remember differently from your original work. The appropriate response is to reach out, express that you are taken aback, offer to provide insight if it's wanted, and then sit back and think.

You are also weirdly suspicious of a basic description of gender and how theorists in a field outside of your expertise study and discuss it, but okay.

But see, I am not an academic, and I don’t think that way. All I’ve wanted are answers to questions about Rankin’s PLATO presentation. Period! Really. I know. If you’re an academic that is impossible to fathom. But it’s true, deal with it.

That's some dismissive language, my man. She's a junior researcher in a really precarious place, dealing with an administration that is trying to knock her out of a job that has a lot of pressure and not much support. And here's you launching a massive attempt to discredit her scholarship and handing an administration that is already hostile to her this enormous weapon--I can't blame her for being suspicious! She's not accusing you of colluding with her administration, though--just pointing out how stressful and overwhelming your online work has been to preventing her from doing her job. And the more I read your work, the more angry I get on her behalf.

Sit down, Brian. You aren't the center of this story, you aren't her overarching villain, and the more you talk, the deeper you dig yourself in a hole. I don't have to read every single word you're throwing to recognize that her assessment of your response, in the context of a response to a twenty minute conference talk, is disproportionate and comes across as gunning for her entire career.

Christ. I need a drink.
posted by sciatrix at 3:02 PM on December 4, 2018 [14 favorites]

The more I read from this original post, the more furious I get. I'm trying to not actually throw more insults at you, man, but I am faintly astounded that no one you trust and respect has grabbed you firmly by the ear and read you the riot act over your behavior here before this. I'm consequently really furious about everything you're linking in this thread and demanding that I read, and I'm having a rough time stepping aside. At this point, I'll be putting myself on a self-imposed time-out for an hour or so.

I don't think you are being malicious, to be clear. I think you are being willfully stupid about both social interaction and this woman's actual expertise. I think you are being disrespectful because you are unwilling to acknowledge the harms that are being wrought by your preferred form of interaction, and you are retreating behind complaints that no one will take you seriously by listening to every single word you have to say about why Rankin is wrong wrong wrongity wroooonngggg.
posted by sciatrix at 3:10 PM on December 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

Thank you, sciatrix. Good fucking Lord.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have to admit I kinda tuned out the nth time our friend brian wrote a paragraph following the template below:

[six sentences about how absurd it is to imply that misogyny could have happened on plato he never saw any misogyny and anyway no woman he knows from plato has ever mentioned misogyny to him! (parenthetical “joke” about penises)]
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

(also, thank you sciatrix for writing your response it is so good.)

(brian: listen to sciatrix.)
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:42 PM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Couple comments removed, let's cool it a little.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:55 PM on December 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I mean, it just seems like you don't really understand or respect the way historians do research and dissertations work?
I suppose a “professionally trained historian” is taught that all that matters is what was written back in the time period under study: which means, dumpster dive into the archives and see what you find. Imagine twenty years from now trying to do a history of Facebook without talking to a soul, including none of the founders not to mention users, but only looking at the company’s documents, correspondence, and published reports. And some printouts of posts by users I suppose, with no context provided. But still: I can’t imagine such a history getting the story right. I guess I’m wired differently.
Historians are not journalists. She used texts to ask a particular set of questions. Dissertations are not answering all the questions. They are answering a specific question using a specific set of methods. Nobody yells at me for being in the rainforest and studying the monkeys instead of studying the elephants, or studying the monkeys' feeding ecology instead of studying their vocalizations, or finding that studying feeding ecology and studying vocalizations can lead to different interpretations of, say, the relative importance of different forces driving primate evolution.

Part of what makes knowledge happen in academic fields is lots of people taking different approaches to triangulate information. Viewing archival material through a gender-historian lens will yield different interpretations than talking to people about their experiences of the place and time that archival material derived from. Misogyny can be baked into the structure of a place - can be detected in an aggregation of material from a place - in the way that it might not be experienced or recalled by people who only experienced one piece of a place.

Academia has a set of structures and a normative way of expressing disagreement or probing for further information. Your lengthy response to a graduate student's conference presentation is far outside the norm and - as academic historians noted, it is inappropriate and strange and borders on scary within that context.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

The long rant about not being able to obtain a copy of Dr. Rankin's dissertation was completely pointless. Most universities now embargo dissertations for some period of time after they are completed. Duke embargoed my dissertation for 3 years, and I'm not in a field that does books. Someone in a book field like Dr. Rankin would use that embargo period to convert the dissertation to a book for publication. Many publishers would not be interested in publishing a dissertation that was already freely available online.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:06 AM on December 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

« Older porridge with butter, soup with butter, a flapjack...   |   Every Single Video Prince Ever Made Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments