National Academies: Sexual Harassment ‘Rampant’ in Academic Science, Driving Women Out

National Academies: Sexual Harassment ‘Rampant’ in Academic Science, Driving Women Out

Sexual harassment is an endemic problem in the US academic science community and a major barrier to progress toward including more women in the field, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes. While physical abuse and unwanted sexual advances are common, the most pervasive form of misconduct is what the report terms “gender harassment,” referring to hostile work environments in which women are routinely subject to sexist comments and crude behavior from their male colleagues, sending the message that they are not welcome there, as contributors to the report tell the Associated Press:

“Even when the sexual harassment entails nothing but sexist insult without any unwanted sexual pursuit, it takes a toll,” said University of Michigan psychology professor Lilia Cortina, a member of the committee that spent two years studying the problem. “It’s about pushing women out.”

The report complies data from multiple large surveys to get a sense of how pervasive sexual harassment and gender discrimination are in the academy. One survey from the University of Texas found that 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of engineering students, and over 40 percent of medical students reported being sexually harassed by faculty or staff. Another survey from the Pennsylvania State University system found that half of all female medical students had been harassed. Women working in university science departments experience harassment as well as students: 58 percent of academic employees report having been sexually harassed at work.

Sexual harassment “has long been an open secret” in the sciences, MIT professor and report co-chair Sheila Widnall told the AP on Tuesday. In its coverage of the report, the New York Times highlights the panel’s recommendation that universities and research institutions start focusing on prevention and fixing the work environment, rather than just “symbolic compliance with current law and avoiding liability”:

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How Will Trump’s Travel Ban Affect the Workforce?

How Will Trump’s Travel Ban Affect the Workforce?

In an executive order issued on Friday night, President Donald Trump, temporarily barred citizens of seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen—from entering the US for 90 days, in addition to a 120-day freeze on the entry of all refugees. The order arrived with next to no warning and reportedly little guidance: People in transit with valid visas, asylum claims, or even green cards were stopped at airports and blocked from entering the country. Public backlash to the order then led to multiple protests throughout the country, particularly at airports, and several judges quickly issued orders blocking federal agents from enforcing parts of the order, and several lawsuits have been filed to challenge the ban’s legality, including by the attorneys general of Washington State and Massachusetts.

On Sunday night, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the order did not bar the entry of lawful permanent residents, but green card holders and dual citizens may undergo additional screening and it is still not entirely clear how the order will be applied to them. Some companies, particularly in the tech sector, which employs a large immigrant workforce, have recalled foreign-born employees to the US, cancelled planned business trips, or advised them against leaving the country in response to the ban. Numerous companies have issued statements to their workforces as well, offering assistance to affected employees.

The DHS intends to continue enforcing the order notwithstanding the legal challenges to it, but there are several unknowns at the moment, including whether it will hold up in court, whether it will be evenly enforced, and whether it portends more significant changes to US immigration policy. While this order affects roughly 90,000 people from specific countries for a limited period of time, the possibility or expectation of an expanded or extended ban could have an unpredictable impact on hiring, immigration, business travel, tourism, and academia. As Melanie Zanona explains at The Hill, while the given rationale for the executive order was increasing America’s border security, obtaining a balance between the Trump Administration’s stated goals and the needs of American businesses and institutions may prove difficult. Indeed, the order may even discourage foreigners — and not just from the affected countries — from attending American universities and applying for American jobs, which could have a disproportionate impact on the technology, healthcare, and transportation industries.

The Los Angeles Times spoke with an immigration lawyer who has been trying to help those affected by the ban:

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Diversity Lags in University Science Faculties; Is Accountability the Answer?

Diversity Lags in University Science Faculties; Is Accountability the Answer?

At the Atlantic last week, Ed Yong looked into a troubling trend in academic science, where more and more people from underrepresented groups are earning PhDs, but the representation of minorities on university science faculties is not improving at anything near the same rate:

Kenneth Gibbs Jr., an immunologist and science-policy expert at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, … gathered figures on the numbers of Ph.D. graduates and assistant professors in the science departments of medical schools throughout the country, from 1980 to 2014. The data were stark. During that time, the number of newly minted Ph.D. holders from underrepresented groups grew by nine times, but the number of assistant professors from those groups grew by just 2.6 times. No such gulf existed for well-represented groups like whites and Asians; there, the Ph.D. graduate pool grew by 2.2 times while the assistant professor pool rose proportionally, by 1.7 times. …

But why does the gap exist? Donna Ginther from the University of Kansas wonders if it’s partly because Gibbs focused on medical schools, most of which do not guarantee salary with tenure, and so might be unattractive when compared to other alternatives. Perhaps scientists from minority groups are just seeking employment elsewhere. Gibbs counters that this is unlikely, since almost every sector of academia struggles with faculty diversity. Hiring practices are a likelier culprit.

University science departments not only fail to hire underrepresented minorities; they also do a poor job of retaining them; Gibbs’ research shows that even if these departments were to become substantially better at recruiting minority professors, their diversity won’t improve unless those professors get the support they need to stay.

The problem here may be one of accountability. Are these universities holding themselves and their peers accountable for having a diverse workforce that represents the population they serve? If not, how can they do so?

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