She said no

The Chronicle of Higher Education tells us that astronomy colleagues have been trying hard to get Geoff Marcy to stop being a creep for a long time.

Ruth Murray-Clay, an assistant professor of physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara who earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics on the system’s Berkeley campus in 2008, says it was in 2004 that she first decided to approach Mr. Marcy about what she saw as his inappropriate behavior with young women. Ms. Murray-Clay was the graduate-student representative to Berkeley’s astronomy faculty at the time and was meeting with students about putting together an annual holiday play in which they would poke fun at faculty members.

“Someone suggested putting in a joke about Geoff chasing undergraduates, and the room got really quiet and uncomfortable,” says Ms. Murray-Clay. “I knew that if this was something that couldn’t even be joked about, I needed to go have a conversation with him.”

She’d already heard several stories about him and his creepy touching (aka “inappropriate” touching, which is a nice way of saying creepy). So she talked to him – and he said the young students who told the stories had misinterpreted his creepy touching, but also that he would change and it wouldn’t happen again. (So he told himself: no more creepy touching, because they will misinterpret it.) (Or he told Murray-Clay he was telling himself that.)

But it did happen again. Repeatedly. So much misinterpreting.

Ms. Murray-Clay went back to talk to Mr. Marcy several times about his behavior before she left Berkeley, in 2008, she says, and so did other students. She also complained to the astronomy-department chairman, in 2005, and to Berkeley’s Title IX office, in 2006. But, she says, nothing happened.

It so often is nothing that happens, isn’t it.

Female faculty members and students have complained for decades of discrimination and harassment in male-dominated scientific fields. In astronomy a 2013 survey found that 29 percent of assistant professors, 21 percent of associates, and just 15 percent of full professors were female.

Gender complaints are not limited to science. Female philosophers have also cited a hostile climate for women, and universities have recently removed or forced out several male philosophers following complaints of sexual harassment and assault.

Well, if you get depressed about it, just have a chat with Christina Hoff Sommers, or watch some of her videos for the American Enterprise Institute; she’ll tell you it’s all exaggerated.

Or you could check out Michael Shermer on Twitter – he’ll tell you you’re making victimhood your identity and you should quit it.

Michael Shermer ‏@michaelshermer

“In a victimhood subculture, the only way to achieve status is to either be a victim or defend victims.” @JonHaidt …

Take note SJWs: “When victimhood becomes your identity you will be weak for the rest of your life.” @JonHaidt …

Back to the Chronicle:

Joan T. Schmelz, who just completed her second term as chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, characterizes Berkeley’s treatment of Mr. Marcy as a “slap on the wrist.”

In 2010, after learning of complaints about Mr. Marcy at a party following that year’s astronomical-society meeting, Ms. Schmelz quietly began working with women who felt he had harassed them. At that party, in Seattle, several people saw Mr. Marcy hanging out with one of his female undergraduates, buying her drinks, touching her, and then leaving the party with her in a taxi.

“A small group of people decided this was really important, and we contacted the people who had been harassed,” says Ms. Schmelz, a professor in the department of physics and materials science at the University of Memphis. “We got more and more names, and finally four decided to file complaints after they had left Berkeley.”

As she talked to all these people, she realized Marcy had a pattern, a “play book.”

“I heard this so many times,” she says, “that I realized it was standard practice for him.”

Mr. Marcy, she says, would isolate a female student in his lab or find a way to talk to her privately on the campus, away from others. During the talk, he would make a slightly inappropriate comment, touch or kiss the student, and then apologize, according to what women told her. Depending on the reaction he got, she says, he would either back off or take another step forward. Students, she says, complained that he had given them rides home, taken them out to coffee, and told them he and his wife had an open relationship. The four women who complained, she says, are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

He got away with it, she says, because “people don’t trust the system to protect them.”

Of course they don’t. For one thing the system is stuffed with people who approach the subject the way Sommers and Shermer do. For another thing universities love their stars, and Marcy is a star.

This summer, after Berkeley had concluded its investigation of the complaints against Mr. Marcy and found him responsible for violating its policy on sexual harassment, Ms. Murray-Clay says Mr. Marcy asked if he could meet with her. He drove five hours, she says, from Berkeley to Santa Barbara, where he asked her to contact Ms. Schmelz and other members of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy to say that his behavior toward women in the field had changed. But Ms. Murray-Clay doesn’t find him convincing anymore. She said no.

Ten hours of driving, wasted. Of course there are also all those women who left astronomy, but oh well, they’re only women.

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