STUMP » Articles » Women and STEM academia fix: Be Professional » 14 June 2015, 09:33

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Women and STEM academia fix: Be Professional  


14 June 2015, 09:33

(cross-posted from my livejournal)

This is not a recommendation to women in STEM academia. This is a rec to STEM academia.

You need to be more like corporations. Because we don’t allow for people bitching that a senior guy gets pushed out of his position for saying idiotic stuff:

“Three things happen when [girls] are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry,” he said. According to one of the attendees, the joke was greeted by a “deathly, deathly silence.”

In a normal world, a world which valued the freedom to make a doofus of oneself, that should have been the end of it. Seventy-two-year-old man of science makes outdated joke, tumbleweed rolls by, The End.

Twitter went into meltdown. Journalists kicked up a fuss. His comments were branded “shocking and bewildering.” (You find a silly joke bewildering? You really should get out more.) And then came the denouement to this latest outburst of confected fury: Hunt “resigned” from UCL, where he was honorary professor.

“Resign” is in quote marks because it’s pretty clear he was elbowed out. Consider UCL’s statement about his leaving. “UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome [Hunt’s resignation] is compatible with our commitment to gender equality.”


Sorry, was that supposed to be a joke?

Could someone explain to me how that was supposed to be funny… even decades ago, I’m not seeing how that would be funny. I’m not saying I was offended by the “joke”, just that I don’t see how that’s a joke.

But that’s a little beside the point. I don’t really care if there was some badthink feeding frenzy. That shit happens in universities all the time, for a variety of reasons. But the main reason is that academia is not a professional workplace.

From an old post of mine:

Here’s one thing to consider, that I do take seriously: the academic career not being conducive to “having a life” – whether having kids or just doing something else beyond grinding away at research [and not being well-recompensed for this either… come on to the dark corporate side, my pretties]. The tenure process fritters away a woman’s fertile years. Men aren’t as badly hit by this; after all, they can date and marry one of their grad students later on [funny how often that happens]. Tenure also erects a barrier to new entrants as the old fart Boomers aren’t moving on as they have nothing better to do than take up a faculty chair [yes, some are still doing productive work, but once tenure is achieved and reputation has been made decades ago…. well, where’s the pressure to produce?]

Now, I do not want to claim that you don’t have boss/employee affairs in the corporate life, but that in many cases I know there are explicit nepotism/harassment HR rules about this, and yes, I know of people who have been fired for this behavior. If you’re employees from different departments or don’t report to the other, no big deal. That’s true in academia as well.

But for some reason, every time a “don’t date your students” rule comes up in academia, the profs rebel if it’s applied to grad students. Okay, we know the reason. They want to be able to date their students. MAYBE THEY SHOULDN’T.

Also, maybe academia shouldn’t be set up so that it’s your entire life. I swear, there are people other than your grad students to date.

Via Advice Goddess Amy Alkon as well as other places, here are some pieces on the brou-ha-ha:

Let me quote from the last:

Which leads me to this: If Hunt was responsible for reviewing and assessing the professional performances of women he had been romantically involved with at the lab, he should have recused himself and handed the task over to someone else with equal professional stature. Human nature being the frail thing that it is, it seems foolish to expect a woman to be able to dispassionately and professionally receive criticism from the man that she she is either currently romantically involved with or who may have broken her heart. And equally, it seems foolish to expect a man to be able to objectively and and dispassionately assess the woman that he is currently romantically involved with or who may have broken his heart – and bruised his ego. People in situations like this are not typically models of self-discipline and emotional restraint. (Also, if I were another female scientist in the same lab and Hunt was both romantically involved with and reviewing a fellow scientist, I would not be quiet about it. She cries at criticism, so he holds back? Wrong!)

At this point, we can assume that all parties went into these relationships with eyes wide open. And if these relationships took place in the last 30 years or so, it would be ironic that women raised and educated on feminist theory, or at least influenced by it, did not know or care about the risk they were taking by getting involved with a man who was not only their superior, but who possessed a superior intellect and thus very likely also possessed a considerable ego. What did they think would happen?

Oh, ffs. While yes, there’s a problem for the two people directly involved, the main problem with the whole “dating your grad students” issue are all the other grad students, male and female, who are left out of the obvious favoritism. Those are the people who are actually damaged.

Again, this is something that is recognized in professional workplaces.

But academia is not professional. It probably should be.

“Professional” does not mean boring, non-contentious, etc. Any workplace I’m in is bound to hear some strong opinions.

But it does mean not allowing behavior such as superiors dating their direct reports. Or anyone farther down on the chain. But that’s not the only thing that would need to be changed.

This twitter rant gets a bit closer to the problem — there’s a lot of junk and rage in there, but a few tweets jumped out at me. Here they are:

She’s right, you know. There is pretty much no accountability, on many measures. That’s probably why Tim Hunt thought it was okay to say dumbass things. He’s probably been saying dumbass things all the time, and nobody did anything about it. No wonder he was flabbergasted when the mob turned on him.

Poor guy.

Sniff sniff.

Companies can go out of business, and they know it. People can get fired, and they know it. There’s no tenure. There’s no indefinite lifetime for a company. Yes, things can get fucked up in corporate departments, and I have been in toxic work environments myself. I left. People do change jobs, you know. Something sucks, and you’ve got better options, then you take them.

Well, universities and academia will be finding out (and some have been finding out) that they, too, can fail and close. If they have to compete with nicer work environments, they may just shape up. Or they’ll fail.

As for the individuals involved: consider your options. It may be that life outside academia is much more civilized and professional. Just consider it. If you can’t change the toxicity of your situation, then maybe you should exit it. If enough people exit, PERHAPS the system will change. Or will just fail.

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