BethAnn McLaughlin is assistant professor of neurology and pharmacology at Vanderbilt. Her lab works on “understanding the mechanisms which contribute to cell vulnerability to acute and chronic insults.” She is also the founder of the not-for-profit #MeTooSTEM and the reason that Rate My Professor no longer has a chili pepper rating. In November 2018 Dr. McLaughlin was a winner of the $250,000 Disobedience Award from the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge for “ethical, nonviolent” civil disobedience.
Although initially her tenure review committee voted in unanimous support, now her job is in trouble, as Inside Higher Ed reports here (Feb 22, 2019) and Science reports here (Feb 12, 2019).
Obviously, none of us knows the full details of any tenure review, dinner parties gone wrong, politics misread. But here are a few things we do know:
Men who are found guilty of sexual harassment do not tend to lose their jobs.
Women who are blunt, sound cranky, or use profanity (gasp!) violate gender norms.
We would do well to consider the view of Sharona E. Gordon, professor of physiology and biophysics at U-Washington and the author of a petition supporting Dr. McLaughlin (qtd in Inside Higher Ed): “If the most public face of MeTooSTEM can be fired for her support of targets of sexual harassment, none of us is safe.”
No matter what happens at Vanderbilt, it is incumbent on all of us–faculty and administration–to work towards an academic culture in which everyone can do their best work. We’re not there yet, and it won’t happen by itself.
The Provost’s office invites you to read and comment on the Personal Relationships Policy draft. Please lend your voice toward setting up institutional supports for transparent, inclusive, and equitable environment for work and study.
The comment period extends from now until March 15.
Here’s a quick overview from Provost Kumar:
The proposed policy will provide guidance on how to avoid conflicts of interest; potential negative impacts on both the integrity of student-teacher relationships and the workplace climate; and potential personal, academic, or professional harm to the individuals themselves.
While the word “policy” alone might be enough for some of us to click DELETE, please keep this in mind:
Being proactive about healthy boundaries, professional & ethical behavior, and inclusive excellence (as the phrase goes) may well prevent an ugly, injurious situation.
Additionally, being proactive in this way contributes to a culture of (and perception of a culture of) fairness, transparency, and ultimately equity. Let’s do what we can to help each other do our best work.
Recent studies at the University of Oregon indicate that student evaluations are not only biased but also do not correlate with student learning. Based on this, faculty and administrators set out to revamp their student evaluation process. Here’s an excerpt from Kristin Doerer’s article “Colleges Are Getting Smarter About Student Evaluations. Here’s How.” in the Chronicle:
The University of Oregon, which has students answer evaluation questions on a one-to-five scale, is looking to eliminate numerical ratings. “It’s pretty clear that if there’s a number out there, it’ll get misused,” said [Bill] Harbaugh, economics professor.
Oregon decided to have students select, from a list, teaching elements that were most beneficial to their learning and those that could use some improvement. They were then asked to provide written comments about those areas. The responses are aggregated, so professors can see if a cluster of comments indicates particular weaknesses or strengths.
The goal of all of those efforts is not only to minimize bias but also to ensure that instructors can learn from student feedback and act accordingly. “It’s so important,” said Stetson’s Peter Lake, “not to weaponize student evaluations against people but to use them constructively.”
. . . That’s in large part why Oregon decided to try a midterm student-experience survey that only the applicable faculty member can view. An instructor can make changes in the middle of a semester, when students can still benefit, encouraging them to give constructive feedback.