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Friday, May 05, 2006

Got Ethics?

So, just when you were counting your blessings that you weren't being sexually harassed by a colleague, you find out that

a research project I have spent months trying to get grant support for was the topic of a paper presented at a recent clinical conference; it got a nice award there, too. At least the idea was a good one.

The conference presenter hailed from a research group just down the road from my own Midwestern university, where I am an assistant professor in a medical school. Then I learned that the company that had financed the research behind this award-winning paper was the same company that I had approached months ago to support my project.

This poor woman went back to her office and cried.  Then she got on the phone, networked, and got herself a job offer in industry as a consultant!  Where she found:

Everyone at the company seemed very relaxed and happy to be there. There were pictures of children displayed on desks and each office was personalized by the occupant -- and had windows. A few people came to the company from academe and were willing to talk about their experiences. The main changes they perceived? The corporate world had more deadlines and the clients controlled the project timelines.

Bye-bye, academia! 

But of course, stories like these have nothing to do with the pancake-like graphs detailing the percentage of women faculty in science and engineering over the last 40 years. 

You know, it's funny, just recently the Chronicle also had an article titled "Sense of Injustice Can Lead Scientists to Act Unethically, Study Finds".  Believe it or not, it seems

the correlation is stronger for scientists whose "scientific identity is vulnerable," Mr. De Vries said. Younger researchers and women in male-dominated fields were more likely to respond to perceived injustices by cutting corners, the study found.

The study's authors recommend the following:

...simple training in ethics at individual institutions may not be enough to encourage scientists to play by the rules...In addition, journal editors, peer reviewers, and leaders of professional societies must find ways to judge work fairly and bestow rewards based on merit, not simply because of a project's "glamour" or grant size.  Still, responsibility for good behavior ultimately rests with each scientist, the authors conclude. "As disheartening as it may be to work under conditions of unfairness," they counsel early-career scientists, "it is a potentially career-ending event to be found guilty of violating professional rules, regulations, or laws."

Perhaps, instead of wringing our hands and telling our vulnerable colleagues to suck it up and take it like a man, we could try that simple ethics training anyway.  For the senior scientists.  Something along these lines:

  1. You should not rape your students or colleagues.  Yes, for those of you in the back of the classroom, that includes coercing them.  Yes, coercing does include threatening to withhold resources or promising rewards, not just physical violence.  You guys!   
  2. You also should not sexually harass your colleagues.  I refer you to the university's policy on sexual harassment - no, really it's true!  We have one!  I know, I was surprised too to find that out.  Anyhoo, take a look-see and be careful out there.  I know the undergraduates look really hot, but they are not here to help you through your mid-life crisis or your divorce or your transition from graduate student to professor or anything else. 
  3. 1 and 2 above also apply to the graduate students
  4. Just to be clear, 1, 2, and 3 still apply even if you think she's willing or she wants it or she's asking for it or she needs it or whatever other excuse you come up with to put the agency on her and absolve yourself of guilt.  They also apply even if she is actually willing.  See reference in #3 above.
  5. Racial harassment - also frowned upon.  Yes, we do have a policy on this one too!  Question in the back?  Yes, if you see one black student in your class in the front row on the first day of classes, you should not ask him/her if they are sure they are in the right classroom.  Extra credit:  Q: What do you not say if a black or Hispanic student comes to you during office hours for extra help after getting a C on an exam?  A: "That's a very good grade for someone like you." 
  6. This one will seem really crazy, but here it is:  You should not steal the ideas and/or work of your graduate students, junior faculty, or other colleagues and pass them off as your own.  Hey, corporate funders, can you hear us while you're back there unloading the lunch you've had catered in for us? 
  7. Guess what - 6 above is not just for new ideas!  It includes things in print.  We call this "plagiarism" and it is not good.  A helpful note to engineering deans:  should you find yourself embroiled in a widespread plagiarism scandal, try to come up with something nicer to say about the whistleblower than this anemic praise from Ohio University's Dean Irwin:   "Ultimately it was helpful," the dean said. "In the end he has to be commended."  But dealing with it late is better than never.   

Well, that's all for today!  For your homework, read Adventures in Ethics and Science on a regular basis. 

Now go on out there and try to be worthy of the power and prestige you've accummulated! 

5:22:12 PM    comment [] trackback []

Multi-Year Engineering Rapist Brought to Justice in Just 6 Years!

From today's daily update from the Chronicle of Higher Education, U. of Colorado Is Ordered to Pay $285,000 in Sexual-Harassment Case:

A federal jury on Thursday ordered the University of Colorado to pay $285,000 to an instructor in the Boulder campus's biology department after concluding that she had been sexually harassed by R. Igor Gamow, a prominent inventor and chemical engineer who was fired by the university in 2004 for "moral turpitude."

The instructor, Dana Ruehlman, a former research assistant for Mr. Gamow, testified in U.S. District Court in Denver on Monday that the professor raped her nearly 80 times between 1995 and 1998, forcing her to have sex or lose her job. She said that he sexually harassed her until 2000, when she filed a formal complaint against him. She was fired the following year, but was later rehired by the university as a laboratory instructor in the physiology department.

Please note:  the firing of Mr. Gamow came after more than two decades of both rumor and public allegations (see Chronicle article below) that he was sexually harassing students on the campus.   Well, it only took Ms. Ruehlman six years to get some justice, so I guess that's a plus.  And, she only lost her job for a little while.   

The Chronicle, in its April 19, 2005 article "U. of Colorado Fires Longtime Professor Accused of Sexually Harassing Students" reported the following about Mr. Gamow's firing:

The regents followed the recommendations in a December 2003 letter from the university system's president, Elizabeth Hoffman, who urged the professor's termination. In the letter, she agreed with a committee charged with investigating Mr. Gamow that he was "willing to engage in unwanted sexual advances rising to the level of sexual assault toward undergraduate students." The regents agreed.  [emphasis mine]

Generally, I would think, if you were an undergraduate and you were male, you would not need to deal with fending off sexual assualt from your professors in addition to completing your homework and studying for tests. 

Has anybody told you lately that the main thing we need to do to increase the percentage of women in engineering is to more effectively communicate to women how great engineering is?  The authors of the recent report Extraordinary Women Engineers think so. 

We believe the problem is one of perception.  Girls and the people who influence them - teachers, school counselors, parents, peers, and the media - do not understand what a career in engineering looks like and therefore don't consider it an option.  

I agree that there is a problem of perception.  I just don't agree that the paragraph above completely describes the problem.  Or even a major portion of the problem.

A major, big, huge, hulking portion of the problem is the men who think that engineering is their profession.  And who think that women are sexual objects.  Not all of them are as virulent as our Colorado Chem E rapist above.  But many men still think of women as some sort of walking, talking window dressing - something that pretties up an otherwise drab engineering lecture hall, or adds a little spice to the electronics lab.  You know, like the cheesecake calendar on the wall of your office/lab, only without the boob jobs and wearing more clothes.  

If there were even one-tenth the amount of talk about how to change the caustic culture of manly men and their sexism as there is about how to enlighten those clueless women as to the wonders that a life in engineering can bring, then I might agree that we were on track with outlining the perception problem.   


4:11:35 PM    comment [] trackback []

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