Can a Katze “situation” happen to you? Of course it can.
The story of Michael Katze, of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, is the latest in this year’s series of nasty academic sexual harassment and bystander inaction tales. Buzzfeed broke the story with copies of texts and other lurid details and Geekwire followed suit.
As for the other stories of sexual harrassment by renowned male science faculty members, the details were shocking but folks at the involved universities were not surprised. Many people knew something. For months,some university members knew everything.
A UW statement on its investigation was very self-protective:
“When the sexual harassment complaints were made, Dr. Katze was removed from his lab and put on home assignment. A thorough investigation was commenced through UCIRO, the University’s complaint, investigation and resolution office. The investigation found that Dr. Katze had violated University sexual harassment policies.
“His conduct was inappropriate and not in any way reflective of the University’s values. This is why the matter is now in the faculty disciplinary process, through which an appropriate outcome will be adjudicated.” — Norm Arkans, UW spokesman and associate vice president for media relations and communications
So which conduct was inappropriate? Calling people Negroes, fucking bitches, or cunts didn’t lose Katze his job. Sexual harassment, porn, bullying, alcohol, with an embezzlement investigation done back in 2007 didn’t really seem to matter in view of the 30 million dollars Katze brought in federal grants. Indeed, one theory discussed in the Katze fallout, suggests those considered especially intelligent are beyond reproach, even if bullying, embezzlement, and sexual harassment are known to be the other side of the so-called genius. (Genius= brings in grant money). Such a short time ago, UW raved about their wonderboy: for example, see the posting 26 faculty listed among the most influential scientific minds put out by UW news. It took outside exposure to daylight Katze’s escapades, and as of July 2, he hasn’t been fired yet.
If integrity, morality, and ethical behavior are not part of the framework of your self, your lab, or your department and institution, the chances that you will be pulled into the sphere of complicity with a Katze are high. Sexual harassment in the Katze lab was just one of the vile manifestations of entitlement and exceptionalism that protects those who treat their people badly.
Unfortunately, many universities and other workplaces consider ethical behavior to be the absence of research fraud. When it comes to protecting people, those who bring in the most money are first. There is absolutely nothing ethical about the way most universities are run.
Is your dean trustworthy? Does he or she keep promises made to new faculty- or not? This is extremely relevant at the Univeristy of Washington.
Does your department have a code of ethics concerning treatment of personnel by administrators, superiors, or peers?
Does it make clear what happens if that code is broken? Is there a complaint process for faculty, students, technicians, and support staff?
Does the department protect faculty at the expense of others? Do non-faculty members feel heard?
Do faculty members believe they have more rights than any other members? Are exceptions often made for them?
Are the Human Resources personnel empowered to act if they hear of improper behavior or treatment?
Are rules about racism or sexism taken seriously? How about safety?
If most of the students and postdocs in a lab are unhappy or complain about the P.I., does anyone try to get to the bottom of the problem?
As a P.I.
Do you make clear that ethics are important in the lab, and explain what this means?
Do you correct people who make racist or sexist comments?
Do you listen when someone is worried or angry about the behavior of another person in the lab? Do you get involved?
Are you able to consider that problems in the lab might originate from your own behavior or actions?
Do you have your own process for mediating conflict?
Would you try to help someone in your lab whose personal life is affecting his work life?
Are you on time for meetings with your students, as you might expect them to be?
Would you sacrifice your students or postdocs in authorship disputes to advance your own career?
Students and postdocs
Do you know where to go for a medical or psychological emergency?
Do you feel your P.I. is an active advocate for your career?
Does the P.I. routinely evaluate your scientific, experimental, intellectual, communication, and lab citizen skills and give you advice in a way you can use to become a better scientist?
Does the P.I. have integrity? Do you trust her? Do you think you could have honest conversations without retaliation?
Does the P.I. make racist or sexist comments, or does he correct others that do?
Have you ever encountered derision, mocking, “humor,” or nasty comments directed at yourself or anyone else? Did you feel free to speak up?
Where bullying runs unchecked, and people fear retaliation, the creation of a Katze is horribly likely. If department members or administrators do not follow the basic human kindness of protecting the weak, if bullying and favoritism are rampant, don’t just stand by, or you are complicit. The loss of your job is minute compared to the loss of your self respect.