Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Over reaction alert

Sign the petition for academic freedom. This is an over reaction too far

A British scientist has been disciplined for sexual harassment by his Irish university for showing a female colleague a research paper about fellatio in bats, triggering an outcry over academic freedom.

Leading scientists and academics including Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett have rallied to support Dylan Evans, after University College, Cork (UCC) placed him on probation for two years and ordered him to have counselling.

Supporters of Dr Evans, a behavioural scientist, said the university’s actions sent a dangerous message that areas of legitimate academic debate can be deemed off-limits if certain people find them offensive for personal reasons.

Professor Pinker, of Harvard University, described the sanctions as “absurd and shameful”. He said: “It runs counter to the principle of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech, to say nothing of common sense.”

Dr Evans was disciplined following a formal complaint from a colleague, to whom he had shown a peer-reviewed article from the journal Public Library of Science One entitled “Fellatio by fruit bats prolongs copulation time”.

He told The Times that he had given her the paper in the context of an ongoing discussion between them about the evolutionary origins of human and animal behaviour, and that it had been intended to prompt debate and not to cause offence.

The colleague, however, accused him of sexual harassment, alleging a pattern of inappropriate and disturbing behaviour including kissing her on both cheeks and complimenting her appearance.

While an investigation cleared Dr Evans of sexual harassment prior to his showing her the bat fellatio paper, it found that this incident amounted to a joke with sexual innuendo, though it accepted he had not intended to offend.

Professor Michael Murphy, the UCC president, declared that the complaint of sexual harassment had been upheld, and punished Dr Evans by imposing a two-year period of “monitoring and appraisal” and requiring him to complete special training.

Several documents pertaining to the case, including the original complaint, have been posted on the internet, though Dr Evans said he had not done this. He added that he had never made sexual advances to the complainant.

Dr Evans said he had been very interested by the paper, which documented a rare example of oral sex in a non-human animal, the short-nosed fruit bat Cynopterus sphinx. He said the research, which was widely reported in the media, had implications for the uniqueness of human sexual behaviour, and he shared it with several other colleagues without complaint.

He said his colleague’s reaction had initially been friendly, and that he had been mortified to learn she had taken offence. “I was absolutely devastated by the complaint, as I certainly had no intention of upsetting her,” he said.

“She is an esteemed colleague who I hold in high regard. I said I was prepared to apologise for any offence caused, and offered to go to mediation, but all these proposals for an informal resolution were rejected by the university.”

He said that while he was happy to accept monitoring or training, he was not prepared to leave unchallenged Professor Murphy’s assertion that he was guilty of sexual harassment. The finding, he said, could deny him academic tenure, for which he will soon be eligible.

“I can live with the sanctions, but I can’t live with a factual finding of sexual harassment against me,” he said. “It has very serious career implications for me.

“I’m also very worried about the precedent this sets. This means that if you share published science with a colleague, and she happens to find it offensive, it is no defence that you were discussing a peer-reviewed paper without intent to offend. It bodes ill for academic freedom.”

More than 2,400 people have signed an online petition supporting Dr Evans, including leading evolutionary psychologists such as Robin Dunbar, Nicholas Humphrey and Geoffrey Miller.


ZenTiger said...

Bats in her belfry.

KG said...

It's good to see so many are going in to bat for Dr. Evans.

Anonymous said...

She must have no care for her future, for who would want her on their team after this.

Mrs T

Rupert said...

Not much different than what Auckland Uni did to Paul Buchanan. In fact, Buchanan never did get his job back at Auckland although he won his ERA case and was given formal "reinstatement," even though it turns out the Arab female who complained about his offending email (about her poor work and excuse for not handing in an assignment on time) and who called him an anti-Muslim racist in several public forums (which elicited death threats against him), never did produce proof of her 'excuse" and subsequently dropped out of classes entirely. Turns out he was right all along, but that did not prevent the PC brigade in Auckland from ruining his career.

Apparently he is now blogging while living abroad looking for academic employment, while the Arab female is still living in NZ. Is that a fair trade? At least the British lecturer still has a job.

Anonymous said...

You never know with these boffins. I wouldn't be surprised at all if these was some weird academic mating ritual.

As for Buchanan he was a tryhard dick but he clearly didn't deserve what happened. The problems weren't really her fault but with a certain well known Afghani 'operator' who was also a postgrad student at the time who put her up to it.