Eric Lander announced his resignation on Monday after an investigation found he had bullied subordinates.
Biden pledged to fire bullies “on the spot,” but Lander was allowed to announce his resignation.
Activists told Insider this approach is endemic to the toxic culture of the academic workplace.
Early in his presidency, Joe Biden pledged to fire anyone who bullied his White House “on the spot,” with no “if, and or buts.”
Yet Eric Lander, who was his chief scientific adviser, was allowed to announce his resignation and was expelled after a two-month investigation revealed he had abused and bullied subordinates.
“The President tonight accepted Dr. Eric Lander’s letter of resignation with gratitude for his work at [the Office of Science and Technology Policy] on the pandemic, Cancer Moonshot, climate change and other key priorities,” Psaki said. “He knows that Dr. Lander will continue to make important contributions to the scientific community in the years to come.
Rachel Wallace, Lander’s former general counsel and one of the first people to accuse Lander, told Politico he “retaliated against staff for speaking out,” insulted them, made fun of them, had removed them their functions or had driven them out of the agency. .
“Many women have been left in tears, traumatized and feeling vulnerable and isolated,” Wallace told the outlet.
The Biden White House’s handling of the investigation and the departure of Eric Lander is symptomatic of a broader epidemic in scientific circles that allows people to gracefully move on from charges of misconduct, with little consequence to their lives. career, activists told Insider.
“It happened in a way that I think most scientists and even academics involved in any form of activism around bullying and harassment will recognize,” said Emma Chapman, astrophysicist and former co-director of 1752, a research group on staff misconduct in higher education.
Academia is replete with such allegations. A 2019 survey of 6,000 doctoral students around the world by Nature News found that one in five experienced bullying, while almost 60% said they feared repercussions if they spoke out.
Chapman says it’s common for instances of misconduct, such as bullying or sexual misconduct, to go unpunished in academia, allowing perpetrators to have successful careers despite the allegations.
Before becoming an activist, Chapman was herself a victim of misconduct – in this case, sexual harassment — of a male employee of his university. But she refused to sign an NDA over the incident under pressure from her university, a practice she says is widespread.
This allows for a practice Chapman calls “passing the aggressor”.
“The ability to gracefully resign the ability to move forward in their community without a negative referral, that’s the norm in our community,” she said.
Morteza Mahmoudi, founder and director of the Movement for Academic Parity, told Insider that silencing accusations of misconduct both hurts the victims and helps the perpetrators.
“Many of those [perpetrators] essentially stay where they are” after wrongdoing investigations, he said. “Nothing happens to them.
On the other hand, “targets [of misconduct] are essentially obliged to change their place of work, laboratory or establishment. All signals basically help perpetrators survive because other perpetrators see that nothing is happening,” he said.
In Lander’s case, Mahmoudi applauded the White House for making the inquiry public and not sweeping it under the rug.
But for Chapman, that’s not enough.
“We have a resignation after pressure, which is still shrouded in silence in terms of a full understanding of what happened,” she said.
And referring to Rachel Wallace, one of Lander’s earliest accusers, Chapman said: ‘Once again we have one of the victims, a woman, who needs to come forward and expose one of the most sorrows of his life.”
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