Friday, February 9, 2018

The power of Congress

Via Twitter, this news from Nature about NSF and its policy on PI sexual harassment (article written by Alexandra Witze): 
Any institution receiving grant monies from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) must now inform the agency if it finds that anyone funded by the grant proposal has committed sexual harassment. The policy will take effect after a 60-day public-comment period ends. 
Until now, “we haven’t had a requirement on universities to report a [harassment] finding or when they’ve put someone on administrative leave” during a harassment investigation, says France Córdova, the NSF director. “We didn’t have the channel to find out what’s at the end of an investigation.” 
The reporting requirement comes in the wake of numerous sexual-harassment scandals in the sciences. It is a rare move among US federal research agencies, which generally do not require grant recipients or their employers to disclose sexual-harassment allegations or findings.
Why did this happen? Well, surely the current cultural moment has something to do with it. There's also this:
Like other federal agencies, the NSF is under pressure from the US Congress to strengthen its response to sexual harassment. In January, the House of Representatives’ science committee asked the Government Accountability Office to look into sexual harassment involving federally funded researchers at agencies including the NSF, NASA, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. 
I think this is instructive to those who are interested in getting funding agencies to pursue academic lab safety as a priority. While professional societies and universities have their place in suggesting voluntary guidelines for safety practices, there's nothing quite like Congressional pressure to move items from policy proposal to policy. 


  1. Not to be a downer, but won't this just encourage universities to be less diligent about investigating sexual harassment? Maybe if they had to report all accusations (and demonstrate the appropriate follow-up), rather than just "findings".

    1. I think it's very realistic to be concerned about self-reporting data to funding agencies. It's my concern about regulating academic lab safety: the second you put consequences to tenure or funding, you are going to create incentives to hide misdeeds.

  2. One wonders if students are also subject these guidelines. Do they qualify as "grant personnel"?

  3. As someone who was falsely accused of sexual harassment, I wonder what the repercussion(s) will be to the person under investigation, especially if it was/is false accusation(s).