Open Letter to the MICCAI Board

Open Letter to the MICCAI Board

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Concerned Society started this petition to MICCAI Board

Dear MICCAI Board Members,

As researchers in medical imaging, computer vision, machine learning, and data science, we write to you in strong advocacy of a welcoming, inclusive, and safe scientific community.

A case of sexual harassment at MICCAI 2018 has recently been publicized. This case involved multiple instances of non-consensual contact, including the victim being grabbed, lifted off the ground, and carried against her will. This behavior clearly violates both the letter and the spirit of the Code of Conduct that was already in place at the time. Equally disappointing as the actions of the offender was the response by the MICCAI leadership. Despite several eye-witness testimonies, the Board initially decided to place mild conditions on the offender’s future interactions with the victim. This decision was made while some Board members knew the identities of both the victim and offender. The Board also requested that the victim not speak about the incident, even in private, thus curtailing her ability to seek out support within her personal and professional communities. In fact, it took several months and numerous requests by the MICCAI 2018 General Chair for the Board to hire an external consultant, who determined that the initial sanctions were insufficient for the offense. The Board still has not published the full set of investigative recommendations made by the external consultant in her detailed report.

This case has set a poor and troubling precedent for the MICCAI Society. It has also brought up uncomfortable memories for some researchers whose career paths have been affected by unwelcoming or harassing behavior. As you may know, there was a strikingly similar case of sexual harassment at Johns Hopkins University. In that case, the university opted to terminate the offender’s employment in order to promote a safe educational environment.

MICCAI is at a time of significant expansion and change. We believe that decisive action by the Board is essential for the continued health of the community. We note that other professional societies, such as the ACM, have proactively developed frameworks for reporting harassment, which crucially decouple the investigative processes from the organizational leadership.

We are aware that the MICCAI Board has formed a Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee that is working with the external consultant to strengthen the Code of Conduct. We are also aware that the conference has prominently featured Women in MICCAI (WiM) events for the past two years, and that the MICCAI 2020 organizers are implementing new initiatives for diversity. We support these efforts and hope that conference attendees will be actively encouraged to speak up when they observe behavior that may make others uncomfortable. In addition, we advocate stronger and more proactive measures by the Board to truly effect change as follows:

Transparency: There should be greater community involvement in the development of new reporting and investigative procedures, as implemented via these initiatives:

  1. At least three active members of the MICCAI Society should be elected by their peers to serve on the Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee. Our junior colleagues in particular have unique and valuable insights into cultural and ethical issues.
  2. Society members should be given several opportunities to meet with the external consultant. As this consultant will be tasked with implementing the new procedures, it is imperative that she understands the diverse viewpoints held by the community.

Finally, we believe that the MICCAI 2020 conference should include both a public forum on the new policies as well as a panel discussion on harassment organized by the external consultant.

Accountability: The Board should publish written standards for an investigation. Outcomes of the investigation should include clear and undeniable consequences for Code of Conduct violations, irrespective of academic rank and prestige. Such consequences must also be in line with recent policy changes from the NSF, the NIH, and the Wellcome Trust, all of which mandate that organizations receiving funding from them must report incidents of harassment. 

Commitment: The Board should publicly and unequivocally state that the conduct at MICCAI 2018 was inappropriate and contrary to the ideals of the MICCAI Society, thus taking a firm stance in its commitment to ensuring that such behavior does not happen again. As part of this commitment, the Board should also publicly apologize to the victim of the 2018 incident, both for the events that she had to endure and for the inefficiencies in their investigative process. 

Our own institutions as well as professional organizations, such as the ACM, SPIE, and IEEE, are actively implementing policies to ensure a welcoming and safe environment for people with diverse gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, physical appearance, race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion. We hope to locally eliminate barriers to participation in scientific research, and we would be glad to help with efforts to do the same at MICCAI.

Thank you for your concern and quick action.

Original Letter and Signatories

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