Vanderbilt: Don’t fire Prof. BethAnn McLaughlin for standing against sexual harassment

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Professor BethAnn McLaughlin is a leader in the movement to end sexual assault and harassment in higher education. She launched, where women have posted their experience of being harassed by colleagues; she’s personally councled over 200 survivors and witnesses of assault; she’s been a witness in cases of sexual harassment at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches.

But because of her courageous stance against sexual harassment, Professor McLaughlin's is poised to lose her job. Sign now to tell Interim Chancellor Susan Wente to immediately reverse the decision to fire Professor McLaughlin.

After Prof. McLaughlin became a witness in a sexual harassment complaint against a member of her department, the accused professor called for an investigation into Prof. McLaughlin herself. He stated that she has posted anonymous, derogatory tweets about colleagues. This probe stalled her promotion process for nearly a year and a half. The probe into Prof. McLaughlin was closed without any formal discipline, and soon after Prof. McLaughlin was finally approved for tenure by a committee of her own peers. The Dean of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, Jeffrey Balser, then asked the committee to reconsider. Prof. McLaughlin’s promotion recommendation was ultimately reversed, putting her job at immediate risk.

The tenure process is the means by which a professor's contributions to the academic community recognize the scholarship, teaching, and service to their peers. When administrators pressure faculty to reverse their decision on tenure, they bring politics and fear into a process that should be objective and independent. Even the appearance of administrative interference strikes a blow against academic freedom and the expectation of scholarly independence.

As a professor of Physiology & Biophysics, I know that gender harassment is the norm in academic sciences. Women in my profession and students who aspire to join it are facing a culture of retaliation at every turn. BethAnn McLaughlin has challenged this culture at her own university and far beyond, evening winning the Disobedience Award for ethical, nonviolent civil disobedience. Her work has been an inspiration to me and other women in STEM across the country. BethAnn is every one of us.

Susan Wente, Interim Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, must support the continuation of Prof. McLaughlin as faculty. The impact of her decision will be felt by the nearly two thirds of women in academic sciences who have recently experienced sexual harassment and by those who support them. Prof. McLaughlin has embodied the values of fairness, accountability, and stewardship in her activism. Now we ask the Chancellor to adopt these values and allow her to keep her job.