Once again, my friends, a professor of science has been found to be harassing women underlings.

Actually it was a bit more:

Lieb allegedly made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students on an off-campus retreat in Galena, Ill., and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent,” according to documents acquired by the New York Times.

Yeah, that last part there pretty much makes Jason Lieb a rapist.

Then it turns out that the guy had left Princeton rather abruptly:

Yoav Gilad, a molecular biologist at Chicago who was on the committee that advocated hiring Dr. Lieb, said he and his fellow faculty members knew that in February 2014 Dr. Lieb had abruptly resigned from Princeton University, just seven months after having been recruited from the University of North Carolina to run a high-profile genomics institute.

then it gets very foggy:

molecular biologists on the University of Chicago faculty and at other academic institutions received emails from an anonymous address stating that Dr. Lieb had faced allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct at previous jobs at Princeton and the University of North Carolina.


But Dr. Gilad said that when it was contacted, Princeton said there had been no sexual harassment investigation of Dr. Lieb while he was there. He said efforts to find out more about what prompted Dr. Lieb’s departure proved fruitless. A Princeton spokeswoman said the university does not comment on personnel matters.

hmmm. smells a little bit, doesn’t it? But no PROOF. Because, no doubt, of the usual. Murky circumstances. Accusations that can’t be proved easily. Wagon circling from the institution and lingering doubt that the accuser is telling the truth. We’ve seen it a million times.

Separately, Dr. Gilad acknowledged, during the interviews of Dr. Lieb, he admitted that he had had a monthslong affair with a graduate student in his laboratory at the University of North Carolina.

Ok, wait, whoa full stop. The dude had an affair with a graduate student IN HIS LAB!

Done. Right there. The vast majority of Universities that have policies at least say you can’t have an affair with a student you have a direct supervisory role over.

Hiring committees are not courts of law and applicants do not have a right to be hired. This committee at U of C should have taken a pass as soon as they learned Lieb was screwing his graduate student.

There are a number of problems that we academics need to confront about this.

First, the guy raped an incapacitated grad student at a dept retreat. This has to put some courage into departments to lay down some rules during their retreats. Like maybe, no faculty partying with grad students after official hours, when the other faculty aren’t around. Open the retreat with a discussion of harassment, respect and professional behavior like they do at GRCs now. That sort of thing.

Second, what in the hell do we do about these unproven cases in which the guy (it’s almost always a man) who keeps jumping institutions leaves a smell of harassment and bad behavior behind him that hasn’t been proven or documented?

It’s weird, right?

If you take a rec letter from a trusted colleague about a prospective student or postdoc that has the slightest hint of a problem, professional work wise, you take an automatic pass. You move on to the next candidate. Nobody talks about lawyers and proof and how you “have” to hire this particular postdoc or they will sue you for defamation. Yet when it comes to a faculty hire, the stench of misconduct is treated differently. “well, it hasn’t been proven! there’s no paper trail! Sure he left in a hurry and the old institution ain’t talking but its a coincidence! and we can’t listen to these rumors from eight of his previous trainees who all tell the same tale, hearsay! we’ll be sued for defamation if we choose not to hire him!“.

Something is very wrong here.

We’re perfectly okay not hiring a candidate because we suspect they won’t like our town and will be soon looking to leave. Ok with violating HR rules to sniff around about a two-body problem and refuse to offer a faculty job to such a problem candidate. Underrepresented minorities? Don’t even get me started. Women of childbearing age or with a young child? yeah. Our hiring committees do all kinds of inferring and gossiping and not-offering on the basis of suspected factors. Thinly evidenced. Not proven. Actually illegal reasons in some cases.

But when someone is rumoured to be a harasser of women? Geez, we have to bend over backwards to extend him his alleged right to the job.

Something is very wrong here.

People of science? Please. Just. Look. Somewhere. Else. Would. You? Please? Find your romantic entanglements outside of the workplace. Really. It cannot possibly be this difficult.

Thought of the Day

February 3, 2016

Dear Editor of Journal,

I find it interesting to review the manuscripts of ours that you have rejected on impact and quality grounds* over the past several years. We quite naturally found publication homes elsewhere for these manuscripts, this is how the system works. No harm, no foul. In none of these cases, I will note, was the manuscript radically changed in a way that would fundamentally alter the review of quality or impact as reflected in your reviewer’s comments. Yet I note that these papers have been cited in excess, sometimes far in excess, of your Journal’s Impact Factor. Given what we know about the skew in citations distributions which contribute to a JIF, well, this positions our papers quite favorably within the distribution of manuscripts you chose to accept.

This suggests to me there is something very wrong with your review process insofar as it attempts to evaluate quality and predict impact.


*journal fit is another matter entirely. I am not talking about those complaints.