A picture of Representative Jackie Speier
Jackie S.
Democrat CA 14

About Rep. Jackie
  • Sexual Harassment in Science

    by Representative Jackie Speier

    Posted on 2016-01-12

    submit to reddit

    SPEIER. Mr. Speaker, universities are supposed to be in the business of illumination, but as we have seen in recent cases at Cal Tech and at UC Berkeley, that is not always the case.

    At UC, world-renowned astronomer Geoff Marcy sexually harassed students for years with no consequences. The light of knowledge can cast some dark shadows. Brave women recently alerted my office to still more harassment in astronomy, now at the University of Arizona.

    Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record this report from the University of Arizona regarding Dr. Timothy Slater. This report was sealed for over a decade while Dr. Slater went on with his career. His example shows why so few women continue careers in science and in engineering.

    Confidential Investigative Report Complaint No: 04-06A-MKM Complainant: Administrative Review Respondent: Dr. Timothy Slater Department: Department of Astronomy, Steward Observatory Date Complaint Received: August 2004 Report Date: March 31, 2005 background Prior to July 2004, several individuals approached the EOAAO to discuss sexually charged conduct they were experiencing in the College of Astronomy, and Steward Observatory. They stated that the conduct was occurring across ranks; some indicated the conduct was creating a sexually hostile work environment. Some indicated retaliation might be occurring. These individuals refused to file complaints against the department because they feared work- related repercussions, including unlawful retaliation. Consequently the EOAAO met with administrators in the Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory to discuss initiating an investigation into sexual harassment, sexually hostile work environment. The department, in turn, formalized a request for investigation, such that this Administrative Review began in August 2004.

    Responsive to evidence obtained in the early stages of investigation, the EOAAO named Dr. Tim Slater as a respondent in this case, on September 24, 2004. The EOAAO notified Dr. Slater of his respondent status in accordance with EOAAO procedures, identifying sexual harassment and retaliation as the relevant issues.

    Dr. Slater was hired by the University of Arizona on August 6, 2001, as an Associate Professor of Astronomy. He received tenure standing in May 2004. He has a variety of duties at the university, including his post as the Conceptual Astronomy and Physics Education Research (CAPER) team leader.

    scope of investigation In the course of the investigation, the investigator interviewed multiple individuals--some more than once--who were associated with the Department of Astronomy, Steward Observatory, and/or the CAPER team. Witnesses were selected either randomly, or with an effort to cross-section levels of authority and closeness, professional and/or personal, with the respondent. All efforts were made to get a comprehensive point of view.

    issue Did Dr. Slater violate the University's Sexual Harassment Policy, as well as the policy's Retaliation component? Witness B stated that Dr. Slater and Witness J make a lot of sexual jokes and create sexual banter on a regular basis. She noted a lot of the women tend to ignore this when it is occurring around them.

    On a regular basis, Dr. Slater has told Witness B she would teach better if she did not wear underwear.

    On at least one occasion he grabbed her underwear through her dress, stretched it and snapped it, and said, ``You'd look a whole lot better without these on,'' or words to that effect. That same day he invited her to attend a lunch with a visiting female graduate student from [redacted] and Witness J. Dr. Slater indicated they would be lunching at a local topless bar. At lunch both Dr. Slater and Witness J paid for and received lap dances. Dr. Slater offered to purchase a lap dance for Witness B; she declined and he did not push the issue further.

    Witness B reported that during the semester the sexual conduct occurs daily.

    Witness C provided the following information: Witness C stated that she has continual but infrequent interaction with Dr. Slater during the course of her work. She stated that her concern regarding Dr. Slater reflects sexual conduct occurring on one day: [redacted] Witness C traveled with Dr. Slater to [redacted] by car, in the company of a female graduate student.

    During the car trip, Witness C told Dr. Slater some work she had completed for CAPER. He responded by saying, ``Awesome! I could just kiss you full on the mouth,'' or words very close to those. Witness C stated she found this response distasteful.

    Later he asked her, ``How bad can I be with you?'' When she asked him what he meant, he asked her if she would be reporting his comments back to her supervisor.

    Dr. Slater went on to relate that when he goes to academic conferences out of town he goes online to set up ``hook-ups'' (sexual dates) with women in the geographic area. He told Witness C that his personal (sexual) record was four (4) women in twenty-four (24) hours.

    Dr. Slater also stated that he and his wife occasionally set up manage-a-trois.

    Dr. Slater and the accompanying female graduate student discussed the upcoming visit of Dr. Slater's colleague. She asked Dr. Slater if she would have to sleep with him, to which Dr. Slater replied, ``No, not this one.'' Witness C looked at them and exclaimed, ``What?'' whereupon Dr. Slater told her that occasionally he might have to ask her to take one for the team.

    Talking about Witness J, Dr. Slater said, ``Yeah, he likes the young ones. Witness C asked if that individual did not have a girlfriend. Dr. Slater replied that a girlfriend was one thing, but a student was another. Witness C asked if the students were minors, to which Dr. Slater responded that they were all probably over 18.

    He added that he, Dr. Slater, preferred a more mature woman who knew ``her way around the bedroom.'' Some minutes later he turned to Witness C and asked her if she knew ``anything about or was any good at giving blowjobs, because (the accompanying female--name deleted) does not like to give or receive them--maybe you could give her some pointers.'' Witness C then told Slater he was being completely inappropriate. She said, ``You barely know me. I only started a couple of weeks ago, and you're already talking to me like this. Doesn't the U of A give sexual harassment training, or were your absent that day?'' She went on to say that she has a particularly large boyfriend (whom she described, in part, as Black) She told Dr. Slater that he would not appreciate the manner in which Dr. Slater was speaking to her. Dr. Slater then asked Witness C if it were true that once you went black, you'd never go back,'' or words to that effect.

    Later Dr. Slater joked that he would pull off at a rest stop so they could have a threesome. Witness C responded by saying, ``Like that's going to happen,'' or words to that effect. After that she tried changing the subject every time it turned sexual, and then she related a story of personal tragedy (non-sexual,) which she noted seemed to sober Dr. Slater and the other female right away.

    Witness C stated that she reported Dr. Slater's conduct to the Principle Investigator (PI) on her project. The PI, in turn, told her she should report it to her supervisor, which she did.

    [Relevant to Witness D's testimony] Witness C stated she was aware that Dr. Slater appeared to be trying to take [redacted] program [redacted] away from the department and bring it over to Steward Observatory where he also works. She stated he has been pulling funding from the program. Additionally he bad-mouths the Program Coordinator, Witness C's supervisor. He has also been giving responsibilities previously held by that supervisor to his various graduate students.

    The witness recalled that other female graduate students had commented that their advisors, Dr. Slater and Witness J, were too sexual in their demeanor.

    Information from Respondent On September 30, 2004 Dr, Tim Slater provided the following information: He stated that he recalled two occasions on which individuals complained directly to him about his personal conduct.

    In [redacted] talking about a bachelor party at a strip club, such that a graduate student commented, ``That really creeps me out when you talk that way in front of me,'' or words to that affect. He recalled apologizing.

    A graduate student and former CAPER team member telling him that it had made her uncomfortable when he massaged her shoulders publicly, while hosting a teacher workshop. Dr. Slater recalled that she was concerned others might misinterpret the nature of their relationship, were they to observe his gesture.

    Dr. Slater characterized himself as a ``touchy'' person who often hugs people. He stated that he is a ``flirtatious'' person, and defined that as ``friendly,'' and ``flattering.'' He stated this is mostly with the CAPER group, since CAPER constitutes his primary professional and social interaction.

    Dr. Slater stated that he hugs males as well as females, and that he brought many people on the team [CAPER] from Montana and Kansas [universities there.] Many had lived in his house with him and his wife from time to time, and some of the relationships were of 10-12 years' duration. He added they had been in each other's weddings. He stated that they all socialize together at someone's house (often his) on 2-3 occasions per month.

    Dr. Slater stated that he and Witness J run the CAPER group, and that within the group they have a joke that he, Slater, is the ``mom,'' and Witness J is the ``dad.'' He stated that some of the CAPER team members were more like family than others; he listed the two groups.

    Regarding reports that he had given out ``sex toys'' at social events; he recalled that [[Page H287]] he had given one female graduate student a pickle or cucumber-shaped vibrator at a ``pre-marriage'' party. He could not recall having given out chocolate handcuffs, as specifically alleged. Regarding the vibrator, he recalled that the recipient was a collector of the vegetable it represented, and that he was certain she was not offended by it. He recalled there were pickle or cucumber jokes going around the office for several days, thereafter.

    Dr. Slater did not recall making the comment that he would have to install cameras in his home, as alleged, and referential to the alleged comment that everyone [in CAPER] had engaged in sexual activity in his home. Dr. Slater reiterated that many of the CAPER team members had, in fact, lived with him at his house over the years.

    Regarding allegations that he stopped to look at women, and commented on their appearance, he stated this was common practice for him, and that he might have done it anywhere from ``one-to-ten-to-a-hundred times.'' He denied that he had a rating system, but recalled saying things like, ``You're going to have to say that again, because that's too distracting.'' He confirmed he had made such comments to women in the department and often Witness J, who joked with him in a similar fashion.

    Regarding allegations that he told a colleague he had a prohibition against ``blue balls'' in the office (referencing an exercise ball,) he stated he did not recall making the comment, but that it was ``consistent'' with the kinds of comments he would make.

    He believed he had not told a colleague he would have invited her to swim over the weekend but for the likelihood she would wear her swim suit. He stated he doubted that comment because he is not exclusionary by nature.

    He did not recall telling a [subordinate female] colleague that she would teach better were she to stop wearing underwear, and did not recall snapping her underwear [through her T-shirt dress, as alleged.] However, he stated, he did tend to say a lot of sexual things.

    Dr. Slater confirmed that he took a visiting female graduate student, as well as a male and a female [subordinate] colleague to lunch at a local strip club. He did not recall that specific event, but stated that he [and the accompanying male] usually purchase lap dances when they go. He usually offers to purchase lap dances for others, as well. He stated they go about once per month, and that it's usually a mixed group (male and female.) Dr. Slater recalled that a group of department women had gone to a male club in honor of a wedding or birthday, and reported having a terrible time. Somehow, as an offshoot to that situation, one of the women [Witness B] thought she might like female clubs better, and decided to join the men. He could not recall how many times she attended, but thought probably several. He stated that he has gone with his wife, and several of the graduate students and/or colleagues. He stated the tab is always collected for ``Dutch'' treat: departmental funds are never used.

    For complete report go to http://speier.house.gov.

    House of Representatives, Washington, DC, January 11, 2016.

    Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education, Washington, DC.

    Dear Assistant Secretary Lhamon: Thank you for your leadership and commitment to eradicating sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. Knowing your interest in this area, I wanted to bring the attached report to your attention, which details disturbing sexual harassment by a former faculty member at the University of Arizona. Despite finding that Dr. Timothy Slater committed a policy violation in the matter of ``sexual harassment, hostile work environment,'' the report and its incriminatory revelation were sealed, and Dr. Slater moved to a new job at the University of Wyoming, where he continues to supervise students and teach workshops. In light of this, I ask that the Office of Civil Rights clarify whether universities that find a Title IX violation by faculty or staff are required to disclose the results of their investigation to other educational institutions.

    The incidents described in the report are alarming. One complainant said that Dr. Slater told her on a regular basis that ``she would teach better if she did not wear underwear'' and ``grabbed her underwear through her dress, stretched it and snapped it, and said `You'd look a whole lot better without these on,' or words to that effect.'' He asked another complainant ``if she knew anything about or was any good at giving blow jobs, because (name deleted) does not like to give or received them--maybe you could give her some pointers.'' Dr. Slater himself admitted that he gave an employee a vegetable-shaped vibrator, that he frequently commented to his employees and students about the appearance of passing women, and that he told one person ``that his personal sexual record was four women in 24 hours.'' Staff spoke directly to a witness who recounted several inappropriate interactions. She observed Dr. Slater instructing an undergraduate student to ``touch your elbows behind your back for me'' in order to scrutinize the student's breasts, and touching graduate students on the leg while making inappropriate statements. At a lab social event at the Slaters' residence, video pornography was shown before dinner. She recounted hearing Dr. Slater tell male colleagues on more than one occasion that he enjoyed teaching large lectures in rooms with stadium seating because the female students in Arizona wear short skirts and often forget to cross their legs. Dr. Slater once required the witness to attend a lunch at a fully nude strip club with him in order to discuss her academic work, with the implied consequence that he would not discuss her work with her if she refused to go. While she was there, she was pressured to attend future lunches at the strip club. According to the witness, it was made clear to her, though never explicitly stated, that if she wanted to function in the lab that she had to take part in this sexualized culture. Because of these incidents, the witness left the field of astronomy.

    Staff spoke directly to another witness, who experienced inappropriate comments and unwanted physical contact from Dr. Slater. At a one-on-one work meeting, he told her that all the other graduate students had sex at his house, that he had video cameras, and asked when she would also have sex at his house. During a lab social, she witnessed Dr. Slater and another lab supervisor stating that at this party, lab members were going to use the Slaters' hot tub naked. Dr. Slater also touched her shoulders and stroked her back while she was teaching, until she sent him a formal email requesting that he stop. Due to the hostile work environment, the witness transferred out of Dr. Slater's group, losing years of progress towards her graduate degree.

    A third witness separately confirmed that Dr. Slater led laboratory outings to strip clubs.

    The Slater report is disturbingly similar to the recent case at the University of California, Berkeley, in which Dr. Geoff Marcy, a prominent astronomer, violated campus sexual harassment policies with minimal consequences for 9 years until his story was publicized through the media. As the University of Arizona did with the Slater case, UC Berkeley kept the final report on Dr. Marcy's behavior confidential, perhaps because, as Science Magazine put it, ``[t]he details of UC Berkeley's inquiry into Marcy's conduct does not reflect well on the institution, with the process stretching for more than 4 years and Marcy given only weak sanctions after repeated promises to reform.'' The final report from UC Berkeley contained a sentence that could be applied equally to Dr. Marcy and Dr. Slater: ``[i]t cannot be overstated how Respondent's inherent influence and authority over the complainants, real or perceived, heightened the impact of his behavior on those experiencing or witnessing it.'' The Slater case, while lurid, is just a symptom of a much larger problem--how to prevent harassment, and effectively deal with it when it occurs. Dr. Slater states that he is now reformed, but there are still few consequences for faculty members who sexually harass students. In some ways, the situation is reminiscent of the Catholic Church's coddling of child-molesting priests. As in the Church, universities protect perpetuators with slap-on-the-wrist punishment and secrecy, while victims are left alone to try to put their academic careers and lives back together. One peer-reviewed study found that over a quarter of women surveyed (and 6% of men) have been sexually assaulted while conducting scientific fieldwork, and 71% of women and 41% of men also reported that they were sexually harassed.

    The profound effect of this dynamic on the participation of women in science cannot be overstated. From 2002 through 2012, women received one-third or fewer of the doctorates awarded in physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science, and as of 2013 one-third or fewer of all tenure or tenure track faculty positions in core STEM fields were held by women. Indeed, all of the victims we talked to suffered career consequences as a direct result of the harassment, including losing years of graduate work, forgoing professional opportunities, and changing fields of study. In the Marcy case, one of the victims, who had aspired to work at NASA, left astrophysics entirely as a direct result of being harassed.

    When students found to have violated university policy through the Title IX disciplinary process transfer to another institution, the university that found the violation may inform the other institution, but is not obligated to do so. While this policy is vastly insufficient, it at least allows universities to have the option to inform other universities of the final results of a disciplinary proceeding. However, no similar guidance exists for faculty or staff. I ask that the Office of Civil Rights issue a clarification on the FERPA or Title IX disclosure requirements when faculty or staff whose conduct violated Title IX transfer to another institution.

    Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Sincerely, Jackie Speier.

  • submit to reddit
  • Register your constituent account to respond

    Constituent Register