Aesthetics for Birds

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An Overview of the ASA Sexual Harassment Scandal


There’s been some controversy recently over a sexual harassment accusation and the ASA’s response to it. It’s worth clearing up some of the misinformation that has spread, and giving a brief (fact-checked) summary of what happened and what continues to cause concern.

In November 2017, at the ASA Annual Meeting, a sexual harassment incident was reported. As Dr. Shelby Moser reports in her public statement, “I did, in fact, write a timeline of events, I did confront the accused (with other members), I did make an official complaint to an ASA Trustee, a trusted and respected member of the Society, who then submitted my complaints to ASA leaders on my behalf.” This account has been confirmed by Dr. Anne Eaton, the ASA Trustee in question.

The ASA did not doubt the credibility of the complaint. It was supported by independent evidence: prior unrelated and, as far as we know, unofficial accusations regarding the same person, in addition to documented email exchanges in Dr. Moser’s case. In response, they took (undisclosed) action to sanction the accused. The ASA has also formulated harassment and discrimination policies, released in July this year.

Recently, however, three things have caused a great deal of concern and frustration among many ASA members.

First, some ASA leadership have claimed that no official complaint was filed, and that the only information the ASA possessed was hearsay, through previous posts at AFB and a third party, viz. Dr. Eaton, the Trustee mentioned above.

In contrast, Dr. Eaton has said that she took herself to be lodging an official complaint. Documentation, including emails and a detailed first-personal account, were supplied by Dr. Moser. Dr. Eaton shared this documentation with ASA Officers, along with the facts of authorship and the information that the documentation was shared with permission from Dr. Moser. In a recent widely-circulated email, Dr. Eaton writes, “If the Officers questioned whether the accuser ‘viewed [me] as her representative,’ they certainly did not act like it.” She also cites an instance of direct communication about the incident between an ASA Officer and Dr. Moser, thereby calling into question the ASA’s claim that there was only communication via a third party.

Dr. Moser recently filed her complaint according to the new procedures outlined in the harassment and discrimination policy. As of yesterday, August 28, Dr. Moser’s renewed complaint has been acknowledged as official by all parties.

Second, Dr. Moser and the accused were both placed on the ASA Annual Meeting Program for 2018.

The Program Committee (PC) operates independently of any oversight from ASA Officers. So while some ASA Officers knew the identities of the accused and the accuser, they didn’t share this information with the PC Chair. At least some members of the 2018 Program Committee (PC) were aware of a complaint, which had become public knowledge after Dr. Eaton’s post here. But it is unclear what, if anything, the PC members knew regarding the complaint and the relevant identities. The ASA has further responded that its new policies are not retroactive, and so cannot be fully brought to bear on the November incident.*

Many frustrated ASA members posted comments on Dr. Moser’s statement, expressing sympathy and solidarity, with some asking that the accused remove himself from the program. Eventually, ASA member Dominic McIver Lopes contacted the accused directly, pointing to Dr. Moser’s post and the comment thread that followed. The accused has since agreed not to attend the conference.

While many ASA members remain disappointed with the ASA’s denial of an official complaint and with the lack of oversight that led to the accused and victim both being placed on the program, each of these problems has been resolved. The third concern, however, has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of many ASA members.

The final concern is that the ASA has yet to issue any sort of apology. While many individuals who are Officers or Trustees have written Dr. Moser to apologize and to express their support, they have done so as individuals and not on behalf of or in their capacity as ASA Officers or Trustees. The ASA itself has not offered any apology, public or private. Relatedly, there is a growing sense that the ASA is excessively prioritizing self-preservation and self-protection over its responsibilities to Dr. Moser and to the increasing number of members who are losing trust in the organization.

*This paragraph has been updated and expanded for clarity.

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