I spent much of my undergraduate life in UC Berkeley’s Astronomy department. I was an astrophysics and physics double major for quite a while, and I spent countless hours working with our undergraduate-built rooftop radio telescope (shown), both helping build it and serving as a teaching assistant in the laboratory course we designed around it. (Our article on the rooftop telescope was my first published paper!) It’s especially disturbing, therefore, to read the recent news about a nine-year pattern of sexual harassment by Berkeley astronomy professor Geoff Marcy, as revealed in a recent investigation publicized by Buzzfeed. The behavior is bad enough, but what’s really dismaying, as Michael Eisen and other have pointed out, is that according to Berkeley’s statements there are no consequences other than perhaps a firm talking to for repeatedly behaving in ways that are obviously wrong. “Obviously” is not open to much debate, and it seems like issues with Marcy’s behavior were pointed out to him many times over the past years — you can read the links for details. (New: a good summary from the Chronicle of Higher Education.) The university’s response is that there will be no leniency for future violations. Seriously.
One encouraging development, though, is that nearly all of the Astronomy department faculty have signed a letter stating that Marcy should no longer be part of the faculty. I’m happy, though certainly not surprised, to see that Carl Heiles, the main faculty supervisor of our undergraduate radio astronomy efforts, is a signatory. Working and studying in Berkeley’s astronomy department had an enormous influence on my development as a scientist, and I remember it very fondly as an environment that was stimulating and challenging as well as friendly and supportive. The faculty who worked with us — most notably Prof. Carl Heiles and Dr. Dick Treffers — were wonderful. I’ll also note, by the way, that two of the four student authors on the paper linked above are women — one of whom, unlike me, is now an Astronomy professor.
I hope that other students at Berkeley today and in years to come can have the same sorts of experiences that I did. I’m dismayed that Berkeley’s administration appears to support the activity of a faculty member who, it seems, has very different views on meaningful interactions with students. I wouldn’t advocate sacking him altogether (though I don’t think this is out of the question), but I would at least have hoped for a period of barring Marcy from supervision of and contact with students (with a corresponding loss of pay).
(Note: the title refers to my previous post, not other problems at Berkeley.)
Update: As I was inserting links before posting this, I learned that Geoff Marcy, a few hours ago, resigned from Berkeley’s astronomy department.