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Will the Geoff Marcy scandal change educational institutions’ attitude about sexual harassment?

Geoff Marcy was considered to be an icon in the field of astronomy. He is known worldwide for his work discovering planets in far away solar systems. Now, he is known worldwide for this proclivity to sexually harass students.

The scandal that drove Marcy to resign from UC Berkeley was not just about his actions, but about the inaction of the institution itself in refusing to deal with accusations levelled against him.

The scandal revolving around Marcy’s actions raised questions regarding the university administration’s inaction when accusations were levelled against him. Were they too indifferent or too intimidated to put a stop to a famous man who sexually harassed his female students? Was it too inconvenient to properly address the harassment when the harasser was a star of their astronomy department and of the scientific community?

There may never be a clear answer to that question, but the facts do speak clearly for themselves. Marcy broke the rules, students complained, and the university looked the other way. The scandal took on a life of its own, forcing Marcy to resign from his position at the university and his role as a principal investigator for the Breakthrough Listen project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, though he had some kind of agreement hammered out that may have allowed him to remain at both.

For years, UC Berkeley administration studiously avoided the Marcy situation, even though many on campus, including his colleagues, knew about his behavior. However, within just five days, once the full scope of Marcy’s actions was revealed to an international audience, Marcy was gone. Was this indicative of a change in attitude on the part of the university or a profound shift in public opinion condemning such behavior?

While it would be gratifying to think educational institutions are fed up with those who push the boundaries and bend or ignore sexual harassment policies, it does not appear that those places of higher education actually want to deal with such behavior. If they did, Marcy would have been properly punished a number of years ago.

It appears the bottom line for many educational edifices and corporate boardrooms continues to be, “Silence is golden to protect the Golden Goose.”

What happened to the basic right of students to expect a good education and feel safe from harassment and abuse while they are in school or at work? Where is it written that it is okay for a famous person to sexually harass students because he or she brings prestige and money to the university or acclaim to a business?

Each individual is accountable for his or her actions — period. When those illegal, unethical and morally corrupt actions are tacitly condoned, the perpetrator is enabled to continue his or her deplorable actions. But they are not invincible. They do eventually pay the price for their actions; but what is the cost to their victims?

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