Sexual misconduct book chapter ‘spiked’ after professor objects

Editors claim voices of victims are being silenced as future of Routledge book on harassment in academia left in doubt

September 12, 2023
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Two academics say a publisher has permanently withdrawn a chapter of a book they edited on sexual misconduct in universities, with doubts about the future of the entire collection, after a prominent Portuguese sociologist alleged it identified him in relation to claims of harassment.

Sexual Misconduct in Academia: Informing an Ethics of Care in the University was published in March this year by Routledge, part of Taylor & Francis. Chapter 12 details what its three female authors describe as their experiences of sexual harassment at an unnamed institution where they were formerly PhD students or postdocs.

In an interview posted on YouTube, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, emeritus professor of sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, said he was “taken aback by this paper that was published by Routledge – a very offensive paper”.

Professor Santos, who denied any criminal conduct, also said then that “the book is already suspended, temporarily, because it’s so serious – it’s a criminal accusation under the guise of a scientific paper”.

After the book’s publication, a Brazilian politician was reported by Brazilian media to have alleged that she was a victim of sexual harassment by Professor Santos during her time as a PhD student at Coimbra.

The chapter was written by Lieselotte Viaene of the Carlos III University of Madrid, Catarina Laranjeiro of NOVA University of Lisbon and Miye Nadya Tom of the University of Nebraska Omaha.

It does not name the institution in question or individuals – instead detailing allegations about a “star professor and his apprentice”. It also refers to anonymous graffiti repeatedly appearing on walls at the institution alleging sexual misconduct by the “star professor”.

Sexual Misconduct in Academia was edited by Erin Pritchard, senior lecturer in disability and education at Liverpool Hope University, and Delyth Edwards, lecturer in inclusion, childhood and youth at the University of Leeds.

The pair told Times Higher Education in a statement that Routledge told them it had been contacted by a Portuguese lawyer and then received a “cease-and-desist letter” from an individual who claimed to be identified in the chapter.

“On 31 August, Routledge decided to permanently withdraw chapter 12 from the book and handed back the rights of the chapter to the authors, through an email,” Dr Pritchard and Dr Edwards said.

“This final decision was not communicated with or agreed to by us as editors. We are very disappointed that Routledge has taken the decision to permanently withdraw the chapter and possibly the book.

“This is effectively siding with those attempting to silence this book and making minimal attempts to push back against these legal threats without defending academic freedom or the rights of sexual harassment survivors to speak about their experiences.”

Professor Santos, who did not respond to THE’s requests for comment, said in the YouTube interview that his centre had organised an independent commission to look into the issue.

He said that he had committed “errors, but never crimes” in an earlier period, making comments that “would be considered male chauvinistic things” today, such as complimenting women on their appearance.

A Taylor & Francis spokesperson said that “the title Sexual Misconduct in Academia is currently under review” and it was “unable to comment while the review is ongoing”.

Anna Bull, lecturer in education and social justice at the University of York, who wrote the book’s afterword, said the authors “took reasonable steps not to name anyone” in relation to the experiences described in the chapter.

Dr Bull, co-founder of the 1752 Group, a research group addressing sexual harassment in higher education, added: “It is really important for survivors of sexual violence and harassment to be able to talk about their experience and to do so with their own names…People have the right to speak about their experiences.”

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