The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is moving ahead with a policy that would allow it to expel members found guilty of sexual harassment, Nature reported.
The academy’s governing council voted to proceed with the plan on April 30 at the NAS annual meeting in Washington DC. That clears the way for a final vote by the academy’s 2,380 members. The NAS says that the vote will be completed by mid-June, and that a simple majority is needed to finalize the policy.
The proposal would amend the academy by-laws to “permit the NAS Council to rescind membership for the most egregious violations to a new Code of Conduct, including for proven cases of sexual harassment,” the academy said in a statement. The amendment would allow the NAS to oust a member if two-thirds of its governing council approved the action.
But the NAS has not yet finalized the process by which it will evaluate allegations that a member has violated its code of conduct, said president Marcia McNutt. The amendment would give the academy’s governing council the power to develop that process and to approve any changes to it over time.
“The amendment just allows the outcome (removal of a member from the NAS by a vote of 2/3rds of council), but not all of the details by which the NAS would get there. I hope that it will pass the full membership,” McNutt said in an e-mail.
Several academy members told Nature that they support the amendment. “I think it sends a positive signal for accountability and says to the community that even this very prestigious coveted membership is not for everybody,” says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who was sworn in as an NAS member last month. “It’s only reserved for people who respect others.”
Meg Urry, an astrophysicist at Yale, agrees. “People who hit on their students have damaged all of us, and have held back the progress of science. They should not be making decisions about the future of that science,” says Urry, an NAS member.
“It’s probably impossible to repair the damage done by egregious offenses — for example, retrieving the students pushed out of a field, reinstating the colleagues who didn’t measure up to someone who cheated, that kind of thing — but at least we can make sure the offenders are not leaders in the field,” she added.
But others who support the amendment say that it is not enough to deter improper behaviour. “This is a step, a very important one, to state a policy of zero tolerance,” says Eric Rignot, an Earth scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and a new NAS member. “But there is more to do.” He cites studies that suggest punishing people for misconduct isn’t enough to bring about change; instead, doing so requires engaging communities in a broader discussion.
The NAS has come under pressure in recent years to address sexual harassment and misconduct by its members, following the revelations that several had been found guilty of such behaviour by their institutions. And last June, a report released by the NAS, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine found that sexual harassment is pervasive in U.S. science.
The report’s release renewed calls for the NAS to address sexual harassment or misconduct by its members, who are elected for life. An online petition launched in May 2018 by neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has garnered almost 6,000 signatures in favour of expelling NAS members who have been sanctioned for sexual harassment, retaliation or assault. The academy does not currently have a procedure for removing members.
The academy approved a code of conduct in December 2018 that allows any member to report allegations of misconduct – including discrimination, harassment and bullying – by other members. However, it does not specify a mechanism for removing a member found to have violated the policy, Nature added.