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AAS Issues Statement on Sexual Harassment by Faculty

16 Oct 2015

The AAS Executive Committee (see below) approved the following statement on 15 October 2015:

Last Friday, news organizations reported that one of our colleagues, Prof. Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), was investigated for having sexually harassed at least four women over a period of at least a decade. The two women mentioned by name in the news reports are respected AAS members. Prof. Marcy posted a letter of apology for his behavior on his website, which he also sent to the AAS and to several colleagues, and he has resigned from the UCB faculty and from his position as principal investigator of the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project searching for life beyond Earth.

Scientists do their best work in a respectful environment that “encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas” — to quote the AAS Anti-Harassment Policy, which is codified in our Bylaws. The AAS Ethics Statement states that “All people encountered in one’s professional life should be treated with respect” and furthermore, that “More senior members of the profession, especially research supervisors, have a special responsibility to facilitate the research, educational, and professional development of students and subordinates.” The statement specifically mentions their responsibility for “providing safe, supportive work environments.”

The AAS deplores sexual harassment and expresses its unequivocal support for the people who risk their own professional status by speaking publicly in order to protect others from similar abuse.

The publicity surrounding the recent incident offers an important opportunity for all of us to discuss, within our groups and institutions, what responsibilities we have as professionals and how we can ensure that everyone in our profession is afforded a safe, supportive workplace within which they can thrive. It is unlikely this kind of behavior has occurred at only one institution, and each of us should look carefully to our own spaces. The AAS believes this is a moment in which we can improve our professional climate in important ways, and we encourage everyone to discuss harassment in astronomy with their colleagues and to contribute to its eradication. For our own part, the AAS will create a special task force to expand the AAS Ethics Statement to include procedures to be followed in the event that an AAS member violates any aspect of its provisions.

We live in a special moment for astronomy, with major discoveries and new worlds to uncover. It is a privilege to participate in the quest to understand our universe. If we pay attention to climate and accessibility in our teaching, learning, and research spaces, we will benefit from a broader talent pool, new ideas, and new energy. Astronomy will be the better for it.

AAS Council & Executive Committee

The Council is the governing body of the AAS and is responsible for the management, direction, and control of the Society’s operations and property. The Council generally meets twice each year, at the AAS winter and summer meetings. Acting for the Council between meetings, the Executive Committee comprises the President, Past President or President Elect, two most senior Vice-Presidents, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Officer, and other officers or councilors as designated by the Council. Recent Council resolutions are posted online.

Other Relevant Statements

In addition to the AAS Council's statement, the President of the AAS, Meg Urry of Yale University, wrote a letter to the AAS membership about sexual harassment; it includes additional details about the task force mentioned in the Council statement. She also published an essay entitled "How to End Sexual Harassment in Astronomy" on Scientific American's website.

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) is charged with recommending to the Council practical measures that the AAS can take to improve the status of women in astronomy and encourage their entry into the field. Among the CSWA's many activities is the Women in Astronomy blog, where CSWA chair Christina Richey of NASA Headquarters posted a message to the greater astronomical community about harassment.

Contact:
Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of more than 7,000 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes two of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal.