Confronting Sexual Harassment and Hostile Climates in Higher Education

University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (Michael Righi / Creative Commons)

My friend looked at me over the table. “Can you accept the fact that you are going to lose?”

We didn’t really have a choice.

It was 2005. I was sitting across from a trusted and brilliant co-worker in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During the four years that had led up to this, we had done everything we could to change a climate in our department that was hostile toward women—one that harbored serial sexual harassers and that had a well-documented history of not being able to hire and retain women faculty. We were stressed out and emotionally strung out—and furious that the University of Pittsburgh chose to protect male faculty members in our department, refusing at every turn to address longstanding, well-documented problems in the department. The two of us loved our lives and communities in Pittsburgh, but we didn’t think that we could keep working in a climate that was hostile to women and people of color.

We had just had a meeting of several hours with a feminist lawyer who had agreed to review our case. Like the other lawyers we had consulted, she wasn’t optimistic. Be prepared to devote the rest of your careers to this case, she told us, and expect to be dragged through the mud. They’ll go through every email you ever sent, they’ll dredge up all kinds of evidence to use against you—and Pitt has very deep pockets. Plus, even though you both have tenure, once you get branded as a troublemaker, not only will the retaliation get worse, you’ll find it hard to ever get another job.

We left at the end of that term—the last two tenured women in that department, taking jobs at other universities because we could no longer bear to remain in the jobs we had. But we were the lucky ones: We had tenure and mobility on our sides. Many others did not.

Over a 25 year period, women and people of color—faculty, staff, and graduate students—fled the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Communication. The department only tenured three women in its entire history; it never promoted a woman to the rank of full professor. The official reasons for women’s departures varied: they didn’t get tenure, they got sick, they left for other jobs in new cities, they left to pursue different careers outside higher education. Some of them left and gave no reason at all.

No one found it remarkable when the men stayed.

It’s hard to describe the culture I encountered when I took the job at the University of Pittsburgh. I was a first-generation college and graduate student. It was my first academic job. I was recruited by the department chair, who seemed affable and charming. When my spouse met him later, he hated him at first sight. This senior colleague, my spouse told me, had stared pointedly at my breasts the whole time we were talking. There were other hints of problems within the departmental culture. Warring factions of men wouldn’t speak to each other. The debate coach and his wife had quit right before I got there for reasons no one would talk about. At a social gathering at my department head’s house, his wife engaged my spouse in a conversation about how aesthetically pleasing circumcised penises were and how big feet, she said, staring meaningfully at my spouse’s, were a better indication of penis size than noses. We stopped socializing with them shortly after that.

As the years wore on, indications of what I later learned to identify as a hostile climate began to come into focus. One of my colleague liked to talk about “the erotics of the classroom,” a phrase used in faculty meetings and conversations to justify their sexual interest in students. When pressed on complaints about serial relationships with graduate students, one faculty member said, “we can’t help who we fall in love with,” as if that justified “romances” that happened again and again. A young post-doctoral fellow, recruited by the department chair from a former Soviet country, sobbed in my office because he had promised to bring her eight-year-old son over, but then refused to do so. One of my graduate students told me that he found another post-doctoral fellow sobbing in her office after the department chair—who had assigned himself as her mentor despite his lack of expertise in her field—told her during their first lunchtime meeting that he thought “they should be lovers.” She was promised a tenure track job if she slept with him. Years later, a former administrator from Pitt told me that one faculty member had sex with a graduate student in his basement workshop, while his wife cooked dinner in the kitchen above.

It appeared to me and my peers that, when possible, the department hired men who were, as one of my colleagues put it, socially like them—meaning that they engaged in these behaviors, or could be counted on to be silent in the face of them. This created, as my colleagues in Faculty Against Rape put it, a “nest” of predators. In one case, they extended a job to a faculty member who studied “Asian facial cum shots,” using psychoanalytic theory to argue that the women who had been ejaculated on relished their humiliation. The only reason this faculty member did not join the department was that he beat his wife nearly to death in front of their small daughter and then committed suicide while in jail.

After I began to connect the dots, I began to recognize a pattern that included at least three male faculty members who made a practice of sleeping with graduate students. I complained to two different department chairs, two different deans, an associate dean, affirmative action and the Office of General Counsel. No one paid attention to my complaints—or, as I found out later, the complaints being made by other women in the department at the same time. Instead, the department began retaliating against us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I was removed from hiring committees. Graduate students were told not to work with me. My concerns were repeatedly dismissed and ridiculed.

When I had the opportunity to temporarily get out of the department to head the Women’s Studies Program at Pitt, I grabbed it like a lifeline—but I was still teaching and mentoring faculty and students in the Department of Communication. I found myself unable to leave the unfairness of the departmental culture and its deep misogyny and racism behind. During one of my meetings with the associate dean, I was told that the department was heading toward a major external review, an opportunity for the department to reflect on its accomplishments and challenges, with the assistance of external reviewers from other universities. Talk to the external reviewers, the associate dean urged me and other women faculty members, tell them about your concerns that faculty sleeping with graduate students and harassing women were creating a hostile climate. Tell them about your experiences of retaliation. Then, he said, we might be able to do something about the problem.

We fought the department for the right to speak individually with the external reviewers. (The men didn’t want us to.) The voices of some brave graduate students were so compelling that the external reviewers used the language of litigation to make sure the university would be compelled to act. “Senior faculty,” the report concluded, “routinely and repeatedly have engaged in consensual sexual relationships with graduate students.” The climate, the external reviewers concluded, was “unsafe for female graduate students.”

In the wake of the review, the university swiftly closed ranks around the men. They gaslighted us. Instead of investigating the men, they investigated us—questioning our students, in one case, about whether we had smoked pot with them; trotting out every tired stereotype used to shame and demean women who challenge toxic work cultures. We were difficult, uncollegial, unreasonable, prone to hysterics. They questioned and undermined our sense of reality and tried to turn us against each another. They lied and then called us liars. The men organized themselves into a bloc, meeting privately at someone’s home to strategize. When someone leaked the external review to the press, the dean told the reporter that the university’s investigation had proved that there was “no evidence of any current faculty/student relationships”—a bald-faced lie, since the following year one of the men began living with the graduate student with whom he had been having an affair. Although when we left, every woman in the department cited the departmental culture as the reason for leaving, this same dean repeatedly told the press that we left because of “attractive opportunities elsewhere.”

Legal scholars Nancy Chi Cantalupo and William C. Kidder report that serial sexual harassers “appear to be ‘open secrets’” on college campuses. That was certainly our experience. For decades, men in departments like these, protected by institutions of higher education, have been able to conceal their behaviors from public view. In the case of the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Communication, the men rode out a whole series of storms that threatened to expose their behaviors: In the early 1990s, the fallout from an EEOC case brought by one man against another included an order stipulating that one faculty member could not have contact with graduate students for several years; two years later, the department denied tenure to a woman for reasons that were overlooked and instead hired a man with far fewer credentials (but he, they said, was brilliant); in a one-year period the last three tenured women faculty in the department departed, and an external review explicitly said that “the department was unsafe for female graduate students.”

My experiences at Pitt showed me how easy it is for administrators to remain blind to hostile climates, especially when the men who create those climates are perceived as charming, reasonable, handsome, cultured and easygoing. They aren’t the ones who are kicking up a storm, contacting the press, creating all kinds of headaches for the university, including bad PR and possible lawsuits. The university and the department had a convenient script to explain the situation: the problems stemmed from women who were uncollegial, difficult personalities, tough, unyielding. If it hadn’t been for us, so the story went, there would have been no problems in the department, no dirty secrets, no nasty headaches for the university’s general counsel.

The privileges that let me close the elevator door on that floor of Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning were immense. I have a spouse who never questioned what I was telling him or suggested that it was my fault, who was willing to move across the country because he saw how miserable I was. Because of him, I had economic stability, which many of my colleagues and graduate students did not enjoy. My heterosexuality and whiteness provided additional protections; over time, I learned all the ways in which my colleagues who were queer and/or of color had been targeted in more direct and cruel ways. Because of these privileges, I now have a job in a department that could not be more different than the one I left all those years ago.

When I left the Department of Communication, I thought I had closed the door on that part of my life—but the department has haunted my career. At a conference four years after I left, an assistant professor from another university told me that she had recognized the department I was talking about in my presentation—and that as an undergraduate there, she too had been harmed. Two years later, I was contacted by a Title IX investigator about my old department head because there had been a series of complaints against him at his new job at another university. A year after that, I heard about a pattern of bias and harassment in the Department of Communication that was all too familiar. And just two weeks ago, I was sitting at another table in yet another city when a person I had never seen before started telling a story about a hostile climate in a department I immediately recognized as the one I thought I had left behind in 2005.

At a faculty meeting in 2017, one of the candidates running for chair of the department based his campaign on a platform against diversity, delivering a speech made almost inchoate in its rage. “This all comes to start when it comes to the orthodoxy of the church,” he said. “Sure enough, if you look around, the university has hired a vice chancellor in charge of the dogma, who has established the institution for diversity which is very interesting here. It doesn’t sell indulgences, but buys believers through stipends. It even opened a new category in our oratorical competition by buying itself into it. Soon, also, along the same lines, the university will be making a course in diversity a part of students’ general education requirements. There you have it. Top down, strong armed tactics and inquisition in the form of raised eyebrows.”

Is it any surprise that women faculty and graduate students and faculty and students of color feel unwelcome?

I have made my peace with leaving. But I will never make my peace with the fact that the same culture that made so many of us leave has been allowed to reproduce itself, unchecked by the institution. In the years since I left, I have had encounters with many department cultures—as a chair and a dean. I have never encountered a departmental culture as twisted and toxic as the one at University of Pittsburgh. It made people sick. It prevented undergraduates and graduate students from finishing degrees and pursuing desired careers.

When the University of Pittsburgh refused to hold people accountable for abuses of power, when it allowed people with multiple complaints against them to continue to teach, when they exported these behaviors to other institutions by passing the trash (e.g. allowing serial predators to leave institutions rather than be reprimanded) and socializing new generations of male students into racist and misogynistic behaviors and practices, that institution and others guaranteed that new generations of students, faculty and staff will continue to be put in harm’s way.

The stories of the women who have been harmed by that culture are not my stories to tell. Nor are the stories of the people harmed by the men who left that department, or were harmed by the men who were socialized and groomed within that culture.

But really, this is not a story about any individual one of us. This is a story about a longstanding pattern of institutional harm that cost far too many people a great deal.

This story isn’t about #MeToo. It is about #ThisStopsHere.

Carol Stabile is chair of the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, managing editor of the Fembot Collective, co-editor of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology and editor of the Feminist Media Studies book series. Her books include Feminism and the Technological Fix and White Victims, Black Villains: Gender, Race, and Crime News in US Culture and the forthcoming The Broadcast 41: Women and the Broadcast Blacklist. Her articles have appeared in Camera Obscura, Cultural Studies, and South Atlantic Quarterly.

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Ms. believes in serving as a platform for women’s voices. Personal essays are just that—personal testimony. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Ms. or its staff.


  1. Rockerbabe says:

    I am in healthcare, but I want to thank you for standing up for other women in their struggles against abuse and mistreatment. Your actions, while being stymied along the way, have given voice and hope to those who have been hurt by the University of Pittsburg administration and faculty. I also say, you should go after their funding. . .getting hurt in the pocketbook often spurs the higher ups to action. Good luck!

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Thank you, rockerbabe. I think the hope is that university administrators realize how much their tolerance of truly bad behaviors undermines their mission at every level. Unfortunately, I think you’re right that unless the bottom line is on the line, institutions have been reluctant to take action against perpetrators and those who protect them. But few of us are in positions to mount costly legal actions.

  2. Geoff Langdale says:

    I was at parties in Pittsburgh with people from the Communications Department and can confirm that Carol’s story here about (a) open display of faculty-student relationships and (b) subsequent departmental lying about it is 100% true. I also know and trust numerous other people from the department with many more horror stories that are not mine to share, but are completely consistent with what Carol is saying. Obviously a random dude chiming in isn’t that significant (not trying to pull the “oh, now a man says it, it must be true” gag). However, I did want to support this, as while there are many other witnesses, many of them are still working in the field and are subject to retaliation by senior academics. Many of the dodgy bastards are still floating around and no doubt sit on publication and promotion committees all over the academy.

    Dr Geoff Langdale

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Thanks, Geoff, and thanks for reminding me to add this point, which is something that non-academics might not realize. Not only were multiple men sleeping with graduate students, they were also involved in making decisions about scholarships, teaching assistantships, and other resources. In fact, I only realized what was going on when I was sitting on a committee with one of the men whose passionate and (then) inexplicable advocacy for one graduate student raised everyone’s eyebrows. Behaviors like that compromised the department’s integrity and undermined its mission.

  3. Thank you, Carol, for speaking truth to power. As a 1990 Pitt grad, I can validate some of this culture, though I was not aware of the extent or the levels of institutional response. I do know some fine people that have been associated with the Department, and I remain hopeful that as cultural norms progress there is the possibility of positive change.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear SAM — I had the most amazing undergraduates and graduate students at Pitt, as well as many wonderful colleagues outside the department. The women who left were extraordinary as well.

  4. Roberta Astroff says:

    “I have never encountered a departmental culture as twisted and toxic as the one at University of Pittsburgh. It made people sick. It prevented undergraduates and graduate students from finishing degrees and pursuing desired careers.” Truth. Female grad students were “invited” to meet with their male advisors in the advisors’ homes, and told me how attending annual conferences included sex with their advisors. The sheer level of hostility in the department was stunning, with one faculty member heading into a faculty meeting relishing the idea of “blood running in the hallways.” The year after they refused to tenure me, they tenured a male assistant professor with one-third the number of publications I had. I don’t think he published anything after that. After a former grad student of mine spoke to me about this recently, I had a nightmare about working there, the first in a long time. They used to be a regular occurrence. Thank you for writing about this. Thank you for the action you took.

    • Hiroshi Nara says:

      I would like to hear more specifics, names, events and dates, and such. I know our current dean won’t tolerate something like this and it would be good for the communication dept to cut it all out and clean out
      this kind of behavior. I’m on the faculty at Pitt.

      • Carol Stabile says:

        Dear Professor Nara,

        A Pitt alum wrote to me after this article. They said that when they talk to anyone at the university, the response is, “That department has always been a mess.” Administrators have access to complaints that have been filed over the years. The current Title IX investigation will also yield information. I’d also add that hostile climates make it difficult for people to speak up about problems, especially in a situation where there’s such a long history of institutional tolerance of these behaviors.

    • Prof 1, Female WOC.
      At a doctoral health care program, our most important class was taught by 2 profs, one male & one female, both POC. Both had many yrs of experience & were excellent. The head of the dept had some beef w/the female prof. I heard her called her a derogatory name alluding to her heritage & gender. She was removed & replaced with a BRAND NEW GRADUATE, no additional 2 yr post doc work in the field, no Board certification – NOTHING. She even had terrible reviews from other students bc she was extremely rude, particularly to attractive women but would lavish attn on nice-looking males. My friend told me some profs favored blondes – maybe that gave her a hiring advantage. But she was COMPLETELY UNQUALIFIED.
      During the yr, the prof (who lost her job) was YELLED at in the middle of class for absolutely no reason by a white male student who was a known asshole / bully. He sent a reluctant apology to the class, acknowledging he only sent it bc his friends told him to. Of course, he was also on the student disciplinary committee almost every year.

      Prof 2, Female white.
      I really did expect more sexism but was pleasantly surprised it was not worse. Until this prof arrived. The claws for her really came out – the males in the class were TERRIBLE to her, insulted her for no reason (bc she didn’t do anything). CONSTANT belittling behind her back. She was a superior prof – excellent teacher. Never missed a beat. Knew everything backwards forwards. Fantastic. And a nice, reasonable person. I was so angry for her. I don’t kno how she tolerated it w/o anyone to stick up for her publicly. So I did in my evaluation (which I knew everyone read) – I called out the sexism & said it wasn’t her fault. I think her crime was that she was a confident, capapble, stable woman.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear Roberta — You were treated abysmally by those people. I was untenured when you went up for tenure, but the word was that you had to have a book to be tenured (a process, I should add, that was overseen by a number of male faculty who had not published books). And as you point out, they turned around and tenured a male assistant professor with far fewer publications and no book shortly after you left. That department talked a lot about “excellence” in a kind of “know it when you see it” way. It was my first experience of how that word gets used to diminish and devalue work that some academics just don’t like.

  5. Thank you for writing this, Carol. I just left a job at another university partially because of a hostile environment (and partially because I had to absorb several other full time position work) and there are so many things you have said which ring very true for me and others who I worked with. We had a Faculty Genius in our department who made professional life a living hell.

    What really hurts me the most is that the older women in my department saw his behavior, acknowledged his behavior, but ultimately their problem was with my reaction to him. They had survived a long line of men like him and patted themselves on the back for being able to withstand it. One of them was my superior, and she did everything she could to make things “fair” when I complained about his unwanted touching, close talking, manipulation and threats. Since I gave her a hug once (or rather accepted one from her), she concluded I must not have a problem with touching and I was just targeting him. All I wanted was for this to stop, and for it not to happen to anyone else. Frankly, him getting fired would be like pigs flying. Our expectations are so low that all we want is to be able to survive.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear Anya — There are so many incentives in academe for people — including other women — to not stand up to bullies and harassers. Sometimes senior women who have had to deal with harassment as they came up the ranks treat this as a kind of hazing that you just have to get through. I remember an event at Pitt that was billed as being for women in administration and the advice the woman who was leading it gave to us was: “When you’re swimming with sharks, stay away from the wounded.” I would also add that when you’re in a hostile departmental culture, it’s not always easy or simple to do the right thing. I’m sorry that you had to deal with a Faculty Genius and that you had to leave your department as well, Anya. I hope that your new gig is a better one.

  6. Michelle Rodino-Colocino says:

    Thank you for sharing this account and for calling for harassment and assault as usual to stop! #ThisStopsHere

  7. Susan Harris Smith says:

    Thank you for speaking out about a problem which has not been confined to one department at Pitt and which has been covered up or tolerated for far too long.

  8. Kimberly Latta says:

    I taught in the English department during the time when Carol was fighting for equality and justice at the University. Everything she says in this piece is absolutely true. I also left the University because of the sexism pervasive throughout the University of Pittsburgh’s power structure, not just in the department of Communications, but also in Philosophy and English. Thank you, Carol, for writing about this toxic misogyny at Pitt in such an eloquent and moving manner. You are helping many people.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Kimberly — I’ve been following your own fight to get Berkeley to account for what happened to you. Thank you. I wish that people would talk more about the long term impact of sexual violence on lives and careers. I keep thinking about all the research on why women are underrepresented in the ranks of senior faculty at institutions around the country. Wish someone would talk about the role that sexual violence plays in this instead of blaming it on women’s shortcomings as scholars.

  9. Megan Hamm says:

    Carol was an absolutely fantastic, challenging, nurturing teacher and mentor to me in the Pitt Women Studies program right around this time. I stayed at Pitt for grad school in another department, lost touch with her during the first year or so of the program, and then found she was gone when I went to look her up when I was in the middle of the program. I cannot say how profoundly sorry I am to know that this was happening during the time period I knew her as a student, and how angry I am to know that she had to leave Pitt because of this environment (though I am so glad she’s not in that environment anymore).

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear Megan — So nice to hear that you finished a grad degree and thank you for this very kind message. I had the best students at Pitt, both undergraduate and graduate.

  10. ThisStopsHere says:

    What an important piece. Thank you for sharing. This is an endemic problem in our higher education system–when I was an undergraduate at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, there were at least a dozen complaints against a male professor of Anthropology for systematic sexual harrassment of students. The College did nothing to prevent or address this issue and allowed it to continue. Just disgusting.


    What a disgrace!

  12. As a Pitt alumnus and college professor, this sickens me. I am glad that you are speaking out. Folks like you are changing the culture for future academics.

  13. lisa flores says:

    Thank you, Carole

  14. Thank you—this article provides language for the hard-to-articulate issues of isolation and reputation smearing that happens to those who speak up. Especially useful is your description of older, female colleagues who somewhat normalize this behavior—I have experienced that and until now could not adequately explain it.

  15. As a current female graduate student within the department you speak of, I sympathize wholeheartedly and I believe this is a much larger problem within academia. However, I wish you had reached out to current graduate students within the department today. I have. We have a much different experience than you did 12 years ago. You have every right to tell your story but please do not make it ours. Please do not make the voice of one individual professor you cite in 2017 the voice of several well-meaning, caring, responsible, professors.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear anon,
      Some people had positive experiences in the department when I was there. Many of us didn’t. Even 12 years ago, some had much worse experiences than I did. Race, age, sexual orientation, marital status — all these combined in unstable variations. And the culture of a department isn’t necessarily about intent: it’s about how we deal with those negative experiences in ways that can improve climates for all the people who work in those spaces.

  16. Thank you, Carol! You have taken such a brave stance repeatedly and I hope that this has a ripple effect.

  17. Jules Thompson says:

    Thank you, Carol Stabile, for publishing this important article. As a post-doc in the Department in the late 1990s, I was the woman harassed multiple times by the same male faculty member. I’m the woman who was told by the guy who presented himself as my mentor–despite the fact he had no background in contemporary rhetorical theory generally or in feminist/queer rhetorical theory (in particular)–that if I slept with him, I’d be a finalist for a tenure-track job in the department. I left the department for a different institution, but had to deal with backlash for several years. I had nightmares and panic attacks. I eventually left the field–and a tenure-track job–and entered a different academic profession. I have great memories of the students in my courses at Pitt, and am still in touch with several of them. I’m glad that we have reconnected, Carol. Because #ThisStopsHereandNow.

  18. Thank you! Your clear voice and honest discussion will lead to a safer environment for all. As a Pitt alumnus, I am grateful for your stepping forward to push this issue into the spotlight.

  19. Alyssa Truszkowski says:

    Thank you for writing this and speaking out. I was an undergraduate student in the department and I graduated in 2006. As an undergrad, you always heard whispers about relationships between graduate students and (typically married) faculty or other affairs– but your article gives greater context to the abuses of power that were/are going on.

    Two incredible professors from the Department of Communication, that I studied under, left Pitt during my time there. Their courses, especially their special topics courses, and their research were highly engaging. For those of us who wanted to study gender, race, culture, and mass media– their absence was deeply felt and even mourned at the undergraduate level. I believe more of us would have pursued advanced degrees studying feminism, media production, and communications– had Pitt been able to retain faculty with a high caliber of character who were experts in these areas. I know I would have. This is a failing of Pitt.

    After those two faculty members left, my limited interactions with the remaining full-time faculty in the department made pursing an academic career in a Communications-related field undesirable (save for one specific professor.) On top of that, the rumors swirling the department eroded students’ trust and the professional reputations of graduate students and faculty alike. As a young adult looking to find mentorship from your faculty, it was near impossible to sign up for or take a course without wondering if your professor or TA was one of the people in the stories you had heard.

    I’m an education professional at a R1 university now. (Any readers feeling nosy can go ahead and look me up on LinkedIn and verify this. I stand behind what I am saying here.) I am grateful for the education and the skills I gained from my department during my time there but I am angered and saddened by what was happening behind the scenes. I am disappointed that my tuition dollars went to fund the salaries of these abusers and harassers or helped pay to cover up their trespasses. Pitt needs to do better.

  20. I am at Pitt staff member for 46 years and was an officer for the Staff Assn Council at the time you were employed by Pitt. I was aware of the Climate at the time at your department. While we have a new Chancellor and a new General Counsel, new VC of Human Resources as well as a Provost… I witnessed some shocking events that I could not believe were able to continue. These incidents were at the highest level of Administration. I was fortunate that in my school, propriety and integrity were words we used everyday and lived by them. Thank you or your voice for all women of every color, shape and size. And all people of inclusion and Diversity. The staff at Pitt actually proposed this committee and it continues till this day. May a change be forthcoming…

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear Staff member,

      Reading your post reminded me that I did not mention the impact of this climate on staff as well. One of our longterm admin assistants left shortly before I did because of the tolerance within the department for abusive behavior toward staff (faculty would yell at her, when she complained about behaviors, she was retaliated against). In one of the last emails she sent me, she asked whether I thought that one of the faculty members was a classic abuser. I don’t believe that the external reviewers even spoke to staff about the problems in the department, even though some had been there longer than faculty and were on the front lines of many of the problems. I am very sorry that I too overlooked this dimension of the problem.

  21. This is terrible. However, where is the support for racism? You mention it, but you never offer an example.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear DNA,

      Thank you for asking this question. As a white person, I was mindful that I needed to not tell other people’s stories. I will say that when I left, it was clear that I was treated very differently than my colleague of color (who left at the same time). The retaliation against them was of a level and intensity that I did not experience. The speech I quote in the article, moreover, from a 2017 faculty meeting, does provide evidence of the racial climate in the department. It was the kind of diatribe against inclusivity and diversity that was routine when I was in the department (including a syllabus one professor proposed that openly mocked efforts to teach courses on women and people of color). These behaviors were pervasive. They sent a clear message that the kind of research diverse faculty conducted was worthy only of contempt. That that continues today is evident in the fact that a faculty member could run for chair of the department on a platform that compares education about diversity to “strong armed tactics and inquisition in the form of raised eyebrows.”

  22. I am sympathetic to your experiences in 2005 and in no way doubt their credibility, although I am unable to support this article due to some qualms I have with its framing.

    I find your inclusion of the quote from the faculty member running for chair in 2017 disingenuous and purposely incendiary when removed from context. Yes, that was said, but you frame it in a way as if to say, “See here! This represents the views of the entire department today!” when in fact that could not be farther from the truth. As I recall, he did not receive the position, nor do I think he received a single vote following that egregious rant. As a scholar, I would expect more than out-of-context anecdotes meant to support such aggressive claims. Furthermore, I can only surmise that you included this anecdote in order to make your experiences in 2005 relevant to today. As you no longer work at Pitt and have not for 12 years, this seems like a bit of a stretch. This would have been a much better article and a much better rallying cry for the graduate students and female and POC faculty members, who you appear to want to be an ally with, if you had spent some time discussing ways to empower and motivate them within their department rather than using this article as a source of cathartic grandstanding.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      I appreciate your comment. I can only say that the person who shared that quotation had a very different experience of the meeting and what happened than you did.

  23. Danae Clark says:

    I was the first woman tenured in this department (1995) and the first to leave it (2003) due to the hostile working conditions. Though not a target of sexual harassment myself, I was retaliated against when I stood up for another woman. I met multiple times with the chair of the department, but he refused to acknowledge the fact that women felt unsafe. Instead, he accused women of being “out to get someone” and reduced the situation to “he said/she said.” Against evidence, he defended the “he,” and the men in the department circled their wagons. It was ugly. During my exit interview with the dean, I warned that if nothing was done, other women – both faculty and grad students – would leave. Nothing was done. Thanks, Carol, for giving this cesspool of events the exposure it deserves.

    • Carol Stabile says:

      Dear Danae,
      Thank you for this. I’m so glad this gave us the opportunity to reconnect. I appreciated what you tried to do for those of us left behind there, even as you felt that you had no choice but to leave. The department’s record on retention of women faculty speaks volumes about the problems there.

  24. mike ference says:

    Will the University of Pittsburgh ever have to answer for the cover-up involving Catholic priest Father John Wellinger drugging former Pitt student Greg Witkowski. If the chancellor of Pitt would like more details to complete a thorough and objective investigation into sexual cover-ups, I can be reached at 412-233-5491.

  25. Howard Roark says:

    I and several of my colleagues left another University with a famous football turf due to similar problems, but in this case a group of faculty and administrators (including Dean) were the problem. They formed a crony group which was engaged in gender-based discrimination (against qualified males) and discrimination based on national origin. The college-wide promotion and tenure decisions, selection to serve on guaranteed funding proposals, selections to important committees were based on who was in “the club,” irrespective of academic qualifications. Even faculty from the club were free to openly plagiarize from others without any reprimand, and the affected faculty were retaliated against when brought it to the notice.

    The root of the problem lies when promotions, tenure, and Administrator selection decisions are not based on academic output, but on who goes to who’s party, or who’s in certain club. The toxicity in Pitt seems to be extreme, but there are several other places that could use some cleaning.

  26. I found this article because Pitt alumni received an email from the Chancellor about it. I want to join the chorus of thanks, and confirm what other commenters have said, that the toxic environment was not confined to the Communications department. I did my PhD at Pitt and was pretty fed up with my field (philosophy of science) by the time I graduated, largely for climate reasons—both sexism and racism. I’m willing to post this comment publicly because I’ve left academia. Plenty of victims still in the field have no such freedom to speak up.

  27. I graduated from Pitt’s History department with a BA in 2005, and then from the School of Law in 2009, safe in my bubble of male, white privilege (i.e. without having noticed any discernible hints of the sort of misconduct you discuss).

    I take some pride in having gone to Pitt; I liked it there, and feel I got a good education at a good value. The fact that the opportunity to enjoy a similarly positive experience was withheld from women among Pitt’s student body and faculty by predatory harassers saddens and disgusts me.

    From that vantage, thank you for speaking out. I only hope that Pitt’s administrators have the integrity to root out this problem.

  28. Oh, Pitt.
    As a student, I was told I couldn’t get a job at the athletic department because I’d have to travel with the team on weekends and they’d have to get me my own hotel room since I was a woman and that would cost extra money. I understand, don’t I?
    That was Four years ago. I dropped the part of my education related to the job I wanted and never went for another student job there because I felt like I’d be a “burden”.
    But at least I’m not paying Pitt for that extra degree. So that actually lost the college money because he told me that.

  29. Karen Shalala Norris says:

    As a former tenured faculty member in the School of Medicine at Pitt, I can say that the immoral culture extends across campus and beyond sexual harassment and gender-based pay discrimination. In addition to hearing complaints over the years from student, medical residents and fellows regarding sexual harassment, I experienced the pattern of administrative coverup and harassment following my reporting of extensive research misconduct by a male colleague. All effort and expense directed by the administrative “boys’ club” was brought to bear to force my departure and protect the male faculty member, no matter the egregious level of admitted misconduct. Like you, I was able to bring these charges to light because I was tenured and successful in my position. I share so much of the experience you have written about: being dragged through the mud professionally and finally deciding to leave the toxic environment because the retribution would likely never end. I continue to seek correction of this through litigation, but as you correctly state, Pitt has deep pockets and unfortunately local judges who are Pitt Law faculty members. I applaud your efforts to continue to bring light to this toxic, immoral culture.

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