Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: It shouldn’t take a push from the media for BU to stand up against sexual harassment

A little over a year ago, David Marchant, a professor in Boston University’s earth and environment department, was accused of several accounts of sexual harassment. It quickly became clear that the research trips he led to Antarctica were wrought with sexual harassment and a slew of other inappropriate behavior.

Last month, we wrote an editorial urging BU to take some action against Marchant — his tenure position and the case’s statute of limitations notwithstanding. On Friday, in an email to the faculty, University Provost Jean Morrison announced that this had finally been done — the university placed Marchant on paid leave, and barring a successful appeal process, will be terminating him from his position at BU.

The school spent 13 months investigating these allegations, but the results of the investigation were well worth their time. They were able to find sufficient evidence of Marchant’s wrongdoings to begin the process of firing him. The task of terminating a tenured professor is a really complex and difficult one, but this was still a long time coming — BU will be far better off without a professor like Marchant in their ranks.

There is no doubt here that the university made the right call. They also probably took the right amount of time to do it. But it’s pretty hard not to wonder if this would have gone down the same way without the dozens of high-profile allegations that have been littering the news cycle this month — all right in step with Marchant’s case.

BU didn’t even publicly acknowledge their investigations of Marchant until the original Science Magazine article all but forced them to. The media attention that followed almost certainly expedited the process of Marchant’s termination. We wish we could say that BU would have made the exact same call even without Harvey Weinstein and all of the allegations we’ve seen since — but that’s not something we will actually ever know.

What we do know is that Eric Ruske, the College of Fine Arts professor who was accused of sexual harassment by two students, is still a professor at BU. Of course every one of these cases is different — they have different evidence and different witnesses and different degrees of certainty — but it’s hard not to notice that these two cases have been handled very differently, and that one professor had the fortune to have been exposed before sexual misconduct was so in the spotlight, while the other was not so lucky.

This past month has seen a domino effect of sexual misconduct allegations, all adding up to expose this phenomenon that is far worse than anyone ever imagined. Even within Marchant’s case this pattern was clear, as one accuser’s story coming out led several other women to step forward with their own.

Sexual harassment has been on the forefront of everyone’s minds ever since the story about Harvey Weinstein broke. When the same thing happened with David Marchant just a few days later, the university was put under an enormous amount of pressure to get Marchant off their payroll. And thanks to this pressure, they were able to gain enough momentum to do the right thing. But they really should have been able to do the right thing regardless.

Eric Ruske’s court date is yet to come, and whether or not the conversation about sexual misconduct has died down by then, his fate should remain the same. But regardless of what happens on the legal end of things, the fact still stands that he has no place at BU.

Innocent until proven guilty is a hallmark of democracy, as it should be. But it certainly shouldn’t take until the media practically forces institutions to take action for them to do so. As much as we hate to say it, it’s entirely possible that people in positions of power at BU will take advantage of those positions in the future. Should the university wait for outside pressure to take a strong stance against these actions, rather than doing so on their own moral fortitude, they would be doing a massive disservice to their students.

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