A prominent scholar and professor of geology at Boston University, David R. Marchant, has been found responsible for harassing a former Penn assistant professor years ago during a research trip to Antarctica.
After a 13-month investigation, Boston University officials announced on Nov. 17 that Marchant, who is 55 years old, was found responsible for making “derogatory, sex-based slurs and sexual comments” to Jane Willenbring, then a graduate student at BU, who accompanied Marchant on the Antarctic expeditions between 1999 and 2001. A news report from Science Magazine states that two other women received similar comments from Marchant.
“The investigators found, based on all of the available evidence, that the sexual harassment was sufficiently severe and pervasive so as to create a hostile learning and living environment for Dr. Willenbring at the camp in Antarctica,” the report stated.
Since the confirmation of Marchant’s actions, the tenured professor in the Department of Earth and Environment has been placed on paid administrative leave and will not be on campus. If Marchant decides to appeal but the attempt is unsuccessful, BU announced that it would terminate his faculty appointment.
Willenbring, who worked as an assistant professor at Penn in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science from 2010 to 2016, told Science Magazine that Marchant not only verbally harassed her, but "pelted her with rocks while she was urinating in the field" and "urged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip." However, the report from BU said that investigators "did not find credible evidence" to support these claims of "direct physical attacks, and other types of psychological and physical abuse."
Willenbring said in her complaint that she felt compelled to keep matters quiet until she became an established scholar, in fear that Marchant’s potential retaliation would affect her career. She is now a tenured associate professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
In an email to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Willenbring wrote that she was “pleased that the truth of many women’s experiences was heard and believed,” and that the decisions to hold Marchant accountable for sexual harassment demonstrated BU's commitment to ensuring students’ well-being.
Willenbring’s case against Marchant is the latest in a string of sexual assault allegations made against male faculty members that have come to light in recent months, including a former doctoral student at Penn who reported that the famed literary critic Franco Moretti, now an emeritus professor of humanities at Stanford University, sexually harassed her during a summer seminar.
Three tenured professors at Dartmouth College have also been the target of the New Hampshire attorney general’s investigation of their alleged sexual misconduct.
At Penn, five Graduate School of Education students started a petition to improve sexual harassment policies after various students called attention to instances of sexual harassment by faculty.
According to the 2015 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey of Penn, 42.2 percent of female Penn graduate students who responded reported being victims of sexual harassment.
Additionally, 23 percent of sexual harassment claims made by Penn female graduate students have been directed toward faculty members.
“One of the things that kept coming up was stories of harassment by professors targeting graduate students,” said GSE Ph.D. student Miranda Weinberg, who is also a GET-UP member. “We wanted to address that because we think it’s unacceptable.”