Archive for October 23, 2017

The Bullying Scandal in Zurich

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 23, 2017 by telescoper

Yesterday I came across a story about bullying in the Institute of Astronomy at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich in Switzerland (known universally as ETH Zürich). You can find details here (in German) or here (in English, as produced by Google translate).

The allegations contained in this piece are so serious that they have resulted in the closure of the Institute of Astronomy. Two senior members of the faculty are currently on sabbatical and have had their positions transferred to the Department of Physics. You can read the substance of this case in the link I’ve provided so I won’t elaborate further here and will restrict myself to making a couple of points.

First, while this is not the type of case of sexual harassment with which we are becoming regrettably familiar in Astronomy and elsewhere, it does seem to be a product of the same systemic problem: an excessively hierarchical management structure that places far too much power in the hands of prominent individuals at the expense of junior colleagues. Moreover, as in so many other cases, the institutional response seems to be to protect the senior staff rather than to deal with the underlying issues. The institution has allegedly taken over a decade to respond to the accusations of bullying. What compensation or other redress is being offered to those who have been bullied in the Institute of Astronomy during this time? I suspect the ETH just wants to keep the lid on this scandal and hopes it goes away by the time the individuals involved return from `gardening leave’. That is not an adequate response to a situation so serious that it necessitated the closure of an entire Institute. Ironically, just a month ago, ETH Zürich hosted a meeting on `Equal Opportunity at Work’.

That brings me to my second point. The article describing this case changes the names of the principal protagonists, perhaps for legal reasons. The allegations are directed at `Gabriella M.’ who arrived at the Institute at the same time (2002) as her British husband `Paul F.’. This information is sufficient to allow anyone working in Astronomy to identify the two immediately. Anyone not familiar with the Astronomy world could arrive at the same conclusion in a few minutes with a little bit of googling (as a non-astronomy friend of mine proved on Facebook last night). I don’t know why the report I’ve linked to felt the need to disguise the identities of these people, but I see no reason to play along with the attempted anonymity even if it were not so badly botched.

The (female) Professor against whom the allegations of bullying have been made is Marcella Carollo and her husband is Simon Lilly. You will see if you look at the Wikipedia page for Marcella Carollo that it has been edited a number of times to include the news presented in the report I linked to, but the editors have been undoing the changes on the grounds that they represent `vandalism’ of a biographical page. Nowadays telling the truth is `vandalism’, apparently.

I might get into trouble for posting this information, but I feel I’m acting in the public interest and anyway I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble…

UPDATE:

Advertisements