`Pass-the-Harasser’ … to Turku

I noticed yesterday evening that there has recently been a substantial increase in the number of people viewing my posts about Christian Ott, the former Caltech Professor who eventually left his job there after harassing and committing ‘gender-based discrimination’ against two female students there.

It wasn’t difficult to find out why there had been an upsurge in interest: Christian Ott has got a new job, at the University of Turku, in Finland. As far as I understand the situation – and please correct me if I’m wrong – he was `head-hunted’ for this position, so his appointment was not the result of an open competition and it seems the position was specifically created just for him.

UPDATE: the post was advertised here, but the gap between the deadline for applications – 10th December 2017 – and the appointment being announced is too short to be consistent with the usual processes of academic appointments. Moreover, the advertised job descriptions includes teaching duties; see below for why this is relevant.

Not surprisingly both the appointment itself and the circumstances by which it was brought about have provoked considerable reaction. A group of Finnish astronomers and astrophysicists has written a Statement on Harassment, which you can sign in support (here if you’re Finnish and/or based in Finland) and here for other concerned academics. I have signed the second one.

I have two personal comments to make. The first is that I’ve seen people say that Ott should get a `second chance’, and it would be unfair for his past transgressions to force him out of academia.

This is what I wrote in an earlier piece about this:

It remains to be seen what Christian Ott does. I am not familiar with his work but he is, by all accounts, a talented scientist so he may well find a position at another institution. If he does, I hope, for his and for his future colleagues’ sake, that he has learned his lesson.

I think that makes it clear that I have no desire to see Christian Ott ruined, but I don’t think that means that I think due process should be subverted to help him, as appears to be the case here. In fact I’m bound to say that if I were a Head of Department I wouldn’t under any circumstances have offered this man a position, after what he did.

Had Ott committed a different disciplinary offence (such as plagiarism or other research misconduct) he would not have found it so easy to get another job than because it was `just’ harassment. Why should these offences be treated so differently?

Once again, research esteem seems to trump everything else. That attitude is one of the most poisonous elements in modern academia. The `Great Man of Science’ is indeed a dangerous myth.

The second thing is that, as far as I understand it (and again please correct me if I’m wrong), Ott’s new position is as an `independent researcher’ and he will have no teaching duties and minimal contact with students. I suppose that is supposed to make everything alright. It doesn’t. Indeed, there are many academics who would regard a cushy research-only contract as a reward rather than a cost. It’s a slap in the face for teaching staff at Turku that funds have been found to create a bespoke position in the way that has been done here.

As always, comments clarifications and corrections are welcome through the comments box.

UPDATE: 7/2/2018. The appointment of Dr Ott has been cancelled.

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15 Responses to “`Pass-the-Harasser’ … to Turku”

  1. Sigh. I keep hoping some university somewhere will create a position just for me. No interview, cv or any of that nonsense. Maybe I should try molesting a student

    • If Ott’s new job really is the advertised one, it doesn’t look that cushy or bespoke. It seems to be a standard postdoc with standard Finnish postdoc salary, so it’s a big demotion from his previous job. Hiring process is quick, but maybe not completely out of the ordinary for postdocs.

      Hiring Ott is odd and it’s strange that the contact person for the job (and director of the observatory and vice head of the department) is among the people who have signed the statement.

      • telescoper Says:

        Interesting!

        It seems unlikely that the job is as advertised, which makes the whole thing very fishy.

  2. Roy Williams Says:

    I don’t think you know what happened, you are just passing on the label “harasser” that you have heard from others, like all the others. My closer knowledge leads me to think that Ott fell in love and handled it badly. Not so bad if you see it that way. See link below for back story.
    https://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7513-223a

    • telescoper Says:

      I actually know quite a lot about what happened. I have posted about this before., including to the link you supply.

      The relevant fact is in the public domain: that, after due process, a disciplinary complaint against Ott was upheld. The relevant concern is not whether or not you think it’s bad, but the effect Ott’s behaviour had on the two young women he harassed.

      Incidentally, are you this Roy David Williams?

      https://labcit.ligo.caltech.edu/~rwilliam/

      I’m asking because this comment was apparently posted from a UK internet address, not from the US.

  3. Reblogged this on Disturbing the Universe and commented:
    Disgraceful action by Turku University in hiring sexual harasser Christian Ott.

  4. “Had he committed a different disciplinary offence (such as plagiarism or other research misconduct) he would not have found it so easy to get another job than because it was `just’ sexual harassment.”

    That’s probably true. On the other hand, it seems to me that people are very rarely disciplined for plagiarism or research misconduct even in clear cases.

  5. telescoper Says:

    A reminder that I do not accept comments from anonymous users with fake email addresses, especially if they are abusive.

    This cowardly behaviour seems to be associated with people who condone harassment. Well I never…

  6. Nigel Foot Says:

    Well said Telescoper. I fully endorse what you say here.

  7. You wrote: “If I were a Head of Department I wouldn’t under any circumstances have offered this man a position, after what he did.”
    If you really want to understand what he did, I recommend you to read the paper
    published in Nature 512, 223-224 (2014)
    https://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7513-223a
    — begin citation —
    Gossan is grateful that Ott has been there for her.
    “He helped me through many anxiety attacks,” she says,
    “and without his support I think I probably would have dropped out by now.”
    — end citation —
    And you would tell me I should believe this Gossan in buzzfeed that she suffered from Ott already in 2012?

    • telescoper Says:

      There is much about this which is not in the public domain, but I have no reason to doubt ‘this Gossan’ (your words); I knew her in Cardiff, where she was an unforgettable undergraduate student until 2012. I think I know more about this than you, anyway.

      Moreover, the relevant disciplinary committees at Caltech upheld the complaints against Ott. Are you trying to cast doubt on their integrity?

      PS. I have read the Nature article you refer to, and it is linked to one of my earlier posts on this matter.

  8. The University of Turku, in addition to saying that “everyone deserves a second chance”, now also say that they made the decision taking into account information that is not in the public domain.

    In essence, the University of Turku claim that they are better able to evaluate what happened than the various investigations at Caltech itself, which unambiguously concluded that gender-based harassment had taken place. This is not only contemptuous of Caltech’s investigations, it also shows contempt for those who have suffered harassment and dared to speak out publicly. With this defense, they are not only refusing to acknowledge that harassment took place, they are making a terrible message worse.

    https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/turku_university_hires_american_professor_accused_of_harassment/10054497

  9. […] post last week has generated quite a lot of traffic among which is a larger-than-usual crop of abusive comments. […]

  10. telescoper Says:

    I see the trolls are still at it. Given the update at the end of the post I think I’ll save them the effort and close comments on this post.

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