Open Letter to AAS Council

Update:  The following open letter was sent to the AAS Council by Timothy Slater on January 2, 2016, ten days before his twelve year old sexual harassment report was released to the media.
As of January 17, 2016, the AAS Council has not responded to the letter’s request for clarification of AAS policy.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Timothy Frederick Slater <tslater@uwyo.edu>
Date: Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 11:08 AM
Subject: AAS Council: Urgent Request for New Business concerning actions of AAS CSWA affiliates
To: “meg.urry@aas.org” <meg.urry@aas.org>, “jones@aas.org” <jones@aas.org>, “kouveliotou@aas.org” <kouveliotou@aas.org>, “burns@aas.org” <burns@aas.org>, “woodward@aas.org” <woodward@aas.org>, “morrison@aas.org” <morrison@aas.org>, “aassec@aas.org” <aassec@aas.org>, “marvel@aas.org” <marvel@aas.org>, “cowley@aas.org” <cowley@aas.org>, “liu@aas.org” <liu@aas.org>, “clayton@aas.org” <clayton@aas.org>, “jannuzi@aas.org” <jannuzi@aas.org>, “unwin@aas.org” <unwin@aas.org>, “calzetti@aas.org” <calzetti@aas.org>, “oey@aas.org” <oey@aas.org>, “chanover@aas.org” <chanover@aas.org>
Cc: “Tim Slater (timslaterwyo@gmail.com)” <timslaterwyo@gmail.com>
URGENT REQUEST FOR NEW BUSINESS FOR AAS COUNCILOR DISCUSSION

Dear Elected AAS Council Members (December 7, 2015):

My name is Tim Slater and I have served two-terms on AAS Council as the elected Education Officer from 2006-2012. I am writing to you to express my grave concerns about a seeming lack of oversight and a potential legal liability due to negligence on the part of Council members.

The AAS constitutional bylaws allow for the Board, hereafter known as Council, to create committees for the purposes of advisement. This charge for Committees and Boards to serve as advisors to Council is consistent with my own experience on the AAS Council. As chair of the Astronomy Education Board, our clear mandate was to advise Council on issues related to Education, not make nor enact policy, to run programs, or to conduct investigations of the educational behaviors of members, or even to educate the AAS membership on matters related to education. Similarly, the AAS Publications Board helps Council knowledgeably manage the AAS publications; yet, they do not themselves hire editors, as that is the express domain and responsibility of Council.

However, when I survey the activities of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, hereafter CSWA, my colleagues and I are alarmed at the efforts in which they are engaged, clearly under the banner of AAS. CSWA is expressly charged to

“…recommend to the Council practical measures that the AAS can take to improve the status of women in astronomy and encourage their entry into this field.”

It appears that this group has far exceeded their mandate. In addition to their Facebook posts, Twitter posts and newsletter articles, it is now well known that the AAS-sponsored CSWA members have worked together to influence the internal operations of astronomy departments around the U.S., have misrepresented their authority in the process of enacting self-organized investigations into the ethical and harassing behavior of members of the astronomy community, and have further, aggressively solicited, collected, and perhaps distributed names of suspected harassers from the larger community.

It is the responsibility of Council to oversee the structure of the AAS, and to make sure that all AAS policy and activity are legally and financially responsible, and ethical. This includes making sure that Committees and Boards are acting within their mandates. The current and ongoing activities of AAS CSWA is clearly outside of the charge given to that Committee, and I call upon the Council to urgently either redefine the charge of this Committee, or to strictly bring the Committee activities back into the parameters of the charge given to them.

As evidence of AAS CSWA working beyond its purview, page 7 of the recently released public information records regarding the Title IX investigation of Geoff Marcy describes a 2011 offer by AAS CSWA to do a Climate Site Visit, which the University wisely declined. I do not find evidence of how a Climate Site Visit is related to the AAS Council’s charge to the CSWA nor do I see qualifications of CSWA site visitors that suggest they are qualified or certified to conduct such a visit, nor the criteria of what would be involved in such a Climate Site Visit. I was on the Council during 2011 and do not see recorded in the minutes where CSWA members were charged or authorized by a vote of Council, to conduct such a visit. Indeed, at no point during my tenure on Council, from 2006 to 2012, was the topic of AAS performing site visits to departments discussed, but I am sure that if it had been discussed, Council would have shared my point of view that such visits go beyond the scope and expertise of the AAS.

Given the legal and fiduciary responsibility of Council members I am openly stating that I was never informed of these activities, and I believe that such activity is inappropriate and opens up the AAS and the Council members to liability. As the Council failed to engage in due diligence in supervising the activities of the CSWA, legal action against the AAS could find that the indemnity clause of the AAS by-laws has been voided.

Therefore, I call upon the Council to recognize my personal protest against the unsanctioned action taken by members of the AAS CSWA during my tenure on the Council, and I recommend to current Council that they investigate these unauthorized actions in order to protect the AAS and Council members from claims of negligence.

I am certain that many AAS members would share my concerns about the Committees of the AAS working beyond their charge without oversight or authority, and my concerns related to Council failing to fulfill their obligation to provide such oversight.

Additionally, I am gravely concerned that AAS members working under the authority of AAS Council as CSWA members are going far beyond what is appropriate, perhaps illegally, but certainly with liability exposure for the AAS. Pages 18 and 21-22 (redacted) of the released UC Berkeley documents provide evidence that a member of AAS CSWA (who has recently publicly identified herself as Joan Schmelz) contacted members of the community (AAS members and non-members) and insinuated that she was working, as a member of AAS CSWA, with UC Berkeley, to investigate possible instances of sexual harassment committed by a AAS member. This document indicates that UC Berkeley asked Joan Smeltz to refrain from portraying herself as working with them in an investigative capacity. Beyond the insinuation that she was working with UC Berkeley, the action of AAS CSWA members in the active pursuit of evidence against AAS members, outside the bounds of AAS activity, is highly problematic.

Looking through the records of Council meetings, I see no evidence that Council ever provided authority for members of the AAS CSWA to solicit investigative evidence related to the behavior of astronomers, particularly of members of the AAS, from AAS members or non-members. As a Council member I certainly would not have approved such action; the AAS has no mandate or cause to engage in the professional lives of AAS members or non-members, beyond the scope of meetings and publications, and the AAS and Council are specifically barred, by the AAS Constitution from activity that can cause harm to a member, as illustrated in the only specific cause that will void the indemnity clause:

“Any individual seeking indemnification is prohibited from indemnification for liability arising out of conduct that constitutes intentional infliction of harm on the corporation or the members, or an intentional violation of criminal law.”

As such, I call upon the Council and the Officers of the AAS to clarify their position. Did the Council provide CSWA members with a charge to investigate AAS members, outside of an official meeting? If so, were they aware that such members were addressing members of the community is such a way that they were implying that they, and by extension AAS, were working in conjunction with university Title IX offices to conduct such a investigation? In either case, which portion of the AAS Constitution or By-Laws support such an action? And finally, if the AAS CSWA was acting without authority from the Council to exceed the Committee’s charge, what is the AAS Council going to do to bring the Committee back into activity that is within the scope of that charge?
The answers to these questions are immediately relevant to current events. It is now well known that the AAS CSWA has actively worked to gather names of “known sexual harassers” by solicitation from the larger community.

The post “It’s Not Just Marcy, and the Grapevine Won’t Save Us” says they will not be PUBLICLY releasing the names on the list; however, they imply the list contains the names of at least ten men representing nine fields, including astronomy education, my field. In other words, the AAS CSWA has supported the creation of a list of alleged, but uncharged, serial sexual harassers although AAS CSWA members and affiliates have no expertise in evaluating the veracity of such allegations and no mandate from Council to serve as investigators. Such activity is a cancer in the community, and has most certainly created an environment in which old grievances and professional jealousies are made manifest in false accusations. In a field in which everything is competitive, only a very naive person would believe that such a witch hunt could be conducted with pure intentions, absent any temptation to take out rivals.

As the most prominent astronomy education researcher, I can only believe that I am targeted by these actions. AAS President Meg Urry has openly stated that the social changes desired by the social authoritarians in astronomy will only occur in the presence of loud actions taken against members of the field. The loudest news will obviously involve the leaders of the fields of astronomy, and I am certainly a leader, if not the leading researcher in my field. Given that my competitors have whispered rumors against me for years, it only makes sense that I am the next target. Such an action will simultaneously build the careers of those who cannot build their careers through actual astronomical research, while clearing me from the field to the benefit of those who have never quite been able to perform as well as I have.

I understand how the game is played, but I will not stand by and have my reputation and career damaged by these activities, and believe that legal action is completely within bounds. One could argue that the Council is foolish enough to take advice from a group of rather inexperienced astronomers, on matters of legal consequence, in which none of the astronomers have any legal expertise. That advice should probably come from AAS legal counsel. But this action on the part of AAS CSWA goes far beyond making recommendation to Council in response to a complaint to sexual harassment. This is a formal organization within the AAS, under the charge of Council, actively seeking out damaging information on members of the AAS community. This goes beyond foolish on Council’s part; this is reckless.

As such, I call upon Council to clarify their position: Is the AAS now taking on the task of proactively investigating members of the astronomy community? If so, are they only going to do so with regard to sexual harassment, or are they going to expand their work into investigating members of the astronomy community as to their management of grant funds? Publications? Allocation of institutional resources? Racism? Homophobia or other –phobias? What exactly is the extent of the topics in which Council is going to authorize self-organized investigations of members of the astronomy community?

Moreover, is AAS qualified to do such work? In a legal system in which employers and law enforcement agencies have the responsibility, training and expertise to deal with these matters, and do so to an extent that many of us find to be unsatisfying, is it reasonable to expect that the AAS, without mandate, training or expertise, can somehow do a better job of it? In the recent Marcy matter, it was revealed AFTER all of the damage had been done, that at least one of the Complainants, Jessica Kirkpatrick, provided the investigator with false testimony, and retracted her testimony when revealed that her third-party witnesses would be making their own statements in contradiction to hers, months after the investigation was over. If a trained investigator did not do a compete job of cross-checking facts, and sorting out damning fabrications from true statements, I have little faith that the types of member “investigators” that AAS would appoint, would do better. Not when too many individuals are advancing their careers, and eliminating their competitors, with false accusations and rumors.

And perhaps most importantly, at what point did the membership or Council decide that AAS has the obligation or right to investigate its own membership?

I do not believe that any of these actions are supported anywhere in the AAS Constitution or By-Laws, do I believe that such activity would be supported by the majority of the dues paying members of the Society.

In summary, I urgently call on AAS Council members to fulfill their ethical and legal responsibilities for overseeing the work of its committees, and ask that this matter be immediately added to the Council agenda for immediate action.

Respectfully,
Timothy F. Slater, Ph.D.
University of Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair of Science Education
AAS Education Officer, 2006-2012, tslater@uwyo.edu

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