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AtGender agrees: Not in our academia!

Academic censorship on sexual misconduct and power abuse.





If you want to sign this open letter, please sign the form here and your name will be added.

Sexual misconduct is rife in higher education. In the UK, for example, sexual harassment carried out by academic staff towards students was documented in a 2018 report, Power in the Academy, which found that one in eight students had been subjected to unwanted touching from academics. These incidents are perpetuated by institutions historically rooted in patriarchal, racist, competitive, objectifying and hierarchical practices of knowledge and power.

The book Sexual Misconduct in Academia: Informing an Ethics of Care in the University (2023) came together to address this emergency, to show ways forward, and to overcome silences.

The two editors, Delyth Edwards and Erin Pritchard, and the 23 authors of this book represent a collective of PhD students, early career researchers, First Generation scholars, Indigenous scholars, and disabled scholars, based in Australia, India, North America, the UK and several European countries. Many of us have been affected by sexual harassment and assault – including rape – during our academic careers, often leaving us with deep traumatic wounds. We speak out despite the risk of legal, public or professional repercussions, such as losing our jobs. We have chosen to write about and analyse our experiences with the intention of promoting open dialogue about the realities of sexual misconduct and power abuse in academia in order to enact a much-needed deep transformation in our professional field.

Chapter 12 of the book, “The wall spoke when nobody else would: Autoethnographic notes on sexual-power gatekeeping within avant-garde academia”, was written by Lieselotte Viaene, Catarina Laranjeiro, and Miye Nadya Tom. It analyses sexual misconduct within an unnamed research centre, describing the culture and social norms that enabled the harassment to occur, as well as ways in which resistance took place. The authors collectively analysed such concepts as “star professor”, “whisper network”, “sexual-power gatekeepers”, “academic incest”, “intellectual and sexual extractivism”, “gaslighting”, and “institutional witch-hunt”.

After the book’s publication in March 2023, a professor felt he was being referred to in Chapter 12, suggesting that he was the “star professor”, and threatened the authors with legal actions in the press. He also denounced the book and its editors among his networks.

In certain academic circles the chapter became widely discussed and the authors, as well as other victims who stood up publicly, have received international support via open letters. The person who has identified himself as the “star professor”, along with others, appears to have used his power and the law to silence the chapter, the book and its authors. In June 2023 the book was temporarily withdrawn from circulation while Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group looked into “complaints” and a cease-and-desist letter it had received about the chapter. On 31 August 2023 the authors of Chapter 12 were informed that Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group were reverting the rights for the chapter to them. The editors were not informed of this decision, nor were they told what would happen to the rest of the book. The webpage for the book has now disappeared.

These events are not only of great concern in relation to the silencing of the voices of the survivors who wrote Chapter 12, but also in relation to wider questions of how commercial publishers handle this issue. This controversy raises many questions, two of which we want to bring to the attention of the international academic community:

  • Can we, as an academic community, allow a private publisher to intervene in and even censor such an important, urgent and necessary debate in our professional field?

  • Academic writing is still the core tool of academic knowledge production worldwide, but when we as researchers are no longer allowed to reflect critically about how to transform our field from within, what are the implications for critical reflection on academia from within?

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