The federal government announced earlier this month it will cut off funding for research projects with principal researchers who have committed or are under investigation for sexual harassment.
The National Science Foundation, a government organization that funds research in science and engineering, announced Feb. 8 it will require universities and other foundations it funds to report complaints of sexual harassment against award grantees. NSF also said it would suspend or terminate awards or require grantee organizations to replace or remove personnel if serious charges are made.
University of California spokesperson Stephanie Beechem said the University is closely monitoring the NSF policy, but will not make any immediate changes to its sexual harassment policies because the policy is preliminary and may be revised following a 60-day public comment period.
Barney Schlinger, professor and chair of the department of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA, said he thinks the NSF has a right to make determinations on funding particular projects or individuals. However, he said he feels withholding funding during an investigation that ultimately does not find a researcher guilty may be problematic.
“The problems I foresee is that … thorough investigation can take some time, so what does NSF do in the meantime?” he said.
Schlinger added he thinks if a researcher is ultimately found not guilty after NSF funding was suspended, it could damage the reputation of the researcher and make it harder for them to secure funding in the future.
“It all depends on what NSF does with the information they get,” Schlinger said. “If the information is held in some private manner such that only some administrators can have access to it, then it may not have any long-term effects.”
Several UCLA students who work in labs that receive NSF funding said they think the policy could help prevent sexual harassment in research situations.
Mieka Mcfarlane, a third-year psychobiology student, said she has not experienced or been aware of sexual harassment in the laboratory, but thinks the threat of withholding funding will ensure labs treat sexual harassment seriously.
Ethan Rosser, a graduate student in organic chemistry, said he thinks the NSF policy would promote honesty in the laboratory.
“I think it’s a good rule to have in place if it helps stop a culture of sexual harassment at university,” he said.
Danielle Koppel, a fourth-year chemistry and physics student, said she thinks the NSF policy is important within the national conversation around combating sexual harassment. However, she said she does not think cutting funding is the best solution, since it also withholds funding from researchers not involved in sexual harassment cases.
Christopher Jones, a graduate student in chemistry, said he thinks sexual harassment is uncommon in UCLA labs.
“My lab has a 50-50 gender split – it is an environment in which harassment is less likely to occur, as opposed to labs with small numbers of females,” he said.
Contributing reports from Joy Harjanto and John Tudhope.