Hundreds sign letter against spiking of sexual misconduct chapter

Chapter withdrawn by Routledge after legal threats, with professor claiming that he had been identified, but denying wrongdoing

September 29, 2023
Burning paper, open book burns to ashes on concrete tiles
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More than 1,500 people have signed an open letter calling for the reinstatement of a chapter of a book on sexual misconduct in universities after it was withdrawn by its publisher following legal threats.

Chapter 12 of Sexual Misconduct in Academia: Informing an Ethics of Care in the University details what its three female authors describe as their experiences of sexual harassment at an unnamed institution where they were formerly PhD students or postdocs.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, emeritus professor of sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, was reported as being “taken aback” by the “very offensive paper”, although he denied any criminal conduct.

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Subsequently Routledge, the book’s publishers, told its editors, Erin Pritchard, senior lecturer in disability and education at Liverpool Hope University, and Delyth Edwards, lecturer in inclusion, childhood and youth at the University of Leeds, that the chapter was being withdrawn. The future of the title as a whole is now mired in uncertainty.

The chapter in question was written by Lieselotte Viaene of the Carlos III University of Madrid, Catarina Laranjeiro of NOVA University of Lisbon and Miye Nadya Tom of the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Now an open letter calling on Routledge to reinstate chapter 12 and the book as a whole has been signed by more than 1,500 people, including many of the book’s authors, who call on the publisher to stand up to legal threats.

Anna Bull, lecturer in education and social justice at the University of York, who wrote the book’s afterword and co-founded the 1752 Group, a research group addressing sexual harassment in higher education, said that the withdrawal of the chapter was “very concerning”. She warned that the move risked silencing victims of sexual harassment.

“Routledge admit that they have bowed to legal threats in withdrawing the chapter. This move has serious implications for academic freedom in scholarly publications,” Dr Bull said.

“Through the open letter to Routledge, we are hoping to persuade them to stand up to legal threats and reinstate the book. While they are also in a difficult position, they have chosen to take the least risky option, which involves siding with the powerful.”

Dr Bull said that, if Routledge was not willing to reinstate the book, she hoped that another publisher would be willing to take it on.

In a statement, Routledge said the academic institution involved, one of the accused, and others had made statements leading to the identification of some of those involved in news articles and on social media.

“Routledge then received a series of legal threats from various parties, including from a leading UK law firm acting for one of the accused, and was put in the difficult position of defending specific allegations against named, but previously unidentified, individuals,” the publisher said.

“After discussions failed to find a way forward, Routledge made the difficult decision to withdraw the chapter from publication and return the rights in the chapter to the authors.”

The publisher said it intends to reconvene with the editors at an appropriate time to explore options for the rest of the book, but that the title will remain unavailable pending the conclusion of this process and the full resolution of legal claims.

Professor Santos has not responded to THE’s requests for comment. He has said in a YouTube interview that he had committed “errors, but never crimes” in an earlier period, making comments that “would be considered male chauvinistic things” today, such as complimenting women on their appearance.

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Reader's comments (2)

The publishers were right to withdraw the chapter. It sounds like a one-sided accusation with the other side having no right to comment. Behaviours that were treated as normal in the past cannot now be retrospectively treated as harassment even if such behaviours would not be tolerated now.
Academic freedom is the guild privilege to express in the scholarly language/style of professional academic discourse thoughts and research without fear of retribution from university management - as enshrined in such as the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. But all that has to be WITHIN the law, whether discrimination law, harassment law, hate laws, the law of defamation, whatever. It is silly for academics to claim their academic freedom overrides legal protections for citizens. Sounds like Routledge had no choice but to act as they have - and it will be surprising if any other publisher takes on this title/text with that chapter in it.