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US National Science Foundation clamps down on misconduct

15 Feb 2018
National Science Foundation headquarters
Fresh steps: The National Science Foundation

One of America’s leading research-funding agencies has announced new steps to eliminate sexual harassment and similar transgressions in science and engineering. Responding to increasing reports of sexual misconduct by individual grantees and in institutions that employ them, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will now require that every grantee organization report cases of sexual harassment. The agency will also update its web resources on harassment policies and has clarified how NSF employees should report and handle complaints of sexual harassment.

France Córdova, NSF director, outlined the steps in a letter to presidents of universities and colleges, and the heads of other grant-receiving organizations. “NSF is committed to promoting safe, productive research and education environments for current and future scientists and engineers,” Córdova wrote. “The Principal investigator (PI) and co-PI and all grant personnel must comport themselves in a responsible and accountable manner, including during the performance of award activities conducted outside the organizations, such as field sites or facilities, or during conferences and workshops.”

Community effort

The NSF policy comes at a time of increased concern about sexual harassment, which has also hit the scientific community. Dartmouth University, for example, recently put three psychology professors – and recipients of NSF grants – on paid leave pending the results of a criminal probe into sexual misconduct. In February, the NSF removed Boston University geologist David Marchant as a PI of a grant following charges – which Marchant denies – that he had sexually harassed graduate students during field studies in Antarctica two decades ago.

The upgraded NSF policy now requires that grantee organization’s report findings of sexual harassment, or any other kind of harassment regarding a PI, co-PI or any other grant personnel. It also expects all grant-receiving organizations to establish and maintain clear and unambiguous standards of behaviour to ensure harassment-free workplaces. Finally, the policy requires NSF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to ensure that NSF-funded programmes and projects are free of discrimination.

“NSF is working to make certain that awardee organizations respond promptly and appropriately to instances of sexual and other forms of harassment,” says Córdova. “A community effort is essential to eliminate sexual and other harassment in science and to build scientific workspaces where people learn, grow and thrive.”

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