UPDATED: An open letter in regard to UC Berkeley’s inaction on Geoff Marcy

Update: The graduate students, postdocs, and faculty of UCB have now each put out statements that call for Geoff Marcy to be removed. Geoff has also tendered his resignation, which has been accepted by UCB’s chancellor. The context of the letter below should be considered in the sense that when it was written there were only two sources of information: The original Buzzfeed article that broke the story, and the extremely insulting email from the department chair at UCB, for which an apology has yet to be provided. The statement recently released by the faculty gives me hope that UCB intends to correct its procedures, but at this time no concrete changes in policy have been put forward by any UCB-affiliated entity, one of the primary concerns raised by the graduate and postdoc statements. Changes in policy might take time, and Geoff Marcy’s removal, self-imposed or otherwise, is still a positive step forward, and I believe that a boycott will no longer be effective. However, I will still personally refuse to apply to any UCB positions until I see evidence of actual change, and I urge everyone to please think twice about accepting a position at UCB until they release a statement about how they intend to move forward. I will keep this space updated as things develop.

My original letter as written on October 11, 2015 follows:

Dear postdocs and undergraduate/graduate students considering pursuing a career in physics, astronomy, or astrophysics:

My name is James Guillochon, and I am a third-year Einstein postdoctoral fellow at Harvard. I had heard stories about Geoff Marcy’s actions since my first year of graduate school at UC Santa Cruz (in 2007), and had heard from others that his behavior dates at least several years prior (to 2004, possibly extending as early as 1995). UC Berkeley has known about Geoff’s tendencies since at least 2005. The general story of Geoff’s behavior was widely discussed in the community, but the details were always rumor. The individual stories I had heard through word-of-mouth had always infuriated me, but since I wasn’t myself present at UCB, I always gave Geoff the benefit of the doubt as no investigation had been made public and I had never spoken directly to any of the victims regarding the incidents.

An investigation has now been conducted, and it is damning. There is no question in my mind, and I’m sure the minds of many others whom I had spoken with over the years, that he committed acts that are worthy of immediate termination. The revelation that he committed these actions has a positive side: there are other astronomy faculty at several institutions for which such stories have been floating around for many years, and I hope the courage of the four women who came forward in UCB’s investigation gives others the courage to act at UCB and elsewhere.

Yet despite the astronomy community’s outrage, including over 1,300 signatures on a petition providing support for the survivors of Geoff’s decades of serial harassment, UCB has not sanctioned Geoff in any way. Why? While they would never admit it, from my view it’s because he is too “valuable” to them. At the moment, UCB feels that committing sex crimes is outweighed by Geoff’s fame and fund-raising prowess. This is made abundantly clear by the extraordinarily tone-deaf and cowardly e-mail sent by the Berkeley Astronomy department chair, that ridiculously suggests that Geoff has had the hardest time in this fiasco. What we as a community need to do is to further our united stance against UCB’s inaction toward having an admitted sexual harasser amongst their ranks.

Because UCB is clearly acting in their own self-interest, I believe what will convince UCB to change their minds is the active refusal of all talented young people to apply to any positions that they offer, from the graduate level to the faculty level, until Geoff is removed from his position and is entirely incapable of interacting with students. I will personally and indefinitely boycott the open tenure-track UCB astronomy faculty position, the Miller fellowship, and any other position UCB offers until Geoff is gone. I do not believe that internal pressures within UCB are enough to sway them to do the right thing. To this end, I am sharing copies of this letter directly with all recent recipients of the Einstein/Hubble/Sagan/Jansky/NSF awards and on PhysicsGRE.com. I understand that because of his tenure status that the technicalities of removing Geoff may be difficult, but this needs to be the absolute priority of the Department Chair and Vice Provost Janet Broughton with whom a cowardly “agreement” was struck. If the University and departmental leadership do not believe they are capable of forcing Geoff out, they should immediately relinquish their positions to others who will get the job done.

I ask that everyone who is considering applying to these positions to imagine themselves advising a student in an environment where you have to warn them to actively avoid a particular person because they are dangerous. This has informally been the situation at UCB for over a decade, and I witnessed this warning being given to my female peers from the very moment I started grad school. I know many who have switched institutions, been forced out of astronomy, or quit out of disgust because of people like Geoff. I myself have questioned whether I should remain in a field where someone like Geoff is tolerated. Many remained silent for fear of reprisal, but know that your career, your conscience, and the people you mentor will suffer if you choose to take a position at UCB with Geoff still present.

If UCB is at all interested in the future success of their astronomy program and the happiness of their students, they will do the right thing, and I sincerely hope that UCB takes appropriate action before they find they have irreparably damaged their own program. Until then, I ask that you join me and actively avoid joining their ranks.


James Guillochon