Astrobites Statement on Harassment Case at Leiden University

Content warning: The following post will discuss issues pertaining to bullying and sexual harassment.

Recently, Astrobites published its formal Code of Conduct (CoC). Within this CoC, we included the following regarding harassment, bullying, or other unacceptable behavior perpetrated by a member of the larger astronomical community:

If Scientist D has been found guilty of a Title IX violation (or a similar violation, such as violation of an institution’s anti-harassment policy), then the Investigating Committee may use this ruling as sufficient evidence that Scientist D has acted in a way that does not align with our collaboration’s core values, and may choose to remove Scientist D’s name and likeness from the public-facing Astrobites website. 

As such, we will no longer be covering any papers featuring Tim de Zeeuw as an author and will be removing existing content featuring De Zeeuw’s work. This course of action has been spurred by recent public acknowledgement of De Zeeuw’s long history of “extremely unacceptable” behavior within his roles at Leiden University.  As per this report from Leiden University, he “will not be allowed to return to the University” and is no longer allowed to supervise PhD candidates nor “make future use of the provision for professors and emeritus professors.”  However, he is allowed to keep his Leiden University professorship affiliation for use in publications, and his salary, as per a statement from a Leiden University spokesperson.  Since the Leiden University report and public confirmation of his identity, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has banned De Zeeuw from its premises and revoked his IT access, and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) has also revoked De Zeeuw’s visiting position as an Associated Senior Scientist. 

As we stated in our earlier statement on harassment, we understand that De Zeeuw is not the only harasser in the astronomy/physics community. It is again incredibly disappointing that the act of creating an environment in which we are all free from harassment, bullying, and abuse is falling on some of the most junior voices in our community. As Astrobites is a collaboration of graduate students, we are, yet again, calling on the more senior members of our community, namely tenured faculty, to stand with us and stop giving voices to known harassers. 

This can be done by refusing to co-author or collaborate with someone who is known to have committed assault, bullying, harassment, or other problematic behaviors. This can be done by ensuring that sexual predators and harassers are reported. This can be done by not asking when offenders will get their second chance at a professional career in astronomy, and instead asking how to ensure that survivors of violence, bullying, and harassment keep their first chance. This can be done by prioritizing the health and well-being of your students, post-docs, and faculty. 

Especially in the case of De Zeeuw, who held positions of influence in ESO, Leiden Observatory, and the Astro2020 Decadal survey, it feels outrageous that this behavior continued for a long period of time and harmed many members of our community. We commend those who came forward about De Zeeuw’s behavior, leading to his removal, as that is not an easy thing to do in most institutions. We also acknowledge those who wanted to speak up, but did not feel safe to do so publicly — the blame for this continued situation in no way falls on these victims, but instead on the structures that created an unsafe environment. 

We again strongly encourage senior scientists and astronomical organizations to reflect on how our communities deal with bullying and abuse, and how the structural career incentives of our field allow for those who cause harm to rise to positions of power. How can we shift our culture and reporting structures such that anyone impacted by bullying and abuse feels safe to report it, and will be heard when they do?

Disclaimer: This post was written after a collaboration-wide decision and is based on the personal views and opinions of Astrobites authors, who are graduate student volunteers. They are not necessarily representative of the views of the American Astronomical Society or other institutions with whom our authors are affiliated.

Featured image credit: Astrobites

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This post was written collectively by multiple members of the Astrobites team. Meet the authors of Astrobites.

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