Lawrence Krauss and the Elephant in the Room

I’ve noticed that many people are trying to dismiss the Buzzfeed story about Lawrence Krauss as gossip, hearsay, and unverified accusations.  But people seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room – Krauss was barred from Case Western Reserve University, a place where he took on leadership roles from 1993 – 2008.  If Richard Dawkins had been barred from Oxford, I think most people would consider this very significant and want to know why.  Well, the same holds for Krauss and Case Western Reserve.

The Buzzfeed story supplies at least part of the reason why. If you have not read this, you need to:

In 2007, Nora (her middle name) was an undergraduate at Case Western Reserve who looked up to Krauss. But when she tried to talk to him about the difficulty of being one of the only female physics majors, she said he teased her about all the guys who must be asking her out on dates, which she found patronizing. And when she tried to interview him for a student publication, he closed the door to his office, answered her questions with jokes, and invited her to dinner, which she found entirely inappropriate. She wrote about these experiences in the campus newspaper:

“There was even one particular creep of a professor who once told me he thought differently of me compared to other students and asked me to dinner: a situation so disturbing that it left me upset for weeks afterward.”

Nora didn’t mention Krauss by name. But the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Cyrus Taylor, guessed who it was based on rumors about an earlier incident between Krauss and an undergraduate. The dean sought Nora out and encouraged her to make a complaint, which she did. (BuzzFeed News has seen emails between Nora and the university administration describing the incidents in question.)

“I raised concern that in a situation like this, if it doesn’t get reported, then there’s the potential for future victims later,” Taylor told BuzzFeed News. He also wrote a letter to the school paper urging all students to report harassment.

Later, the university’s associate vice president for student affairs wrote to Nora, informing her that Krauss had been told that, “This type of behavior could constitute sexual harassment in violation of the university’s sexual harassment policy.”

“Dr. Krauss expressed regret about having a negative impact on you,” the letter stated, adding that Krauss had used the incident “as an opportunity to reflect and improve on his future interactions with students.”

Krauss, who acknowledged the existence of the complaint, told BuzzFeed News he was “shocked” because there had been “no inappropriate interaction” and Nora continued to email him afterward.

The school told Nora that Krauss was prohibited from making contact with her as long as she remained a student, and that he had to get approval before setting foot on campus again. (Krauss was permitted to return for a colloquium in 2009.)

But by the time these sanctions had been put in place, Krauss had moved to Arizona State to lead a new initiative to study the origins of the universe, life, and social systems. When he left, he wrote an email to his Case Western Reserve colleagues stating that, “The opportunities being offered at ASU are simply too great to turn down at this stage in my career.”

So an undergraduate student filed a formal complaint after being encouraged to do so by a Dean and this ultimately escalated into Krauss being barred from campus.  This is highly significant given that Krauss, being an accomplished science author, department chair, and winner of several prestigious awards at the time, would be quite the rock star at Case Western Reserve University.

So what we have here is not Krauss vs. Nora.  It’s Krauss vs. Nora + Dean Taylor + the associate vice president for student affairs  + Case Western Reserve University.   And we should not tap dance around that.

Given the current hysteria connected to social justice activism on so many campuses, one might be tempted to dismiss this case as just another example of social justice run amok.  Don’t make that mistake.   Case Western is not a hotbed of social justice activism.  On the contrary, it is primarily a science and engineering school.  Check for yourself the number of students in different majors back in 2012.  This is a school that had 1082 Engineering and Computer Science majors, 628 Science and Math majors, and one student majoring in  Women’s and Gender Studies.

Now consider Dean Cyrus Taylor.  He played a significant role in this account, as he is the one who correctly guessed Nora was writing about Krauss in the school paper and got her to file an official complaint that ultimately led to these sanctions.  Again, one might be tempted to dismiss Taylor as an oversensitive social justice administrator, but again, this would be wrong.

Taylor himself was a physicist.  And as you can see from page 3 of this newsletter, he took over as department chair when Krauss finished up his term  in 2005. Even more significant is that Taylor was Krauss’s longtime friend:

Cyrus Taylor, dean of arts and sciences at Case and a physicist who has known Krauss since their graduate school days at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said ASU simply won Krauss over.

“Speaking as dean, I don’t like to lose any of my faculty,” Taylor said. “Speaking as a friend of Lawrence’s, I think he felt this was an opportunity which he just couldn’t turn down. It was the sort of thing that wouldn’t come along again”

We simply cannot make a reasonable case that Case Western and Dean Taylor were motivated by extreme feminist activist views.   The fact that Krauss, who was once a rock star at the school, now cannot visit the school without official approval , is powerful evidence against him.  And it is a form of evidence that seriously undercuts his credibility when denying other allegations of similar behavior.

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10 Responses to Lawrence Krauss and the Elephant in the Room

  1. TFBW says:

    On the other hand, the misconduct for which he was exiled in absentia seems to be, “showed interest in a student and asked her out to dinner.” Unless we’re not getting the full story here, the punishment seems unduly harsh. I’m against non-platonic student/teacher relationships: they’re a bad idea for numerous reasons, but I thought that kind of conservative prudishness was disdained at liberal institutions of higher learning. It seems they haven’t quite decided what lines are drawn where. Not surprising, given that liberal values stem from a general lack of principles, rather than adherence to them.

  2. Michael says:

    On the other hand, the misconduct for which he was exiled in absentia seems to be, “showed interest in a student and asked her out to dinner.” Unless we’re not getting the full story here, the punishment seems unduly harsh.

    Indeed. I suspect there is more to the story, especially given it was Krauss’s friend and colleague who felt obligated to initiate the process that ultimately barred him from campus. Or, it might just have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. After all, that a married physics professor would feel free to show interest in a female physics undergrad in his university office would strongly indicate Krauss is a horndog.

    If Krauss does indeed bring a lawsuit against Buzzfeed (which I’d bet they are prepared for), I would not be surprised to see more about this Case Western story that opens a whole can of worms no one wanted opened in public. Dhay’s comment comes to mind, raising the question (in my mind) as to whether Krauss was quietly shown the door.

    Anyway, the bottom, undisputed line is that Krauss was barred from a university he served at for 15 years. I did not know this, as this was kept on the downlo. And I find it very significant.

  3. Michael says:

    Still, is this evidence enough to damn Krauss? We have only the Buzzfeed article to go on, though its authors themselves seem pretty credible, and the atheist movement had already become entrenched in identity politics.

  4. TFBW says:

    I would certainly trust Buzzfeed to take an entirely one-sided view of the matter.

  5. Dhay says:

    I note that the linked article in Metro includes:

    Krauss came to Case in 1993 as chair of the physics department and hired most of the current physics faculty before stepping down as the chair in 2005.

    http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2008/05/star_physicist_leaving_case_we.html

    Lawrence Krauss looks like a man with a lot of power, influence, and people beholden to him. As Michael points out in the OP, Krauss was (metaphorically) “a rock star” at Case; and with his credentials as an openly New Atheist populariser of advanced science, “a rock star” in the atheist movement also. Whoever would want to upset him by making or upholding a complaint.

    There are some indications that Krauss might not have been forced to move universities:

    “I think the leadership of [Case] is moving in the right direction,” he said Thursday [article dated 2008] from Zurich, where he is completing his latest book. Case President Barbara Snyder and Krauss “talked on numerous occasions. She really tried to keep me, but at the current time, the university finds itself not having the resources to really do what they would have liked to do.”

    The background to that is the financial mismanagement of the guy Snyder succeeded, who Krauss got ‘no-confidenced’ and ousted, and her presumably rather better management. That she “really tried to keep” Krauss at Case is an argument for Krauss not being forced to leave Case, though I note it’s Krauss’ report, not Snyder’s, and that the disciplinary proceedings were still proceeding, no verdict nor sanctions imposed, at the time of her allegedly wanting to retain him. I also note that she owed her position in part to Krauss’ action against her predecessor.

    That Krauss had already had an open invitation and “serious talks” about a move to ASU is clear:

    Krauss, who was one of the leaders of a faculty “no confidence” vote that helped unseat former Case President Edward Hundert, said his decision to leave now is based on the potential in Arizona. …

    Krauss will join Paul Davies, who came to ASU two years ago from the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney, at a college that is “obviously in an expansionary mode,” Davies said. Davies brought Krauss to ASU for a speech last year and from there, serious talks began about a move to ASU.

    “Lawrence and I move in very similar circles and I think there’s a multiplier effect for the two of us together,” Davies said. “The way I put it is that we want to make ASU the center of the universe.”

    That there were very good positive professional reasons for Krauss to move from Case to ASU is clear.

    Not that this tells us whether or not there were negative unprofessional reasons in addition.

    Krauss has denied that Case banned him from campus, and so far as I can see he’s denied that totally and categorically; and I see Case has affirmed the ban. It’s that ban — had it come into effect it would have been constructive dismissal — which adds credibility to the allegations against Krauss and demolishes his own credibility. If Krauss is to regain credibility it will probably be by taking legal action against Case to overturn the ban or declare it null and void.

    Perhaps he’s doing that right now, or at least threatening to.

  6. Dhay says:

    There’s an elephant in the atheist meetings and conferences, too; Ed Drayton tells us that:

    When I first got really involved with atheist activism and began working with the various organizations about 12 years ago, that was when the question was first being asked: Why are there so few women involved? And I talked to some of the women I knew about it at the time because I wanted to understand their perspective. Virtually every one of them described a reality where the moment they showed up at a meeting or conference, they were descended on by drooling geekboys. Some of them endured it and stuck around, but a lot of them didn’t. Who can blame them?

    They shouldn’t have to go through this. …

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2018/02/23/themtoo-lawrence-krauss-edition/

    “Drooling geekboys” (and next paragraph, “desperate douchebags”). Past tense to start with, becoming present tense.

    *

    It’s an elephant that looms large for female atheists, but is invisible for male atheists: Ed Drayton noticed the gender disparity, didn’t know why, so he asked and got knowledgeable answers: Sam Harris also noticed it, didn’t know why, but didn’t let ignorance get in the way of instant expertise when, off the cuff at a book signing, he supplied an answer from his own imagination:

    “I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

    And Harris again didn’t let ignorance get in the way of instant expertise when, in his presumably more carefully considered response to the substantial hostile push-back (often tagged #estrogenvibe) he supplied a different answer from his own imagination:

    Happily, my audiences are now filled with young people, but I still encounter many more men than women. …

    3. My work is often perceived (I believe unfairly) as unpleasantly critical, angry, divisive, etc. … I believe that in general, men are more attracted to this style of communication than women are. … Nothing in my remarks was meant to suggest that women can’t think as critically as men or that they are more likely to be taken in by bad ideas. Again, I was talking about a fondness for a perceived style of religion bashing with which I and other vocal atheists are often associated.

    4. I believe that a less “angry,” more “nurturing” style of discourse might attract more women to the cause of atheism.

    https://samharris.org/im-not-the-sexist-pig-youre-looking-for/

    Ah, so that’s why the womenfolk walk around the elephant in the room, it’s not because it’s an elephant, it’s because it’s something else that only women walk around.

    Looks like, according to Harris, women walk around the elephant (or away entirely) because they are seeking feminine softness that isn’t to be found where the elephant is, or else (in Harris’ final version) are repelled by the aggressive maleness that is to be found there. Being “descended on by drooling geekboys” aka “desperate douchebags” — nah, can’t be that.

    Ignorant and clueless.

  7. Michael says:

    Still, is this evidence enough to damn Krauss? We have only the Buzzfeed article to go on, though its authors themselves seem pretty credible, and the atheist movement had already become entrenched in identity politics.

    It’s not an issue of Krauss being damned. It’s a question of what is true. After having browsed various videos from the two sides, there seem to be two questions in play:

    1. Are the allegations true?
    2. If so, how serious are they?

    As for Krass’s fate, he’s a very wealthy man leading a very comfortable life. The worse that can happen to him with these allegation is that he doesn’t become as famous and influential as he would like to be.

  8. Michael says:

    Looks like, according to Harris, women walk around the elephant (or away entirely) because they are seeking feminine softness that isn’t to be found where the elephant is, or else (in Harris’ final version) are repelled by the aggressive maleness that is to be found there. Being “descended on by drooling geekboys” aka “desperate douchebags” — nah, can’t be that.

    Ignorant and clueless.

    We shouldn’t lose sight of the influence of atheism itself. I would contend that for a huge number of atheists, it’s all about sex. The constant, emotion-based attacks on religion are needed to keep the Id unleashed. So for the “drooling geekboys”, there is one, and only one, barrier to sexual hunger – it’s called “consent.” Get that, and it’s all playtime for the Id. Which is precisely why all of these disputes and allegations revolved around “consent.” The men thought they had it, or did something that did not need it, and the women disagree.

    I notice that when it comes to the allegations against Krauss, and indeed all the atheist personalities, it almost always seems to be about a man expressing some type of sexual interest in a woman he does not know or barely knows. Which of course, just happens to be the context where something as subjective as consent is also going to be most vague.

    The atheist women complain about being treated as meat. But in the world of atheism, we are all just meat. Think that’s unrelated?

  9. Pingback: Intrinsically male - Butterflies and Wheels

  10. Dhay says:

    > I’ve noticed that many people are trying to dismiss the Buzzfeed story about Lawrence Krauss as gossip, hearsay, and unverified accusations.

    Ophelia Benson has found and posted a cartoon which puts the dismissals in perspective …

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2018/shes-not-saying-anything/

    … albeit it omits the hatred, vitriol and physical threats poured out upon those who have spoken up. The excellent satirical Private Eye magazine (#1464) has a spoof “From The Message Boards” post which perhaps indicates why women didn’t speak up:

    No one is offended except the professionally offended! I remember a time when it was common in the USA for lynched corpses and body parts to be displayed in shop windows and sold as souvenirs. Yet no Black people ever complained!

    That spoke to me.

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