House Investigates Taxpayer-Funded Scientist Accused Of Sexual Assault

NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Two top House lawmakers opened an investigation into accusations of sexual assault and harassment levied against a prominent Antarctic researcher who’s gotten nearly $5.5 million from taxpayers.

Texas Reps. Lamar Smith, a Republican and Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat, are demanding information on taxpayer funding to Boston University professor David Marchant, who allegedly assaulted and harassed women on taxpayer-funded trips to the South Pole.

“Professor Marchant’s alleged actions, if true, are an example of behavior that is not acceptable in the academic scientific community or in any professional environment,” Smith and Johnson wrote in letters to NASA, the National Science Foundation and Boston University.

“The Committee has a responsibility to ensure that recipients of federal dollars are worthy of the taxpayer’s trust,” wrote Smith and Johnson, the top lawmakers on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“Any behavior that stymies the advancement and support of women in science should not be tolerated and this Committee will seek all surrounding facts,” they wrote.

Smith and Johnson said Marchant had received nearly $5.5 million in federal grants since 1990.

Earlier this year, three former graduate students filed complaints against David Marchant, an Antarctic geologist. The female students allege Marchant started abusing them on research expeditions in the 1990s.

One woman, Jane Willenbring, claimed Marchant “shoved her down a steep slope, pelted her with rocks while she was urinating in the field” and called her a “slut” and a “whore.” Marchant also allegedly “urged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip,” Science magazine reported.

Willenbring, who now teaches at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said she waited until 2016 to complain against Marchant out of fear for her career.

A second woman complained Marchant repeatedly called her a “cunt” and “bitch,” and she claimed the prominent Antarctic researcher promised to use his influence to block her career advancement, according to Science, which first reported of the complaints in early October.

Hillary Tulley, a teacher in Illinois, wrote to Boston University that Marchant’s “taunts, degrading comments about my body, brain, and general inadequacies never ended,” Science reported.

Boston University has launched its own investigation into Marchant’s conduct, and the geologist has been placed on leave as department chair. However, Marchant is still allowed to teach.

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