Congress Wants To Root Out Sexual Harassers Who Got Federal Science Funding

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

A House committee sent a bipartisan letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking the agency to put out a report on sexual harassment incidents by federally-funded researchers.

Texas Reps. Lamar Smith, a Republican, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat, also want GAO to investigate Title IX compliance at federal agencies that fund scientific research, including how they handle sexual harassment incidents that may fall outside Title IX.

Both lawmakers launched an investigation in October into allegations of sexual harassment by a prominent Boston University scientist.

Reports surfaced that Boston University professor David Marchant allegedly assaulted and harassed women on taxpayer-funded trips to the South Pole. Marchant has received nearly $5.5 million in federal grants since 1990.

Smith and Johnson say their request to GAO was spurred by an “increasing number” of such reports. Smith is the chairman and Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“Sexual harassment has a significant negative impact on the ability of female students and early career researchers to engage in research at the same level as their male peers,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to GAO sent Thursday.

“Equitable access to education and research experiences cannot be ensured for women in the sciences until gender discrimination, implicit bias, and sexual harassment are no longer potential barriers to their success,” they wrote.


Reports of Marchant’s alleged sexual harassment sent shockwaves through the science community. Marchant is a prominent Antarctic geologist. Boston University placed Marchant on leave while they investigate the matter.

Two former graduate students have previously filed complaints against Marchant, alleging he abused 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 in Oct. 2017. Willenbring, who now teaches at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said she waited until 2016 to complain out of fear for her career.

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

Another woman, 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.

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