Backlash as Routledge withdraws book chapter on sexual misconduct in academia

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A chapter of a book on sexual misconduct in the academia was withdrawn by its British publisher, Routledge, following legal threats, prompting an outcry from the academic community.

More than 1,500 people have signed an open letter calling for the reinstatement of Chapter 12 in Sexual Misconduct in Academia: Informing an Ethics of Care in the University, which details the authors’ experiences of sexual harassment at an unnamed institution.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, emeritus professor of sociology and director emeritus of the Centre for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra, was identified in the chapter and expressed that he was “taken aback” by what he described as a “very offensive paper,” while denying any criminal conduct.

Routledge informed the book’s editors, Erin Pritchard of Liverpool Hope University and Delyth Edwards of the University of Leeds, that the chapter was being withdrawn.

The future of the entire book, which was published in March, is now uncertain.

The contentious chapter was authored by Lieselotte Viaene of the Carlos III University of Madrid, Catarina Laranjeiro of NOVA University of Lisbon, and Miye Nadya Tom of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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Backlash

In response to the withdrawal, an open letter signed by over 1,500 individuals, including many of the book’s authors and supporters from the wider scholarly community, is calling for Routledge to stand up to the legal threats and reinstate Chapter 12.

The letter states, “Sexual misconduct is rife in higher education. In the UK, for example, sexual harassment carried out by academic staff towards students was documented in a 2018 report, Power in the Academy, which found that one in eight students had been subjected to unwanted touching from academics.

These incidents are perpetuated by institutions historically rooted in patriarchal, racist, competitive, objectifying, and hierarchical practices of knowledge and power.”

The letter demands that Routledge publicly state why the chapter and the book were removed from their website and calls for their reinstatement.

Very concerning

Anna Bull, a lecturer in education and social justice at the University of York and co-founder of the 1752 Group, which addresses sexual harassment in higher education, described the withdrawal of the chapter as “very concerning.”

She warned that the move risked silencing victims of sexual harassment and had serious implications for academic freedom.

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“Routledge admit that they have bowed to legal threats in withdrawing the chapter. This move has serious implications for academic freedom in scholarly publications,” Bull said.

“Through the open letter to Routledge, we are hoping to persuade them to stand up to legal threats and reinstate the book. While they are also in a difficult position, they have chosen to take the least risky option, which involves siding with the powerful.”

Routledge speaks

Routledge, in a statement, explained that the academic institution involved, one of the accused, and others had made statements leading to the identification of some individuals in news articles and on social media.

The publisher received a series of legal threats from various parties, including from a leading UK law firm representing one of the accused, putting them in a difficult position of defending specific allegations against named individuals.

“After discussions failed to find a way forward, Routledge made the difficult decision to withdraw the chapter from publication and return the rights in the chapter to the authors,” the statement said.

Routledge intends to reconvene with the editors at an appropriate time to explore options for the rest of the book. However, the title will remain unavailable pending the conclusion of this process and the full resolution of legal claims.

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