Opinion letter to the editor

Vice President for Research responds to column on postdocs and sexual harassment

This is a response to an article published April 12, “Do postdocs at MIT face sexual harassment?”

To the editors,

I write in regard to an April 12 opinion column titled, “Do postdocs at MIT face sexual harassment?” As Vice President for Research, I see daily how integral postdoctoral researchers are to the MIT research endeavor and the overall MIT community. Their well-being, and efforts to ensure they can conduct their work free from gender-based harassment, is crucial.

Your columnist raises concerns about the potential vulnerability of our postdoc community to sexual harassment. I appreciate the call to consider additional data collection and reporting specific to postdoctoral researchers, which could better position us to tailor education and prevention programs specific to their experiences.

To bolster MIT’s ongoing efforts to address sexual misconduct across campus, last month, President Reif convened four working groups to advance our prevention and response work in light of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on sexual harassment in academia. Postdocs will participate as members of the working groups and otherwise be engaged to develop recommendations to prevent and enhance how we respond to sexual misconduct. In addition, a different working group is finalizing recommendations on enhancements to MIT’s complaint handling policy and process. The proposed process will include compiling and reporting data on complaints of sexual harassment, including complaints by and against postdocs.

While I am eager to see what action is recommended from those groups, I also want to clarify a seeming misconception. The columnist asserts that “Title IX does not apply” to postdocs. In fact, like all members of the MIT community, Title IX does apply to postdocs. Title IX is encompassed in the Institute’s policies against sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and gender-based harassment and discrimination. If any postdoc experiences gender-based harassment or discrimination, there are multiple resources available to assist you: you can talk with your MIT departmental postdoc key contacts; confidentially discuss your experience with Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) or the Ombuds Office; or report the issue to human resources (centrally or in your department). The director of postdoctoral services in my office (Ann Skoczenski, annskocz@mit.edu), and MyLife Services, MIT’s Employee Assistance Program, are also available to you.

I hope postdoctoral researchers actively engage in the process to make our working and learning environments welcome to all. Working together on these initiatives will strengthen the Institute’s approach to preventing sexual harassment in any MIT learning or working environment.


Maria T. Zuber