Me Too: The Economists Organize

Nancy Linsfarne and Jonathan Neale

This short post is to update our readers on the Me Too firestorm that is beginning in economic departments in universities in the United States. [1]

We report in this post on several allegations. We do not, indeed cannot, know how much truth there is to these allegations. But we do know that economists are only making such allegations because all the usual channels have proved useless. We also know that the proper response for the institutions involved is an immediate, exhaustive, transparent and fair external investigation, without any presumption of guilt, but also with firm promises that no whistle blowers will be victimized.

Jennifer Doleac is an associate professor of economics at Texas A&M University. That is to say, she has tenure. Which is good, because on October 20 she sent out a dynamite of a tweet:

“Recent allegations of sexual harassment and worse against Armin Falk & Philip Dybvig are super troubling, not least because the economics profession & academia more broadly have demonstrated *zero* ability to hold people accountable for such behavior.”[2]

Doleac was punching up. Dybvig has a Nobel prize.

Falk works at the University of Bonn in Germany, where he is chief executive of the Institute on Behavior and Inequality. The immediate reaction of the University of Bonn was to issue a statement condemning spreading slander. Upon reflection, however, the Institute has done the right thing and suspended Falk for the duration of an investigation by an outside law firm, with no presumption of guilt on his part. [3]

Dybvig is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. So far Washington University (Nancy’s alma pater) seems to have done nothing.

But the real impact of Doleac’s tweet came from what happened next. Doleac started getting private messages from graduate students who had been harassed or abused in economics departments or at professional conferences. On Twitter, she asked other women with stories to get in touch. She promised confidentiality, and said she was not asking people to go public.

On October 25, five days after her first communication, Doleac tweeted:

“I’ve heard/read allegations against *at least* two dozen separate men in econ over the past few days. At least. I have lost count, tbh [to be honest]. Feeling very motivated by the strength and determination and anger of the women who are coming forward.”

Doleac was leading the charge, but she was not alone. That same say she had tweeted:

“Wisconsin econ seems to  have a big problem – people are sending me multiple names there. *Please* share stories if you have them.”

Within three days graduate students at the University of Wisconsin Madison organized an exemplary, polite but firm letter to the Department of Economics laying out in detail how they expected the department to fairly investigate all allegations. 167 graduate students in economics, agricultural economics and related departments signed the letter. They included 75% of the graduate students in the economics department.

That was three days ago.

Doleac has not let up. On October 27:

“More seriously, I’ve spent the last few days basically running a giant switchboard, putting victims & witnesses in touch with interested reporters. If you have a story to share, no need to tell me any details, just email/DM [message] me asking for the journalists’ contact info.”

And Doleac is tough. The next day, speaking of Texas A&M University, her own institution:

“Apparently there are now internal discussions at TAMU about whether I violated the code of conduct by naming a *senior* colleague in an earlier tweet. Meanwhile, other senior colleagues know about behavior and done nothing. Onward.”

She ended that tweet with a fire emoji.

Doleac is a hero. But she is the product of a mass movement. For decades women have been warning other incoming graduate students of who the predators are. That is a collective project. But back in 2018 there was hope that there would be a breakthrough in how the American Economics Association handled complaints. There has not been. And that gave fuel to many private discussions.

For example, back on October 20 Doleac had also tweeted:

“I’ll add one more to this list, bc [because] I literally cannot stand having this info anymore. I’ve heard several credible allegations against GMU’s [George Mason University’s] Dan Houser – that he gropes women PhD students at conferences. Apparently this is an open secret; if you have more info, please speak up!”

The next day Georgia Michailidou commented: “He did this to me in 2015.”

Alex Imas replied to Michailidou:

“I was at the event where it happened (an academic conference). A group of us coordinated to report DH and incident through several channels, eg AEA [American Economics Association]. As far as I can tell, nothing happened. I’m so sorry, Georgia.”

Notice that a group reported him. Notice also that the American Economics Association did nothing.

Onward.

We have also written a long read on sexual violence and harassment in anthropology, the Comaroff case at Harvard, the ways that Harvey Weinstein was protected, the long strike for fair arbitration of sexual harassment cases at Columbia University, the list of abusers in Indian universities, and our theoretical understanding of the whole hot mess. You can find that post here.


[1] The best sources for what has been happening are Jennfier Doleac’s twitter feed; Jennifer Gerson, On #EconTwitter, #MeToo Anger is boiling over, The 19th, Oct 28,2022; Caroline Kuimelis, ‘We’re Done Waiting’: In Economics, Frustrations over Harassment Take an Explicit Turn Online, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 28, 2022.

[2] The quotes from Twitter in this post are all taken from Jennifer Doleac’s feed.

[3] https://www.briq-institute.org/media/statement_oct2022.pdf

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