UW-Madison econ department responds to grad students’ sexual misconduct concerns

The economics department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has set up a committee to respond to sexual misconduct concerns raised by graduate students in an open letter.

In a memo published on Nov. 2, UW-Madison economics department chair Chris Taber said the department was committed to fostering a harassment-free environment and that it would shortly announce next steps.

Taber wrote: “We share your commitment to maintaining high standards and will be forming a committee to begin work together to explore the issues and opportunities highlighted in your letter.” 

“Thank you for helping us continue to create the positive learning environment and working environment that we need to thrive as a department,” he added.

The response followed a letter that was sent by 167 graduate students on Oct. 28, which called on the department to take extra steps to prevent sexual harassment. In the missive, students said they were aware of accusations that have been made against members of the university’s own economics faculty.

The letter demanded that the department ensure it does not invite people with “credible outstanding allegations of misconduct” for seminars, conferences or recruitment events at the institution.

It also called on the UW-Madison department to acknowledge that students and faculty have experienced and continue to experience sexual harassment, and to ensure that a “pass the harasser” clause is strengthened and included in contracts for all new hires. 

A “pass the harasser” clause is designed to prevent known harassers from obtaining academic appointments without a prospective institution knowing about prior violations of sexual harassment policies. The Unviersity of Wisconsin system adopted such a clause in 2018.

The response from UW-Madison comes amid a wider reckoning over tolerance of sexual misconduct within the economics research community. In recent weeks, allegations against senior economists have surfaced on social networking sites including Twitter and Econ Job Rumors.