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Representatives Lamar Smith (R–TX, right) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX, left) in 2013

House Committee on Space, Science and Technology

House science committee investigating sexual harassment allegations against Boston University geologist

The science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives today launched a bipartisan investigation into sexual harassment allegations against David Marchant, a prominent Antarctic geologist at Boston University (BU). 

In a 26 October letter to BU President Robert Brown, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the panel’s chairperson, and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), the committee’s senior Democrat, demand “all documents and communications” related to BU’s 12-month-old investigation of Marchant, and to his U.S. awards and funding. The pair sent similar letters to France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and to Robert Lightfoot, Jr., acting administrator of NASA. Marchant has received “over $5.4 million in awards from NSF and NASA” since the late 1990s, the lawmakers wrote.

The House panel gave the university and the agencies until 9 November to produce the requested documents.

The allegations against Marchant were first reported by Science earlier this month. 

BU launched an investigation of Marchant after one of his former graduate students filed a complaint with the university’s Equal Opportunity Office in October 2016. In that complaint, Jane Willenbring, now an associate professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego, alleged that Marchant sexually harassed her in Antarctica in 1999, when she was 22 years old. A second complaint against Marchant was filed by another of his former graduate students in May. She also alleged that Marchant sexually harassed her when she was a young graduate student doing isolated field work with him in Antarctica. She has requested anonymity.

This week, in an email to ScienceInsider, Colin Riley, BU’s executive director of media relations, wrote that “Prof. Marchant is on administrative leave as [Earth and Environment] department chair” but continues to teach. Marchant was placed on leave after Science’s article appeared.

BU investigators told Willenbring last month that their probe of her allegations against Marchant would be completed soon.