Guest Post: An Open Letter from the Former HAU Staff 7

[Footnotes has received the following open letter from “The Former HAU Staff 7.”]

This open-letter was written in December 2017 by a collective of former HAU staff in the period before HAU was handed over to the University of Chicago Press. It was not released at the time because the authors were unable to secure the public support of more than one or two senior scholars associated with HAU (many expressed their support in private correspondence) and the authors felt that without names attached, such a document would simply be ignored.

Things have changed since then. We are now in the era of the #metoo movement. People are more aware than ever of the critical importance of believing survivors—survivors and victims of misconduct, harassment and abuse more generally. And although Giovanni Da Col (GDC) has sold HAU to the University of Chicago Press, he remains a centerpiece of the HAU project and a member of the board.

We have decided to release this open letter now for a number of reasons: 1) It follows David Graeber’s public apology for his own inaction which we welcome; 2) We do not want people to think that HAU failed because it was unviable as an Open Access model. HAU failed because of the misconduct of one key individual and because senior staff and colleagues did nothing to stop him, effectively enabling his misconduct and abuse, and; 3) HAU is now a new kind of project. It is no longer OA and it belongs to the University of Chicago Press. We call on University of Chicago Press to remove GDC from all dealings with HAU.

Signed,

The Former HAU Staff 7.*

*We have chosen to remain anonymous because of our precarious position as graduate students and early career scholars and because we have no doubt that GDC will go to great lengths to seek retribution against us for speaking out about his misconduct and mistreatment of staff.


DEC 21st 2017

To: Supporters of HAU,

The purpose of this letter is to bring to your attention the extensive personal and professional misconduct of HAU’s Editor in Chief, Giovanni Da Col (GDC). The allegations against him are outlined below.

No one who believes in fair conditions and pay for workers should be willing to support HAU as a project while GDC remains Editor in Chief. We implore you to reconsider your association with HAU while GDC remains at the helm. He has systematically abused his power and proven beyond reasonable doubt that he will continue to do so given any opportunity.

I. Personal misconduct

GDC has engaged in the systematic bullying, harassment and intimidation of HAU staff. This has been our experience and we have seen other staff treated in this manner also. This is not limited to a few isolated incidents; a culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation has become so entrenched under GDC’s tenure as Editor in Chief such that this kind of treatment has come to characterize the experience of HAU staff. We endured this mistreatment for a time because we were committed to HAU as a project, because GDC sought to blame us for our own mistreatment (on account of perceived “inefficiencies” etc.), and because there was no way to voice our grievances even if we wanted to. GDC made it clear that staff were answerable to him and him alone and cut off all avenues of appeal.

It must be mentioned here that we are all aware that GDC physically assaulted an anthropology colleague back in 2014 and escaped without consequence. This incident was not strictly a HAU issue (though GDC was certainly Editor in Chief of HAU at the time). We mention it here because it reflects a pattern of personal misconduct, intimidation and abuse.

I.I         GDC has systematically underpaid, or refused to pay, HAU staff under his control. GDC did this through a practice of arbitrarily “penalizing” staff for perceived inefficiencies and/or withholding payments due to tasks that he deemed unfulfilled. Again, this was not a few isolated incidents; this has been standard practice under his tenure as Editor in Chief of HAU.

During the time that I worked for HAU I found Giovanni da Col to be an aggressive, manipulative bully. I also found him to be grossly sexist and his behavior toward me bordered on sexual harassment at times. He frequently made inappropriate remarks about my physical appearance and managed to work in completely inappropriate sexual innuendo into our conversations and correspondence.”

Giovanni would regularly attempt to bully and manipulate staff by playing them off against each other, for example, attempting to humiliate one person in front of another or threatening to take work off one to give to the other. He would do this in order to coerce staff into taking on extra work or simply to bully staff whose work he felt wasn’t up to standard or speed. These emails were always very aggressive in tone and designed to humiliate. They were almost always followed by friendly “apology-esque” emails once someone agreed to take on the work. I say ‘apology-esque’ because he never apologized. He would ask for understanding re: the amount of stress he’s under, suggest that it was our fault that we incited his anger or frustration, give a speech about “radical sacrifice” and “the spirit of HAU” etc,. and then, in my case at least, remind me of his latest vague promise to fund my way to a conference or his most recent effort to “look for money” to pay me some kind of honorarium. None of this—the funded attendance or payment by way of honorarium—ever eventuated of course . . .  but the bullying continued. It was his way of controlling ‘his’ staff.”

II. Financial misconduct

Not once has GDC produced a full set of annual accounts and an annual report on the activities of HAU for the External Advisory Board (EAB) as required annually by the constitution. Neither set of documents has ever been received by the EAB. No one has ever cited such a document. And because the EAB has no executive power (by GDC’s own design) there is no way for the EAB to secure these documents.  GDC’s failure to keep accounts and produce financial reports is completely unacceptable.

II.I        Having fired the treasurer, GDC has had sole access to and control of HAU finances without any oversight or transparency for the majority of the time HAU has been in existence. GDC also sets his own salary, paying himself an undisclosed sum from HAU funds, without any oversight or transparency. GDC uses HAU funds as he personally chooses and keeps absolutely no record of where the money goes or what it is spent on. This kind of financial misconduct is almost unthinkable until you see it for yourself and it betrays the trust of all who have financially supported HAU.

“It was especially sickening to witness this kind of financial misconduct while Giovanni systematically withheld our meagre pay by way of honorarium.”

II.II       GDC deliberately and systematically overcharged authors and institutions for production costs associated with HAU publications, inflating estimates of production costs in order to be awarded larger amounts from subvention funds at universities. This is all the more disturbing given there is no way of knowing where this money is actually going.

III. Professional misconduct

GDC failed to consult the EAB on key decisions affecting HAU and its future direction. Of most concern to us is his decision to ask authors, after their manuscripts have been accepted to HAU, to pay Article Processing Charges (APCs). This was a major policy change that deeply affected the principle of Open Access with which HAU began, and yet the EAB was in no way consulted. GDC took it upon himself to decide that HAU would no longer be Open Access and consulted no one before implementing this new policy direction. This kind of professional misconduct betrays the trust of all who have supported HAU as a groundbreaking OA project.

“We initially joined the HAU editorial team because HAU represented a radical OA project that we wanted to be a part of. We endured the personal and professional misconduct of GDC while working for HAU because we were committed to this OA project. The fact that GDC personally shot down this ideological pillar of HAU without so much as consulting the EAB, let alone the wider HAU community, just says so much. We are angry, heartbroken and we feel deeply betrayed.”

III.I       By his own design HAU is entirely run and controlled by one person—GDC. He has ignored concerns over this concentration of power and he has actively resisted attempts to structurally reform HAU to ensure a clear separation of powers between editorial, administrative, and financial elements of the enterprise.

III.II      There are no means for resolving disputes involving GDC as Editor in Chief because (by his own design) the EAB is only advisory and is answerable to one person: GDC. Should GDC’s behavior, as Editor in Chief, become cause for concern—and we think it is—there is nothing that can be done about it by the EAB or anyone else.  Hence the extraordinary action we are taking today by releasing this letter.

GDC should resign or the Board and the many financial supporters of HAU should withdraw their support for HAU and associated projects until he does so.

HAU as a project should live on but the influence of GDC should be left in the past.

Signed,

The Former HAU Staff 7.

  1. I’m wondering how much of this David Graeber knew when he wrote this piece for The Guardian, and whether he hoped, even idly, that this would set him up as a Good Guy: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/05/dsk-sexual-assault-feminism-weinstein-casting-couch

    Reply

  2. David Graeber June 13, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Actually it was if anything the other way around. The Guardian piece came out November 5, 2017. It was two weeks later, around November 20, that I was contacted by former HAU workers and told about what had been happening at the journal. I have been in regular contact with them ever since. I suppose it’s possible that they might have been more inclined to see me as a potentially sympathetic ally because of the Guardian essay, but I think it’s more likely the two events are unrelated.

    On 20 December 2017 I wrote a private email (cc’d only to Marshall Sahlins) to the editor of HAU, Giovanni da Col, telling him I found the allegations of bullying and misconduct credible, and urging him to step down as editor. He replied that he would never speak to me again. I was removed from the HAU masthead two hours later and have had no formal ties to HAU since. When I asked the head of the board, Carole McGranahan, what process had been used to remove me from the masthead, she told me that my term of office as “editor at large” had expired several months before, but that staff had only just now noticed it, and removing me had absolutely nothing to do with my having called for the editor to resign two hours before. She insisted it was a complete coincidence.
    DG

    Reply

    1. Footnotes Editor June 13, 2018 at 9:41 pm

      Footnotes has been able to confirm the fidelity of David’s timeline. Multiple members of the Former HAU Staff 7 have submitted to Footnotes copies of emails between David and the members of HAU as well as emails between David and Former HAU Staff 7 members that corroborate the timeline and all of his claims in this comment.

      Reply

  3. The following message comes from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous.

    Thank you HAU former staff for writing this and sharing. Thank you Footnotes for publishing.

    I have now experienced and witnessed 5 people being bullied, abused, set up to fail, ignored, dismissed and made to feel they are to blame for their experiences and that is only in my small sphere of personal experience in anthropology.

    The response when these concerns have been raised has been to black list the victims as ‘difficult’, to say that it is not possible that anthropologists (especially senior ones) are capable of mistreating fellow anthropologists.

    It is unclear whether these particular responses are at best apathetic or at worst a refusal to relinquish the privileges of not being accountable. But more broadly it seems that being accountable for one’s behaviour appears to be equated with loss of personal freedom and the hypocrisy of this is that some people’s freedom is more valuable than others’.

    These are issues of covert discrimination that are rife in academia and movements like Reclaim the University have not addressed them at all. The University and College Union, UK has produced a film called ‘Witness’ about covert racism in academia that shows how destructive covert forms of discrimination are.

    Here is the video

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SGOMEXQe63E

    It is high time, especially considering anthropological concern and writings on ethics, subjugation, power, representation, relationality, that we have a proper discussion about due process for professional conduct.

    Having experienced sexist treatment in the run up to a conference I asked the Organisers of a prominent anthropological association to have a code of conduct for its conferences as many for instance software conferences

    https://www.ashedryden.com/blog/codes-of-conduct-101-faq

    The response of the chair was to unsatisfactory to say the least.

    No prescriptive code will be issued, but A reminder will be sent out to ask people at the conference to act with consideration and courtesy – note here the abhorrence of a prescriptive code and the point I made earlier of loss of freedom. I was told that if I disagree with this decision I can raise the issue at the organisation’s AGM

    As an early career scholar, and someone who was appealing to the association because of an experience of abuse (!) this puts the burden entirely on me at great risk of being labelled ‘difficult’ during the painful process of trying to get a permanent position. The responsibility seems to be that of the victim to initiate and bear the weight of the whole process… this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    Reply

    1. Stephan Feuchtwang June 17, 2018 at 6:20 am

      From minor contributor to and admirer of HAU

      My name is Stephan Feuchtwang. I have contributed two discussion pieces to HAU. I have admired and still do admire the establishment of HAU as an intellectually pioneering Open Access journal of anthropology. I want to thank the staff who have worked to keep it going. But now that I have read the former seven and the current four staff open letters I am appalled at the disclosure of Giovanni da Col’s bullying and manipulative editorial management. I had known he was given to occasional violent outbursts. But what they have outlined is consistent and continuous misconduct.

      I don’t fully understand whether and how Open Access to future issues of HAU will or could be maintained after the deal with University of Chicago Press, but I hope it can. Are any of the current staff working toward that end? If so, they deserve support, even though they must be silent.

      For now, I dissociate myself from HAU as a possible contributor but I hope some indication of a more accountable and staff-respecting constitution can be created, by or without Giovanni da Col.

      Reply

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