Famed geneticist Francisco J. Ayala resigns after his university finds him guilty of sexual harassment

If you’re in evolutionary genetics, you’ll know the name of Francisco J. Ayala.  When I first met him in 1971 at Rockefeller University, where he was studying fly genetics in Theodosius Dobzhansky’s lab (I was a beginning grad student), he was a Dominican priest, and came to lab in his priest suit, complete with collar.  When Dobzhansky retired and moved to the University of California at Davis in 1971 (and I became a conscientious objector working in a New York hospital), Ayala was hired to run the fly lab while Dobzhansky had a sort of “emeritus” status. (I had also gone to Rockefeller to become Dobzhansky’s student, but his retirement ended that plan.)

Ayala gained renown for his work on genetic variation revealed via electrophoresis in Drosophila: the same project that brought fame to my own advisor Dick Lewontin.  Lewontin got there first, and he and Ayala hated each other. That wasn’t because of competititiveness (at least on Dick’s part), but because Dick found Ayala’s work shoddy and despised the man’s careerism.

I remember one evening around 1980 when Lewontin was invited to give a big science talk at UC Davis, where I was then a postdoc. Ayala gave the introduction—the most insulting introduction I’ve ever heard. He made several snide remarks about Dick, and wound up saying that Dick was “most famous for attacking other people’s work.” We all cringed: Ayala’s words were nasty and reprehensible.

Dick didn’t miss a beat. He stood up and told a story of the famous baseball umpire Bill Klem. (That story is probably apocryphal.)  When someone who didn’t like Klem’s calls said that “he called them as he saw them,” Klem replied, “No, I called them as they WAS!” Lewontin’s point, of course, was that he was critical only of those who were truly wrong. Having seen the correspondence between them about electrophoresis (Dick showed it to us, and wouldn’t go public with criticism until he’d given the person every chance to correct their errors), I saw that Dick was right about Ayala. I won’t go into details of their scientific fracas here, but I remember them well.

Ayala became rich (I believe that, besides running a vineyard in California bearing his name, he had family money and also married a hotel heiress) and very powerful, but was not widely liked in the population genetics community nor at UC Davis, where most of the faculty I knew couldn’t abide the man. (I hasten to add that some people did like him.) As I recall, when Ayala moved to the University of California at Irvine, already well known, the department at Davis was so happy to be rid of him that they didn’t make a counteroffer (I am going from memory here and may be wrong.)

I found Ayala snobbish, arrogant, and above all a rampant careerist, who would do anything to become famous and promote his name. Eventually he donated $10 million to the biology section of UC Irvine, which renamed the biology school the Ayala School of Biological Sciences (it’s already been renamed on its website). A library was also named after him. He continued to accrue power, having a huge influence about which evolutionary biologists got into the National Academy of Sciences. Ayala also won the million-pound Templeton Prize in 2010 (he was always soft on religion, and refused to say whether he believed in God).

An example of his accommodationism is this book, which maintains that evolution was a “gift to religion” because it solved theological problems. If evolution, for example, produced imperfect design and nasty things like parasites, we need not wonder why God would create these things—supposedly solving the problem of evil. It didn’t, of course, because one could counterargue that a powerful God could have tweaked evolution to leave out the evil bits.

At Davis Ayala had the reputation of being a letcher, or at least of having a “keen eye for the ladies.” I remember well one of his graduate students, an attractive woman, telling me that when she met with Ayala and wanted to ask him for something, she’d always wear a very short skirt to curry his favor. I don’t recall any direct accusations of sexual harassment, but of course those were the days (early 1980s) before that kind of behavior was widely recognized as destructive and demeaning to women, and when the climate was just “boys will be boys.”

I must say that I was, surprised, though, to see this headline in the L.A. Times (click to read the article):

An excerpt:

Acclaimed UC Irvine geneticist Francisco J. Ayala has resigned after a university investigation found he sexually harassed four faculty members and graduate students, the university announced Thursday.

. . . In 2011, Ayala donated $10 million to the School of Biological Sciences, which then bore his name. It was the largest gift from a faculty member at the time.

The university said Ayala’s name has been removed from that school, and is also being removed from its central science library, graduate fellowships, scholar programs and endowed chairs. The biology school will now be known as the UCI School of Biological Sciences. 

“I thank and commend our colleagues who reported this misconduct,” Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement. “Coming forward with this information was extremely courageous. Professor Ayala’s behavior defied our core beliefs and was inconsistent with our policies, guidelines and required training.”

Micha Liberty, an attorney who represents three of the women, said UCI ignored years of complaints from professors and graduate students that Ayala touched them and made sexual and sexist comments. She said one of the professors she’s representing reported Ayala’s conduct three years ago, but university officials failed to investigate or sanction him.

“They just told him, ‘Stay away from her,’” Liberty said. “Dr. Ayala has had a long and successful career and was clearly an asset to the UCI campus … and that in turn motivated UCI to look the other way when it came to complaints of sexual harassment.”

. . . Liberty said her clients are dissatisfied that UCI has not acknowledged its failure to act on previous complaints and protect women from Ayala. She said there are many more victims but most are scared to come forward because his stature in the field gives him the power to make or break careers.

I don’t think he has that stature any more.

Here’s the official announcement sent to the UC Irvine community:

Ayala’s behavior, combined with his immense power, wound up creating a horrible situation. Horrible for science, horrible for the community of scientists, and, above all, horrible for women. As far as I’m concerned, he’s now got what he deserved, but he got it too late.

Francisco J. Ayala

h/t: Mizrob

91 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that story. On this subject it is classic. I continue to find it really pathetic how far behind universities are in this. They are nearly all in the 80s with their handling of this huge problem. Ignorance can exist in the halls of education.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Isn’t it even worse in other, similarly large, similarly tentacular business organisations?

      It often seems like the places which are most concerned(even if that concern is late in coming, or inconsistent, or way below the level we should be aiming for) about reporting sexual harassment inevitably come out of stories like this looking worse than those organisations where women simply _never_ report bad behaviour because it’s just so prevalent and ingrained, and the culture is so toxic that they wouldn’t be believed.

      The places that are least toxic(not ‘good’, just ‘least toxic’) gain a reputation for being hives of awfulness, because at least some women are prepared to come forward, and there is some level of support for them coming forward. I suspect the worst places tend to be the ones where you hear nary a whisper of complaints.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        The thing is, sexual harassment as a problem in our society has been around for a long time but has only recently been discovered by the society as a whole. And once recognized it took a good deal of time to understand how to properly handle it. I suspect the company I worked for was one of the early ones to begin to deal with it in the 80s. We did not know how to fix it at first and tried different things before we got there. I will guess that the Anita Hill story was the first time most of us even heard of it. We are still living with the failure of that report every time we look at the Supreme Court.

        So as I have said before, we started the sexual harassment classes and all of that initial stuff. Overall it has little effect on the problem. It might make people aware it exist but does nothing to stop it. Eventually, we discovered the company must have experts in dealing with this. Where in the company you put these experts can vary. We put them in HR as a separate unit and also in the legal department. We gave short training classes on how everyone in the company was to act both in reporting sexual harassment and what would take place after reporting. It must be fast and very disciplined. Any employee who believes they have been sexually harassed must report it to HR or to any supervisor or manager they want. The supervisor or manager must do one thing and one thing only and that is report it to HR in two hours. If you fail to do this, it will likely be your job. After reporting it you go back to work and do nothing.

        I may seem to exaggerate the procedures here but they are important. If persons in the company believe they will be retaliated against by reporting sexual harassment, you have lost the battle. Also, if you leave things open to the supervisors or managers to deal with this problem you are asking for lots of trouble. This does not work. Sexual harassment is not an opinion. It is not something for a few people in the office to kick around and study.

        Anyway, without going into this further I will simply say, some companies such as the place I worked know how to deal with this problem and have fixed it.

        • Lynn Wilhelm
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Sadly workplace measures are often like trying to close the barn doors a bit late. The “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” attitudes begin very, very early.

          The earlier we can teach boys that any form of sexual harassment is unacceptable, the more successful we’ll be. I certainly see it happening a bit (I have a teenage daughter), but there are still people out there who think it’s OK to teach boys that women are objects (like Drumpf). Our schools, public figures, every person who is ever around children need to model better behaviour. At least most girls and women aren’t keeping quiet about it any longer, I only hope that remains the case.

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            It must be possible to conceive of a kind of ‘civil behaviour’ class – good manners essentially, with enough overlap between right and left-wing approaches to the subject as to be uncontroversial. Obviously it’d be difficult to get a consensus from both sides of the political divide on what constitutes ‘good behaviour’, but we still belong to the same species, just about; it could be done.

            That along with mandatory critical thinking lessons could do some real good.

            When you think about it, mathematics, English, biology, history – none of these subjects are halfway as important as teaching kids how to be relatively decent human beings and how to think critically.

            • yazikus
              Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

              Obviously it’d be difficult to get a consensus from both sides of the political divide on what constitutes ‘good behaviour’,

              I worked for the last decade in a very conservative industry, in a very republican office with a both heavily involved with the GOP. Workplace decorum was heavily emphasized, and my employer made it well known that she did not tolerate inappropriate workplace conduct. I think we’d be surprised by how much both sides have in common with this. It seems the only folks are opposed are those who desire to misbehave.

              • Saul Sorrell-Till
                Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                I think both sides have more in common than they’re prepared to admit, which is precisely the problem: they’re not prepared to admit it.

                As soon as it was framed in a political way(and it would be, very quickly) any common sense consensus becomes much more difficult to reach. People on both sides would inevitably see any final common ground as an attempt at indoctrination from their opponents. We’ve seen it before.
                Fox News would get hold of the story, they’d excise the proposed part of the lesson where children are taught to show tolerance towards gay people, and it’d be a ‘Marxist plot to turn kids queer’ within a couple of hours.

              • Saul Sorrell-Till
                Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                I’m arguing against myself here a little – but still, I think it’d be possible, given enough good faith from enough people on both sides.

            • Gabrielle
              Posted June 29, 2018 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

              For those individuals who engage repeatedly in harassing behavior, no amount of training will get through to them and make them stop. The only thing that makes a difference is that they suffer a negative consequence as a result of their behavior, mainly a loss in their status in one way or another. They may not care about other people, but they do care about their reputations, especially in the workplace.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted June 29, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

            That might be a nice idea but may not apply as much as you think. Teaching respect and all that might help a bit but I do not think it does much. If you had a class for the kids on racism would that solve the problem. Everyone would get along and prejudice eliminated? No likely.

            We will have sexual harassers out there as long as we have humans. Just like we have rape and sexual assault. Sexual harassment must be taken on in a profession and proven way. I can tell you it works if you implement the proper procedures for it.

            • Saul Sorrell-Till
              Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

              I’m not quite that naive. But it’s worth doing anything that has positive systemic effects, even if they’re small.

              I presume you’d be in favour of critical thinking lessons, even though they wouldn’t turn everyone into rationalists overnight either.

    • Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Or in the halls of government; Ayala gone, good – the Orange Draft Dodger, not, not so good.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        The flaw in the orange microdexter’s case is that sexual harassment accusations often require that the accused be capable of feeling shame. If they’re not capable, if instead they’re the kind of person who poses as their own publicist in order to pretend that Madonna wanted to sleep with them, then the accusations won’t work.

        And this is the president of America. It’s like we’re living in a David Lynch film.

        • Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          Agreed. And not only does the POSPOTUS not feel shame, but rather is defiantly proud about his behavior.

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            I like the acronym. Every time I see POTUS I’m now going to imagine that the TU stands for ‘Total, Utter’.

      • Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        The Orange One will be in office for 7 more years at worst. I wonder for how long Ayala has enjoyed power. His textbook was translated to my (obscure) language when I was a teen, and I will soon be 50.

  3. Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Some 40 years ago I bought and read Dobzhansky’s last book (with the informative title Evolution). The preface was written in December 1976 by Ayala, Stebbins and Valentine. Ayala contributed four chapters to that book.

    I hadn’t really taken notice of anything the man has written since. What a stunning piece of news.

  4. Erik
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I met Ayala briefly at a meeting, but the conversation focused on “Creation Science” and didn’t offer much opportunity to gauge his personality. I rarely found his research papers useful, but I have used his essays on the history and philosophy aspects of evolutionary biology for class discussion. When I first taught an upper level Evolution course (coincidentally at Irvine, but well before he moved there), I used the textbook he co-authored with Dobzhansky, Stebbins and Valentine. The book included a 40 page philosophy chapter, which I assume Ayala wrote. Many of the students found it to be the most challenging part of the book because they were rarely asked to consider the wider implications of what they were studying. However, based on the details of this post, this is going to be another case where it will be hard to separate the work from the person who produced it.

    • Posted June 29, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I just read the 40-page philosophy chapter for the first time in decades. It’s an exemplary, admirable piece of writing on the scientific method.

      Ayala defends Popperian falsificationism, shows how the theory of natural selection is compatible with it, and explicitly dismisses the ID type of creationism (which wasn’t even an issue at the time).

      Sorry to hear about his personality.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    As we see in yesterday’s shooting at the newspaper in Maryland, sexual harassment was the initial problem back around 2011. This particular harasser had far more mental problems which led to this murder of 5 people.

  6. Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Right, he won the Templeton Prize in 2010, which, “… honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” A cringeworthy prize if ever there was one. This guy wrote a paper claiming morality was an “exaptation,” and that therefore, because a equals b, and b equals c, human beings are a Blank Slate as far as morality is concerned. I’m sure Steven Pinker would recognize the type.

  7. Dominic
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. I suppose though he was doing what men with power usually do…?

    PS unfair on parasites! They are not evil. They just ARE like all other life (I realize PCC[E] does not think they are ‘evil’).
    As evil does not exist I do not see a problem with it! 😉

  8. Larry Smith
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this front-row account. One of the great things about your site, especially for a total layperson like me, is being able to hear first-hand accounts about real people doing real science in the real world… it’s like getting a look at history while it’s unfolding.

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    What a despicable character on all counts. I found it interesting that his Wiki and bio in Encyclopaedia Britannica state that he left the priesthood in 1960, the same year he was ordained. If so, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, he was running around in priest drag in 1971, when PCC(E) first met him; which means that he was consciously misrepresenting himself in that regard.

    • Rawandi
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Ayala left the priesthood in 1967 and married a hotel heiress in 1968.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        So he was married, too, when PCC(E) met him while he was in clerical drag, posing as a priest. That’s so weird. Wonder why he’d do that?

        • Rawandi
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          It’s probably a memory failure of Dr. Coyne.

          • Posted June 29, 2018 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            It may well be; I may be mistaking a photograph of him in his priest outfit with actually seeing himself in his priest outfit.

    • Peter Ames
      Posted June 30, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      “Despicable character on all counts.”
      Have you ever met the man? I would advise slowing down a bit. My wife knows Professor Ayala very well, has worked with him periodically for over 20 years. He has treated her with respect and kindness and generosity. She would agree that in the academic battle he has been competitive and at times arrogant. Yes, he is flawed like the rest of us. But despicable?
      You don’t know the man and neither does this author. And you also don’t know the women who made the charges. Do you assume they are living perfect lives? Professor Ayala’s life is now destroyed. Is that cause for celebration?

      • Posted June 30, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        I wasn’t friends with Ayala, but I did know him, so you’re wrong. And who is celebrating? As for his life, we didn’t ruin it, so you can blame his behavior and UC Irvine, who I suspect did a pretty thorough investigation before finding one of their biggest donors culpable.

        As for saying that maybe the women who made the charges “aren’t living perfect lives,” is that relevant? Not at all, unless you’re saying they lied. Maybe that’s what you’re saying At any rate, this was not a legal charge but a matter of University discipline, and remember, he resigned. Why did he do that instead of fighting the charges.

        Finally, you imply it is impossible for a man to treat your wife with decency and harass other women. That assertion is ludicrous; it’s not necessary that he harassed everyone with two X chromosomes.

  10. Rawandi
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    If evolution is a gift to religion, then sexual harassment must be a gift to woman.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      That is good. Maybe great.

  11. Posted June 29, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    As an aside, note that Darwin came close to calling evolution a gift to religion in Origin of Species: “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. . . . It is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that he created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.” He could easily bend that to “a MORE noble conception” since the religious person could use evolution to show that God did a better job up front (in Darwin’s view, anyway 🙂 )

    • Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Darwin was a scientist and a former theologian. So is Ayala. Both have said something in the line of evolution being a gift to religion. The difference? Darwin got no check from a dubious foundation.

      (Of course, he may have been motivated by a wish to make his work accepted. But even so, I don’t mind it.)

      • GBJames
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        That’s a pretty extreme stretch of the word “theologian”. He was a student intending to become a priest. Not exactly what one from the phrase “former theologian”.

        • Posted July 12, 2018 at 3:31 am | Permalink

          My bad. I thought that the BA degree he got in 1831 qualified him to become a priest if he wished so. I checked now that he would have needed additional courses in “divinity”, whatever this means.

  12. Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your honest assessment, Dr. Coyne. I expect you undertook this post with resolve but also with the utmost regret.

  13. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Back in the early Pleistocene Epoch, when I was teaching a subject called Genetics (since replaced by a sub-species called Genomics), I quite liked Ayala’s textbook. I thought it the best written of the available texts, which unfortunately is not saying much. This, of course, has nothing to do with Ayala’s personal behavior, or the quality of his work on electrophoretic polymorphisms.

    The removal of Ayala’s name from, well, everything at UCI strikes me as stupid and more than a little ominous. Will Ayala’s picture also be air-brushed out of conference photographs, the way Leon Trotsky’s image mysteriously disappeared from Soviet historical documents? Next, will there be a drumbeat to rename everything named after those notorious slave-owners Washington and Jefferson?

    • Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      My $0.02 (worth somewhat less in 2018 dollars)

      We really shouldn’t name anything at all after real people – there is no one any where any time who is pure enough to satisfy everyone.

      Anyway, it’s just a name, in the end. Often we chose to name places after people even though many of those places already had a name. I live in a state named after one of those slave holders. But where it had different names long before I got here.

      Same thing is true for buildings, bridges, highways – we give them names that reflect the sentiment of the people at the time. But times and sentiments change. So I really just can’t get my dander up about renaming a building or a mountain or an endowment fund.

    • W.Benson
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Funny, no one mentions that Ayala is 84 years old. This does not excuse his behavior (whatever it was), but it puts some restrictions on its motivation and his mental state. Note that complaints were made regarding Ayala for years, but the university only acted after MeToo became the fashion. Was the UC administration remiss in not calling Ayala out earlier and now wish to distract attention from the fact? Sorry, but the harsh treatment given Ayala suspiciously recalls the uncompromising moralism of the Regressive Left.

      • yazikus
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Sorry, but the harsh treatment given Ayala suspiciously recalls the uncompromising moralism of the Regressive Left.

        How is this treatment harsh after the length and seriousness of his transgressions? What exactly are you sorry for?

        • Adam M.
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Well, I do wonder about the details. Making “sexist comments” might be obnoxious but don’t strike me as harassment or a crime (depending on the details), and you’d almost expect it from someone in his 80s, born and raised in a different time. “Touching” could range from a friendly (but unwanted) hand on a shoulder to our President’s own example. Francisco is described as Spanish-American and may well have been raised with a more touchy culture.

          I haven’t seen evidence of ‘serious transgressions’ so I’m not leaping to judgment

          • yazikus
            Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            I’m always a little surprised at the lengths we go to pretend these otherwise very intelligent men are somehow inept when it comes to workplace decorum. I’ve worked for years with people in their 70’s & 80’s, and somehow they have managed to not sexually harass their colleagues.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        The harsh treatment given Ayala? You mean, a rare instance of a person of such high standing actually having to endure some negative consequences for their habitual mistreatment of other people? Some stuff named after him got renamed and he felt compelled, or perhaps was even required to resign from a job that won’t inconvenience him in the slightest except for a loss of reputation? And you think this is harsh? You think we should have sympathy for Ayala and blame his poor treatment on the uncompromising moralism of the Regressive Left?

        I suggest that views such as that are part of the problem. Powerful take advantage of their power and the cover granted them by attitudes like the above to habitually mistreat others. It’s an ancient problem and it won’t significantly change until enough people stop giving them sympathy and cover simply because they are rich, famous, powerful or have done something great.

        • yazikus
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          It’s an ancient problem and it won’t significantly change until enough people stop giving them sympathy and cover simply because they are rich, famous, powerful or have done something great.

          Or old, apparently.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      To compare this guy and his behavior to Jefferson and Washington is misplaced or at least confused. Both Washington and Jefferson were born into a slavery society. Judging them in the way you do in 2018 is frankly without foundation. I could not criticize the school for wanting to remove his name at all. His behavior ended with the correct results. Calling the action stupid leaves you open to the same by some.

      • Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        I think you might have misunderstood Jon’s comment. At least the part about the slave holders.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          Possibly so but I see so many today taking their 21st century morals back 100s of years and judging those in earlier years with them. This guy in the school kind of got what was coming to him without any input from the founders.

    • Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Jon,
      Has the course taught by you really been renamed from Genetics to Genomics, or you just meant that everyone today is talking about genomics?

  14. Avis James
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Wow.

  15. Lynn Wilhelm
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the history on Ayala, he sounds like a real jerk.

    I want to comment on this sentence of yours:
    “I don’t recall any direct accusations of sexual harassment, but of course those were the days (early 1980s) before that kind of behavior was widely recognized as destructive and demeaning to women, and when the climate was just “boys will be boys.”

    While this is largely correct, the part that’s missing is that such behaviour WAS recognized by women as destructive and demeaning, just not by the actual perpetrators.

    I believe you know this, but it’s omission left a pretty big hole in that statement.

    • Posted June 29, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, of course I was talking about men who largely wielded the levers, of power and thus didn’t punish that behavior. but didn’t make that clear. Thanks for pointing this out.

  16. Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    This should look good on Templeton’s awards page.

  17. Patrick Foley
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I also knew Francisco Ayala (and Jerry) at UCDavis during his last several years there. In fact I TA’d for his Philosophy of Biology class for 5 years. I saw no evidence at all of sexual harassment. I also did not hear rumors of sexual harassment at that time, although I heard such rumors from grad students about other faculty members.

    Francisco was absolutely a careerist, and that annoyed several of the faculty at Davis. And he was not a mathematical population geneticist, so people in that field tended to be dismissive of his work. Lewontin and his lineage (of whom I am one, his academic great grandson) are often in that category. He also had the finest library of old books on evolution and natural selection. He loved the subject and published very widely, if not always deeply. He tended at times to be a celebrity scholar.

    In the past years at Irvine Ayala has done valuable research on malaria, and he has attained the age of 84. I have no knowledge at all of any actions of his at UCIrvine, and do not doubt the accusations against him. But is it not worth mentioning again that the man is 84?

    • yazikus
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      But is it not worth mentioning again that the man is 84?

      Why is his age here relevant?

      • Adam M.
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Because intent matters and his behavior might have been completely proper in his time.

        • yazikus
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          ‘Completely proper’ in his time? He isn’t 184, for goodness sake.

        • Posted June 29, 2018 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

          It was never “completely proper” to sexually harass women. It was merely accepted as a norm because those with the power (men), set the standards for behaviour.

      • Patrick Foley
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Many people are not at the top of their game at age 84.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

          What’s the cut-off point, just for future reference?

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

            …which is to say, at what age do I get my get-out-of-jail-free card for sexual harassment?

  18. Curtis
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Did they give him the $10 million back?

  19. colnago80
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Relative to his supposed religious beliefs, it is my information that (former) Prof. Ayala always refused to address the question as to whether he was a believer when asked.

  20. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Ayala’s age is also relevant in regard to behavior patterns. He grew up in Spain in the 1940s, where it is possible that standards of sexual conduct were just a tad different than they are at UCI very recently. BTW, Curtis’ question of whether they gave him back the $10 million was great—and, of course, we know the answer will be de ninguna manera.

    • yazikus
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Ayala’s age is also relevant in regard to behavior patterns. He grew up in Spain in the 1940s, where it is possible that standards of sexual conduct were just a tad different than they are at UCI very recently.

      Did he time-travel from 1940 to 2018? If not, he had plenty of years to catch up on cultural norms.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Oh, that is a good one. Time-Travel, that must have been it.

      • Jose
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Hello folks,

        I am Jose, a University professor from Spain. I did my postdoctoral studies in USA and I have lived in both academic environments.
        I have to say that I am in shock about this news.
        Firstly, I have to say that back in the 1940’s Ayala was thinking to be a Catholic priest and thinking that sexual relationships were just to make children. It looks like he has changed his point of view…

        In my point of view, the age it is very important here, but not because he could be old-fashion. At 84 years it is easy to be in senile dementia.

        Another thing that is difficult for me to understand is the grade of “sexual harassment”. I have seen that Ayala has said that he has been accused of sexual harassment to salute colleagues giving two kisses in the chick to students. In my point of view in USA, this is totally inappropriate. Ayala is aware of that. But in Spain it is not inappropriate, it is the way to salute women here, these two kisses has nothing of sexual, and most of the times actually are like more cheek to cheeks bumps).
        I guess that “sexual harassment” because Ayala has done something beyond salute women in this way.

        Another thing that I have to say, is that as young faculty I have troubles dealing with a hypersensitivity to sexual harassment that I observed in USA some years ago and that I am experienced also in Spain nowadays.
        Female students come to see in my office, closing the door and dressing inappropriately or crying in tears because she has suspended the exam. When I see that I urgently open my office and invite the student to go to a public area. I have dealt good so far these situations, but what would happen if the student says that I have touched her because I have not revised her exam the way she liked?
        Anyways, I have to say that these cases have changed my behavior and since I came back from USA, I have never salute to female students bumping cheeks, I give her the hands. And this is considered by many (believed or not) extremely rude here in Spain. But I prefer to be rude than to have harassment suspicions on me.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          I would not worry too much as it sounds like you do the right thing. Maybe you should have a camera in the office as additional help. I worry more about the instructor who does ask for favors for grades and gets away with it often. A proper investigator would never make a finding on you unless there is a history and would talk to many of your associates and students before determining anything. Of course I am only talking about institutions that have a proper sexual harassment unit.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted June 29, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

          I think you are handling the more delicate situations pretty well. To that I would add that you should have conversations with fellow faculty about such situations (no need to name names), where you mention what you do, which is to keep the door open as a matter of policy. This means there is a record out there of what you do, should it ever be needed.
          I am also an educator at a university, and had a few situations that were similar. I had a student pointedly close the office door, and I, pointedly, openned the door and carried on the conversation with them from the hallway.
          Although I have never done this myself, if a situation with a student turns into one where there seems a quid pro quo ‘expectation’, what you should do is immediately flag down a fellow faculty member and carry on the conversation with the student in their presence. Then you and your colleague should write down what happened. That was the advice I had received, though I hope to never have to use it.

          • Jose
            Posted July 1, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, It looks like a good advice. I also hope to never have to use it.
            Jose.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      People aren’t just frozen at the mental stage they were in when they were eighteen you know. There’s a general expectation from society that they continue to modify their behaviour and grow as people over time.

  21. barn owl
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Diversity advisors will work with the biology school’s students, faculty, staff and administration to provide additional training and counseling.

    Hmmm, “diversity advisors.” Not psychologists, psychiatrists, or student/faculty affairs counselors. I’d be interested to see the credentials of these diversity advisors.

    • Bob Murray
      Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      A copy of the Communist Manifesto, a Che Guevara t-shirt and a Tokarev pistol.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        And they’re under your bed right now too.

      • barn owl
        Posted June 29, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        Let the struggle sessions begin!

    • Samedi
      Posted June 30, 2018 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      “Diversity advisor” is a euphemism for commissar. Since their function is political, their credentials don’t matter. The only thing that matters is their adherence to the correct ideology. The troubling part is that many progressives turn a blind eye to this disturbing phenomenon out of sympathy with regressive left ideology. It’s shortsighted in the same way the anti-freedom of speech movement is. Once you invest a role with this kind of power, you had better be prepared for that power to be wielded by someone with opposing political views.

    • jhs
      Posted July 1, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      My Chairperson invited a diversity officer to our departmental meeting after a TA was accused of sexually harassing a female student. Faculties didn’t know the details of the case due to privacy policies. The officer seemed to be experienced and possess knowledge about laws, and provided ways to handle various situations, both hypothetical and actual. The meeting was very helpful and informative.

  22. Jody Hey
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I did not know Ayala well, although I did once edit a book with him, an opportunity for which I was, and am still, grateful to him. Long before that I was a postdoc in the Lewontin lab, so I was also fully imbued with a negative feeling towards Ayala. When I did finally meet him and work him, I was glad to glimpse another side.
    However, as my personal experience of Ayala was quite limited, I have little basis to actually dispute Jerry’s negative portrayal (and I’m not commenting at all on the circumstances of his sudden downfall).
    I would add however, that Ayala served at the highest advisor level that a scientist can serve in the US. He spoke with presidents, chaired high level committees in NAS , was president of AAAS, and served on many boards. Again, I’m not very familiar with his record, but it is my understanding that he was a strong champion of science and of evolutionary biology in particular. Perhaps there are ways that he might have been an even better champion, but Ayala was unusual among evolutionary biologists for playing this kind of public advisory role. For better or worse, most famous evolutionary biologists just don’t get that involved with the governmental and political side of things.

  23. Posted June 29, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    How it must sting for Ayala to go down in infamy as the Lord of the fly.

  24. Paul Matthews
    Posted June 29, 2018 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    When I was learning Spanish, one of the first novels I read in Spanish was by Francisco Ayala. But it turns out that he’s a different Francisco Ayala. For some strange reason, I find that reassuring.

  25. Posted June 29, 2018 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    “The harder they come the harder they fall,
    one and all”
    Jimmy Cliff

  26. Hunt
    Posted June 30, 2018 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    At Davis Ayala had the reputation of being a letcher, or at least of having a “keen eye for the ladies.” I remember well one of his graduate students, an attractive woman, telling me that when she met with Ayala and wanted to ask him for something, she’d always wear a very short skirt to curry his favor.

    Hmmm, kind of an odd way to make the point.

    • Stuart Hurlbert
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Lord help us once they add “keen-eying” to the list. Invest in RayBan stock now!

  27. Posted June 30, 2018 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    I do worry that so many people are ready to condemn without hearing details of whatever it is that he is supposed to have done

  28. Annonymous4Obvious
    Posted June 30, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Thank you Jerry for this well-written commentary.

    In the end, labs of well established harassers can have a two-fold cost (reference intended):
    I have been through this situation with a just slightly younger lab-head. When someone is a renowned scientist, many flock to the lab regardless (or vaguely naive) of the reputation. I did. The two-fold cost in this case: first, many in the lab suffered from harassment (I did only once–far less than some), then second, they lost their positions rather abruptly when this person was removed.

  29. David Baca
    Posted July 2, 2018 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Jerry, Has your mentor, Ricard Lewontin, ever done anything he regretted or felt remorse about? I can’t recall the when and where but didn’t he partake or was complicit in some rude and crude behavior directed at E.O.Wilson back in the 70s or 80s?

  30. Stuart Hurlbert
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Leowontin, driven in large part by his Marxist beliefs, led the attack on E.0. Wilson follwing publication of Wilson’s book, “Sociobiolgy,” in 1975. Wilson had had the temerity to suggest that the behavior, in particular social behavior, of people was, like the behavior of other animals, strongly, influenced by our genes. By egregiously misrepresenting Wilson’s ideas, by trying to link the book to Nazism and racism, by supporting an attempt to get the American Anthropological Association in 1976 to censure sociobiology, and by serving as a sort of guru to radicals who attacked Wilson with a pitcher of water at on the speaker’s platform at the !978 AAAS meeting in Boston, Lewontin pretty much destroyed his credibility as an unbiased scientist. End result? Sociobiology and its sidekick, Evolutionary Psychology, survive as respected scientific disciplines.

    • Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I take issue with your claim that Lewontin destroyed his credibility as an unbiased scientist (he was my advisor, you know). Some of his work on population genetics (theoretical and empirical) is outmoded by DNA sequencing, but I wouldn’t say that it’s worthless because he was biased.


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