What to do about PhD advisor abusing students at my school?

Post date: 2023-03-23 17:40:53
Views: 12
When I moved in with a roommate at the university I'm attending, I learned that she was working under an advisor who was abusive and doing things like holding her status as an international student over her head in order to get the work he wanted out of her. She is a PhD student, came to the US for this program. At my encouraging, she went to the university and got out from under that advisor and under a different advisor doing different work. But the university never did more than that. I am bothered by this. What should I do?

I'm meddling, I know I'm meddling. I'm not sure if I'll take this further. I'll ask my friend/former roommate for her consent to take action once I know what the options are and decide if I should proceed.

It was over a year ago, and I hadn't thought of it in a while because my own life was crazy at the time. But my friend and I were discussing it recently in the "it's so much better now" and I forgot just how BAD it was for her. What I described about threatening her status in the US was just one of many ways he acted inappropriately. It wasn't just her, either, he did that to other students, more women and only those from the same country he was from. His white student he was apparently an angel to. Some of the things he'd say were rank sexism, like criticizing his female graduate students for not being married yet, or saying their incompetence was the reason they weren't married yet. A lot was culturally relevant criticisms. A lot was verbally abusive tactics; yelling, talking over students, insulting them etc... I guess his favorite thing was to ask a question, and when my friend answered and he didn't like it, he'd repeat the question louder, talking over what they were saying, getting right in their face and repeating why over and over.

My friend was shaken and scared when I moved in with her. She didn't know he wasn't allowed to do those things, because in her country of origin, he would have been. She knew it was wrong in the "this isn't how you treat people" sense, but not in the "no, this isn't allowed" sense. When we talked, I was aghast and irate. I helped her best I could just by encouraging her to speak to someone at the university that wasn't connected to her advisor. She was terrified she'd get sent home after working so hard to get into a program here. But I am only an undergrad and I didn't know much or who to talk to.

She eventually spoke with her graduate coordinator, who helped her get placed under a new advisor in the same department. Two other students ended up doing the same after she blazed that trail.

Aside from that, the advisor also really didn't do much to guide her in her pursuit of her PhD, and encouraged her to blow off her work as a TA, which she was required to do as part of her fellowship. From what I could tell based on what she told me, he basically wanted free labor, and recruited from his home country knowing he could use that and their status as international students to bully them into doing more work in an entirely unhealthy way, than other PhD students - and even though I'm ONLY an undergrad, I do know other PhD students to see that he was pushing them more than even the normal crazy PhD students have to do.

Other students have left. My friend knows at least one gave up and went to their home country after this. Another cut his pursuit short and only got his masters because of that professor. She thinks there was more before that, but doesn't know for sure.

Honestly, he sounds like an all around horrible human being. I'm probably underselling it. I just would be filled with rage and want to DO something on behalf of my roommate as she told me past and present details.

My best guess is that the university kinda looked the other way because he is a prolific publisher AND he brings in a lot of grants. Of course I don't know what all happened, but it seemed like they got the students that complained out from under this guy, and then let him continue to do his thing, getting new students from abroad in. So his only punishment was a brief gap where he had no students (3 left, one was undergrad and her assignment with him finished, the other finished his phd and moved on).

This doesn't sit well with me, but I don't know what to do about it. The idea that a professor is allowed to abuse their students like this and nothing happens is an evil I don't think should be allowed to stand. I am convinced that the fact that his students are POC and from another country is a big part of why he's allowed to do this. And that to me just makes me feel like I should do something so he can't keep abusing people.

I won't take any action without my friend's consent, but before I speak to her about that possibility, what SHOULD I/we do? Go to someone at the university? Find a journalist who reports on matters like this? Bump into this professor in the hallway and say "oh, hi Dr. name] I heard you have a small penis" and walk away, leaving him with a confusing sense of wtf and doubt?

I do think that my friend would likely be on board, she's an independent, strong woman. But I'm not sure about the other two people. Based on what she's told me, I think they'd be a hard sell to do more. Just a hunch though.

Mefi, what do I do about this injustice?
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