The National Science Foundation released a new policy on Sept. 21 to address sexual harassment by personnel working on NSF-funded projects. The policy requires grantee institutions to report to the NSF within 10 business days any findings related to sexual harassment, other forms of harassment or sexual assault by principal investigators and co-PIs on NSF-funded projects.
Upon notification, the NSF will evaluate the safety of other personnel and any impact to NSF-funded activities. The NSF may then substitute or remove a PI or co-PI, reduce funding or terminate the award.
The new reporting requirements affects awards made after Oct. 21.
While the NSF indicated in a February notice that it would take unilateral action, the agency decided to instead implement a more cooperative approach with institutions.
The new reporting requirement is complementary to the NSF online reporting portal, which allows individuals to submit sexual harassment complaints directly to the agency. It’s not clear how those complaints will be investigated.
Although the policy neglects to address circumstances in which a PI or co-PI changes institutions before an investigation concludes, the agency indicated that the policy is merely a first step to addressing sexual harassment in science.
In May, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee responded to the NSF’s request for comments on its then-developing policy. We said that the NSF should develop a standardized method for collecting sexual misconduct claims, implement protections to ensure the privacy of claimants, and provide transparency of investigation outcomes.
We’re pleased to see that the agency seems to be taking steps in the right direction, and we will continue to monitor the situation and weigh in with suggestions when appropriate.