This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
Why is a man accused of egregious sexual harassment still the chancellor of a university? Why is he still on a UNESCO panel when that entity says gender equality is a global priority?
Sunday is International Women’s Day. It will arrive in New Delhi 10 hours earlier than where I live here in Canada. Perhaps it will be the day we hear that Rajendra Pachauri, the former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is no longer the chancellor of an institution of higher learning.
Pachauri, aged 74, stands accused of the egregious sexual harassment of a 29-year-old female subordinate at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) he has led for three decades. The fact that he has taken leave from that organization rather than resigning from his post is being criticized by women’s activists.
They point out that Pachauri remains the legal head of TERI and that all of the members of the internal committee investigating this matter are below him on the org chart. The complainant’s chance of receiving a fair hearing, therefore, seems remote.
Eight prominent Indian women have signed a protest letter that ends this way:
Sustainability of the earth which we all love so much, requires first and foremost the sustainability of human beings…[Pachauri’s] resignation pending inquiry will send a message to the nation that…we do not tolerate the violation of the dignity and autonomy of women.
It isn’t just Pachauri’s leadership of TERI that’s a problem. He also remains the chancellor of the federally-recognized TERI University. Indira Jaising, a former high-ranking official in the Indian government, has sent a similar letter to the country’s female education minister, Smriti Irani.
In a television interview, Jaising explains (see the video, beginning at 4:25 minutes):
At the end of the day, he’s supervising students. What kind of message are we sending to students? That it’s OK to have a chancellor who is accused of sexual harassment? This is the reason why I’ve written the letter. I’m looking forward to a very positive outcome.
Jaising says it would be preferable if Pachauri resigned as chancellor voluntarily. In the absence of this, she says, Minister Irani should pressure the founding society of the university to turf him. Ultimately, the minister can withdraw ‘deemed university’ status from an educational institution that fails to meet expected standards.
Reports in the Indian press suggest that Pachauri was pushed from the Prime Minister’s climate council. He was apparently told that, if he declined to resign, he would be summarily replaced (see here and here).
Yet this always classy individual still sees no need to distance himself from other entities with which his name is linked in order to safeguard their reputations. For example, the UNESCO website is currently full of happy talk about International Women’s Day. There’s a large photo on the front page of women who are being honoured for their contribution to science.
Elsewhere, we read that gender equality is one of UNESCO’s two global priorities. But poke around a minute longer and you’ll discover that UNESCO is responsible for a Scientific Advisory Board that counts amongst its members ding, ding, ding – Rajendra Pachauri.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, an organization that claims to care deeply about women in general and female scientists in particular continues to be a safe haven for someone who, according to a second woman who worked with him ten years ago, is guilty of behaviour that pretty much defines a hostile workplace. Unwelcome hand-holding, kissing, and hugging. Lifting female employees into the air as if they were children. Calls to mobile phones after hours and on holidays. Inquires about personal lives with boyfriends and husbands. Invitations for wine and dinner. Pachauri stands accused of all of this and more.
Since he seems disinclined to do the right thing, it is UNESCO that needs to step away from him until this matter is resolved. If the Indian Prime Minister recognizes that it’s unwise to have anything to do with Pachauri at this juncture, why hasn’t Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, reached a similar conclusion?
Donna Laframboise is a Canadian investigative journalist and author of the 2013 book, Into the Dustbin: Rajendra Pachauri, the Climate Report & the Nobel Peace Prize. See Amazon.com, Amazon India, and other Amazon stores.