Statement from the former HAU Executive Council 18 June 2018
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- Statement from the former HAU Executive Council 18 June 2018
- HAU and the Society of Ethnographic Theory (SET) recently went through a major restructuring. We were the committee in charge of that task. Our initial goal was to reorganize the journal and the books division, to build better systems of accountability, grievance procedures, and governance into the organization, to write new bylaws, and to legally incorporate HAU/SET in the UK. We accomplished all of these things, and worked especially hard to ensure that structural problems known to us were addressed and would not debilitate HAU/SET in future. We then were confronted with a second, unexpected task. We learned that allegations against both HAU and its Editor-in-Chief, Giovanni da Col, were being privately circulated by David Graeber over email. Different sets of allegations were shared with different people, resulting in a very confusing array of issues. In addition to our restructuring work, as the acting External Advisory Board, the Executive Council now had to investigate these allegations. We did so independent of the Editor-in-Chief who recused himself from the External Advisory Board. And, we did so to the best of our ability with the evidence available to us. Other than internal disputes between the Editor-in-Chief and staff that were already known to the External Advisory Board and the Editorial Office, which we were busily addressing, and for which the Editor-in-Chief had already been reprimanded, we could not find clear evidence for the other allegations, some of which were very serious, including sexual harassment and financial fraud. Details of the restructuring and investigation are below.
- Over the last year, HAU has been through several shifts. In May 2017, Sarah Green stepped down as chair of the External Advisory Board; she had been chair for four years, since May 2013. Carole McGranahan was elected interim chair of the Board in May 2017, and she agreed to serve in this capacity solely for the restructuring of the HAU organization in response to known problems within the organization and in tandem with the transition of the journal to the University of Chicago Press, where the HAU Book Series was already housed. As of May 2017, the tasks of the Interim Chair were two: (1) to immediately address known management issues in the journal editorial office, and (2) to create from the larger External Advisory Board a smaller group to work on the restructuring. This smaller group was the Executive Council.
- Our primary way of addressing known workplace management issues was through the restructuring process. As we understood, past attempts to address these issues within the constraints of existing HAU structures (that predated our involvement) were unsuccessful. Nonetheless, while the restructuring process was ongoing, during the summer and fall of 2017, the Interim Chair also tried to address known management issues in the editorial office, specifically bullying. Numerous strategies were attempted, some of which were successful and others of which were not: direct oversight of editorial communications between the Editor-in-Chief and the Managing Editors; serving as a
- middle-person in communications; and guaranteeing the contracts of the Managing Editors such that they were with the Board rather than the Editor, among other interventions. It immediately became clear that the graduate student labor structure of the journal was not sustainable or ethical. While this system might have worked at the beginning of the organization, when a group of graduate students launched the journal, it was no longer the case. Together with the Editor-in-Chief, the Board decided to eliminate the graduate student “honoraria” staff position. It was also decided that graduate students would no longer serve in the Managing Editor position, given the magnitude of the job. Moreover, in January 2018, we contacted all former HAU staff who had not received their full honoraria payments (per existing provisions for editorial staff labor in the then- HAU Constitution) and sent them full payment for their work at the journal. Six individuals fell in this category. These were the concrete steps taken since May 2017 to address problems that were serious, lingering, and greatly in need of correction. These interventions did not come soon enough for the staff who had not received pay, but alongside the entire restructuring of the organization, they were serious and sincere efforts to address workplace inequities at HAU Journal.
- In December 2017, when we learned of the Graeber allegations against Giovanni da Col, we were greatly disturbed; they came as a surprise, and they came when we thought we were making substantial progress toward our reorganization goals. We attempted to collect evidence so that we could assess the veracity of the claims, and to determine what kind of action needed to be taken. The Interim Chair wrote a formal email to David Graeber inquiring about the allegations and requesting evidence for them. In response, Graeber declined to provide any evidence for the allegations, and instead rebuked and threatened the Interim Chair, Carole McGranahan. Without any evidence from the individual circulating the allegations, we set about collecting our own evidence as best we could. Our process consisted of the following: detailed phone conversations with colleagues who had received the allegations from Graeber; a review of emails between the Editor-in-Chief and HAU journal staff; a review of reports from former Chair Sarah Green from 2013-2017; a review of financial records prepared by the HAU treasurer; formal inquiries with former HAU staff and interns regarding any pending legal grievances they might have; and a review of editorial office email correspondence relating to the allegations. We also asked the Editor-in-Chief to prepare a formal response to the allegations.
- These were our findings: Beyond the editorial office problems with graduate student staff, of which we already knew and were already addressing, we found no evidence to support the bulk of the allegations.
- Disturbingly, we did find evidence of a group effort led by David Graeber to build a case against Giovanni da Col, including meetings at the AAAs in Washington DC in December 2017, which included attempts to generate a variety of charges against Da Col. We did not know if this effort was justified, and we could not assume it was not. Our principal concern was to ascertain the validity of the claims being made, but key actors in this movement would not provide information that we could act on, and repeatedly we were told that the EAB could not be trusted, or that the aggrieved feared retribution. The
- claims were, in many cases, related to events and disputes that predated our tenure as a committee; they were vaguely stated; and it was very hard for us to determine, amid angry claims and counterclaims and with a lack of concrete evidence, what was reliable reportage and what was mere gossip. In retrospect, we see that former staff members involved in this campaign had long hoped someone at HAU would do the right thing with their testimony, and they had in fact shared their experiences with others confidentially.
- [We should also note that our investigation was taking place simultaneously with charges by David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins regarding complaints they had about the pricing and sales of their open access HAU Press book On Kings, and threats of legal action associated with that. It was often hard to disentangle these disputes, which were further mixed with differing interpretations of the theory and practice of Open Access publishing, which in turn were mixed with argumentative claims about who, Graeber or Da Col, was ultimately responsible for the success (or failure) of HAU.]
- Given these conditions, the Executive Council wrote a memo on the allegations and our investigation for the new Board of Trustees. It is included below. We used very careful and clear language to say that our investigation was based only on the evidence available to us. It is not an official finding of a grievance committee, nor do we pretend that we had enough information to decide definitively for or against the parties involved. It is an assessment based on the evidence we had at hand. We noted then, and we note today, “the disturbing extent to which these complaints are shaped by negative gossip, hearsay, and personal animosities.” If there is to be additional investigation of these complaints, it will have to be on very different terms. The means to pursue such an investigation are now available to the Board of Trustees, should they deem it necessary.
- The Executive Council also prepared a list of recommendations for the new Board of Trustees. One recommendation was for an independent audit of the past HAU financial records. As an unincorporated organization, HAU’s finances were internally prepared, and we were troubled by an obvious inattention to timely, detailed financial reporting. We would not proceed to incorporation without annual budget reports, which were produced for us by HAU Treasurer Maria Luisa Nodari. We found no irregularities in these reports (or elsewhere) regarding either misuse of funds or of APCs, but we have advised the Trustees that, in its new legal status as an incorporated organization in the UK, HAU will have new financial requirements for public reporting.
- Our restructuring of HAU and the Society of Ethnographic Theory was designed to formalize, regularize, and professionalize the organization. One unique aspect of the HAU organization relevant to the restructuring is that unlike journals linked to a professional organization or university, HAU has no such singular ties. Instead, HAU created an international network of support and Giovanni da Col held multiple roles in the organization as an editor for both the journal and book series, as well as being a founder and owner of HAU. The new Bylaws are a clear, transparent document that sets time limits on editorial positions for both the journal and the book series. The Bylaws also include clear instruction for the presentation and addressing of grievances within the
- organization, and the establishment of a Board of Trustees. The Bylaws were written to be fully compliant with UK law. They are included below.
- As part of the restructuring of the HAU organization, the Executive Council gave special attention to the very real and distressing problem of graduate student labor, a situation we, as individuals, had been largely unaware of. These working conditions predated our involvement, and our efforts to address them were an insufficient band-aid on what clearly had been a difficult situation for a long time. We were ill-prepared to serve as referees between a hard-pressed staff and an overworked editor, much less between Graeber and Da Col, two charismatic and (to say the least) headstrong personalities. Nonetheless, the conflict between these two scholars—one senior and one junior—eventually colored everything we did, just as it underlies the current public controversy. Our strategy to address existing conflicts at HAU, given our limited ability to reliably establish guilt or fix blame, was to create new governance structures through our reorganization efforts and the writing of new Bylaws. We did our very best to normalize operations at HAU. As a result, the new Board of Trustees now has the power to act responsibly and to govern as needed. This is precisely the ability HAU’s earlier governing bodies did not possess.
- Following the legal incorporation of HAU in January 2018, the former Executive Council of HAU/SET was disbanded. The new Society for Ethnographic Theory, including the newly restructured HAU journal and HAU books, is the result of many years of effort, and many prior failures. As a committee, the EAB were navigating a very complex terrain of unhealthy work relations, professional jealousies, poor administration and editorial practice, and constant attempts to undermine reform that came from inside and outside HAU. We knew our work would not settle all disputes at HAU or rectify all injustices, but we believe we correctly diagnosed the key problems and provided bureaucratic means to manage them, which the Trustees can now deploy.
- In partnership with the current HAU Scientific Editorial Board, we would encourage the Trustees to investigate these issues further, in light of changing claims and new kinds of evidence. We realize that we are no longer an active body, and that this advice is not binding or official. Nonetheless, we would additionally request that Giovanni da Col be removed from the Board of Trustees and the editorship during the timeframe of any investigation you might pursue.
- We thank the scholarly community for the opportunity to share this recounting of our work, especially given the omission of many of these details in the narrative of events currently presented in the public domain. We deeply regret the painful experiences some had during their time with HAU. We know a different future is possible, and we hope to see it realized.
- Members of the HAU Executive Council were Carlos Fausto, Jane Guyer, Michael Lambek, Rena Lederman, Carole McGranahan (Interim Chair), Michael Puett, and Andrew Shryock.
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