June 14th, 2018

Update (06/15/2018): Many thanks to those who have shared and commented on our message. Since releasing our statement, we have realized that our statements about David Graeber were not clear. Graeber’s initial actions to reform HAU were necessarily behind the scenes, and we did not mean to imply that his apology was his first attempt to make things better. Indeed, several of us have been in contact with him intermittently for several months.

While we do wish he had consulted us prior to publishing his apology, we are very grateful to him for working to make HAU a better place–both privately and now publicly. His willingness to publicly come forward about this is laudable, and we only hope that those involved in HAU’s transition team can muster a similarly direct apology.

To our peers and colleagues:

As current and former staff members of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory and HAU Books, who have long been on the receiving end of Giovanni Da Col’s workplace abuse, we know that David Graeber’s recent statement (about which we were not consulted) and the delayed release of an anonymous collective staff letter by seven additional former staff members (to whom we offer our support, but with whom we are not directly affiliated) have raised many questions. The silence of those affected has not been incidental, and many remain unable to speak out. But to avoid misunderstandings of the truth of our experiences, we feel that our silence must be broken with the corroboration of facts stated elsewhere. To this end, we would like to make clear the following.

While working for HAU under Da Col, we have experienced:

  • Income insecurity, including wage theft and a clear pattern of withholding pay.
  • A complete disregard for HAU’s stated open access policy, including: requiring authors to pay article processing charges (APCs) out of pocket, removing articles if authors could not pay out of pocket, misleading institutions about the use of open access funds (e.g. charging for non-peer-reviewed articles, falsifying APC applications, intentionally charging both departments and libraries for the same piece), and intentionally delaying review for authors at institutions without open access funds.
  • Verbal harassment that far exceeded the boundaries of an irritable boss. This has included daily, vitriolic reprimands for events outside of the employee’s control, sometimes escalating to the public humiliation of junior staff members in front of authors and colleagues.
  • Bullying and intimidation, including several instances where legal threats and threats of physical assault were levied against then-current staff members.
  • A pattern of misogynistic behavior, including inappropriate sexual comments.
  • A pattern of behavior—including the denial of documented facts, constant revisions of past events, frequent accusations of disloyalty, and false claims that others, particularly senior faculty, have questioned a staff member’s ability or sanity—that can only be described as gas-lighting. This has led at least four former staff members to undergo psychiatric therapy.
  • A pattern of overwork, exhaustion, and de-moralization due to the explicit demand that our labor for HAU be of primary importance and all-consuming, taking up every moment we had.

Graeber and several members of the editorial board were informed in detail of the pattern of mismanagement that yielded years of high-frequency staff turnover and requests for intervention, but consistently failed to act. Da Col quickly found ways to work around the rare attempts to reign in his abuse. Previous and current staff placed their trust in members of HAU’s advisory board time and again to resolve matters, but we have been left waiting. While we were hopeful about HAU’s recent move to the University of Chicago Press, we have unfortunately concluded that as long as Da Col remains in a management position, abuse will continue.

We understand (better than most) the massive obstacles to getting an open access journal and publishing press off the ground in a small field. However, we strongly believe that any personal or professional struggles Da Col has faced do not justify his behavior towards us and others in the community.

HAU promised so much to anthropology, and to us, and returned very little. The task of the discipline now—and senior faculty in particular—is not to squabble over the relative merits of Da Col and Graeber’s personalities and positionalities but to instead recognize that the abuses that characterize the “open secret” of HAU’s mismanagement are easily identifiable throughout anthropology and the academy at large. The extent to which Da Col was able to leverage his position to sustain his role at HAU and intimidate its staff demonstrates the terms on which academic careers are made and broken.

During our tenures at HAU, each of us sincerely believed that we could be the one to fix this problem and we worked incredibly hard to build a journal worthy of HAU’s promise. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank those who supported us as we struggled to make HAU work and as many of us ultimately decided that our only choice was to resign.

In public and in private, many fellow anthropologists have identified the clear tendency in our discipline to allow prominent and privileged voices to drown out those directly affected—in this case the graduate students and junior scholars who relied or continue to rely on HAU for financial stability and professional development. We hope that in providing our testimony we can begin a more productive conversation in identifying these common threads and address these problems at the root, rather than continue to have these matters discussed as if they were nothing but feuds between big personalities.

Signed by four current and former HAU staff members

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