The second week of March marked 1 year since C&EN decided to adopt work-from-home practices because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A proportion of our staff was already working remotely, so it was a reasonably seamless transition.
Few of us imagined then that 1 year later we’d still be in lockdown. I recall sitting down to write an editorial, titled “An Unprecedented Situation,” to talk about how C&EN and the American Chemical Society were responding to the pandemic, including the products and services we were making available to members. I fully expected that the lockdown would end in just a few months. Fortunately, light is now at the end of the tunnel, despite haphazard vaccination plans in many countries, with a slower rollout than most of us would wish.
Many things have changed in the past year, and some changes are here to stay: the way we consume information, the way we communicate, the way we work. In fact, we are hearing of many organizations that are changing their remote-work practices. Many are offering employees the opportunity to work remotely some or all of the time on a permanent basis. Of course, for those with lab or manufacturing jobs, remote work may not be possible, affordable, or even desirable. Many chemists love the hands-on experience and the freedom to develop and plan experiments, create new materials, and observe transformations in real time. How is your organization dealing with this, and how do you expect things will change after the pandemic? I’d be interested to hear.
As I take stock of this year of lockdown and how C&EN’s journalism has fared, I am amazed by the resilience and professionalism of the staff. I’m incredibly thankful to the C&EN team and proud of the work they have done in very difficult circumstances. I hope you’ll agree that in the past year, C&EN has been a consistent source of important and compelling reporting about issues that matter to the chemical sciences. Only last week, for example, we published a phenomenal investigative piece on sexual harassment. I hope you have the opportunity to read the full story at cenm.ag/veglia.
The article is the result of a yearslong investigation by C&EN’s Andrea Widener and Linda Wang and was informed by extensive interviews and multiple public records requests. They learned that Gianluigi Veglia, a biochemist at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, sexually harassed his lab members for years. In 2016, two lab members filed complaints with the university. The investigation that followed confirmed the reports and advised firing Veglia. Instead, university administrators chose more lenient sanctions, including banning Veglia from supervising graduate students for 3 years. The university also remained quiet about its decision for nearly a year; it was forced to reveal some details when a local newspaper uncovered the case in May 2018.
Why surface this now? Because as of fall 2020, Veglia could again apply to have graduate students in his lab. The initial lack of transparency about the sanctions against Veglia motivated faculty, students, and postdoctoral scholars to lead a series of reforms at the university to prevent harassment. But the secrecy created distrust between faculty and graduate students. Now the university is being tight lipped about its plan to reintegrate Veglia. It wouldn’t release a copy to C&EN, and it isn’t telling students and faculty the details either. The ongoing secrecy makes the long-term impact of the case unclear.
In 2017, C&EN published its first cover story on sexual harassment in chemistry. Last week’s story takes us full circle. Both stories have resonated with readers, with people asking that these stories be told, stating that the survivors deserve better than our collective silence. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, C&EN remains committed to producing in-depth, independent journalism.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.