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Monday, December 22, 2014

Miller censured for obese tweet

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By Courtesy Photo / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Geoffrey Miller

news@dailylobo.com

After more than a month of investigation, UNM has censured a controversial psychology professor for a fat-shaming post on Twitter.

According to a press release issued by the University Aug. 5, UNM has formally censured Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor at UNM who was a visiting professor at New York University at the time, “for misrepresenting to his department chair and colleagues the motivation” for his tweet.

On June 2, Miller gained worldwide attention after he tweeted: “Dear obese Ph.D. applicants: if you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.” Miller then said the tweet was part of a psychology experiment that he was conducting.

A subsequent investigation by New York University ruled in late June that research involving human subjects needed prior approval by universities, and so the tweet was not part of a scientific study. But NYU did not terminate Miller’s stay, which lasted until Aug. 1, because “tweets were not research with human subjects as defined by the federal government.”

One week later, UNM’s Institutional Review Board likewise ruled that there was no evidence that the tweet was part of a scientific research.

“Specifically, the committee determined that there were no clear research questions or hypotheses, systematic methods for collecting quantitative and/or qualitative data were absent, and that criteria for selecting respondents were unclear, at best,” stated the UNM IRB memo, which was released June 26.

Miller apologized for his tweet.

“Obviously my previous tweet does not represent the selection policies of any university, or my own selection criteria,” he said in a tweet. “Sincere apologies to all for that idiotic, impulsive, and badly judged tweet.”

According to the press release, UNM has censured Miller for violating policies in the University’s Faculty Handbook.

Specifically, UNM found that Miller has disobeyed the handbook’s “Vision, Mission, Values” and “Rights and Responsibilities at the University of New Mexico” policies. He also violated the 1987 Statement on Professional Ethics as specified in the handbook.

Miller’s censure is a “severe penalty as it places restrictions on the regular activities of the faculty member,” according to the release. Miller will be forbidden from serving on admissions committees for graduate students of psychology at UNM. The chair of the psychology department will also be required to monitor Miller’s work.

Miller will have to work with faculty advisers of the department’s diversity organization to develop a sensitivity training program regarding obesity. Miller will also receive a faculty mentor with whom he will meet regularly for the next three years to “discuss potential problems.”

The censure also requires Miller to “apologize to the department and his colleagues for his behavior,” according to the release.

But according to the release, Miller will be able to appeal the censure to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences upon his return to UNM in the fall semester.

Miller did not return calls and did not respond to emails from the Daily Lobo by press time.

UNM psychology department chair Jane Ellen Smith also investigated Miller’s activities and “found no evidence Miller had discriminated against people who are overweight,” according to the release.

To address concerns about obesity on campus, Smith will bring “an obesity stigma expert to UNM to help educate the community on this important issue,” the release stated.

Smith declined to be interviewed or to comment on the investigation or Miller’s censure.

UNM Communications and Marketing Director Dianne Anderson said the psychology department “has extended an invitation” to the stigma expert to visit UNM, but it is still unsure whether the expert will be able to.

But she said if the expert UNM invited cannot make it to campus, the University will find another. Anderson said UNM does not have a timeline or a budget for the stigma expert yet.

In the release, UNM President Robert Frank said despite the impact Miller’s tweet might have caused on potential students’ decision to study at UNM, the University does not discriminate against obese applicants.

“Dr. Miller’s tweet in no way reflects the admissions policy of UNM,” Frank said.

Sara McGinnis, a Ph.D. student in UNM’s Organization, Information and Learning Sciences program said Miller deserved his censure from UNM.

“I could see their concern with having him on a board and admitting students into the program if he has a preconceived notion about them,” she said. “He obviously has a bias.”
McGinnis said UNM made the right decision in not firing Miller.

She said she still believes in the possibility that Miller published his post as a personal psychological experiment.

“I don’t know if he did it on purpose to get a reaction,” she said. “I think it could be part of a personal experiment regardless of whether the UNM IRB has ruled that it was not part of his current work. It sounds so out there that it seems like it’s been purposefully done.”

Although she believes that fat-shaming is not a big problem on campus, UNM should work on increasing campus sensitivity awareness on obesity, McGinnis said.

“I haven’t seen any concerns with weight on campus,” she said. “But I also haven’t seen anything being done to prevent it.”
Melissa Marquez, a dance major, agreed that it was appropriate that Miller kept his job.

“Yes, he was stupid and messed up and made a comment that was inappropriate,” she said. “But I don’t think that it was so over the line that he deserves to lose his job.”

But Marquez said faculty members should be held responsible for what they post on social media.

“I think everybody should be accountable for what they post,” she said. “That is actually the first time I heard of a professor posting something inappropriate. Miller should have not acted like a 12 year old.”

Ultimately, the University community should taste their words before spitting them out to avoid a similar incident in the future, Marquez said.

“You just need to watch what you say,” she said. “You just need to not be stupid about it.”