Congress is investigating sexual harassment and assault allegations against Boston University professor David Marchant

Boston, Massachusetts -- 4/23/2015-- Students file across the BU College of Communication campus at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts April 23, 2015. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
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Students file across the Boston University College of Communication campus. –Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe

The science committee for the U.S. House of Representatives announced Thursday that it is opening an investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment and assault that have been made against a prominent Boston University geology professor.

Two women allege in Title IX complaints filed with the university that during separate research expeditions to Antarctica in the late 1990s, David Marchant sexually harassed them and repeatedly called them misogynistic slurs. One of the women alleges he pushed her down a slope repeatedly and threw rocks at her when she was tried to go to the bathroom in the field, among other allegations.

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Science first reported on the allegations earlier this month. Thea McDonald, a spokeswoman for the the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said the media reports on Marchant brought the allegations to the panel’s attention.

“The committee has an obligation to ensure that all recipients of federal research dollars are accountable to the taxpayers who fund them,” she said. “The allegations involved are representative of behavior that we, as the stewards of taxpayer dollars, and the scientific community will not tolerate.”

Marchant did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Earlier this month, he sent the following response to Boston.com regarding the university’s own investigation into the allegations:

As you know, Boston University’s investigation into these allegations is ongoing. I have cooperated fully in that investigation. I do not wish to compromise the integrity of that investigation by making any comments before the investigation has been completed.

As part of its bipartisan investigation, the committee is gathering information about the allegations and the federal funding Marchant has received over the years. The committee has sent letters to BU, the NSF, and NASA requesting documents and communications related to the grants and awards Marchant received, any complaints of sexual harassment or assault made against the geologist or investigations into such allegations, or any actions taken in response to the allegations.  

Marchant has received more than $5.4 million in federal grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since the late 1990s, according to the committee.

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“Professor Marchant’s alleged actions, if true, are an example of behaviour that is not acceptable in the academic scientific community or in any professional environment,” Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, wrote in the letters. “The Committee has a responsibility to ensure that recipients of federal dollars are worthy of the taxpayers trust. Any behavior that stymies the advancement and support of women in science should not be tolerated and this Committee will seek all surrounding facts.”

The committee is asking that the information they requested is sent to them by 5 p.m. on Nov. 9.

“Boston University has received a letter from the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology seeking information about Prof. David Marchant,” university spokesman Colin Riley said in a statement. “We are in the process of reviewing the Committee’s letter and will be responsive to its requests.”

McDonald said Smith, who serves as the committee’s chairperson, is looking forward to “getting to the bottom” of the allegations against Marchant.

“We will not tolerate behavior that hinders the advancement of women in science,” she said.

Marchant is currently on administrative leave from his position as chair of the school’s department of Earth and Environment, according to Riley.

Read the letter sent to BU below: