A hoax, a rumour or a false accusation can destroy not only the life of the unjustly accused, but also that of an entire group of people. We see this on a daily basis with the intentional spread of false allegations.
This is what has happened to one of archaeology’s most prestigious professors, Prof. Margarita Díaz-Andreu, who was accused of workplace harassment by a doctoral student. Since then, her appearance at several events, including conferences, talks on her research, book presentations, and other public events, have been cancelled.
The damage is already irreparable, and those involved in the accusations of workplace harassment – the media, public bodies, social networks, and individuals directly or indirectly implicated – should justly face, in regard to ethics, conscience and truth, their wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness.
The organisers of many cultural events, fearing that these would be subject to unwanted media exposure, were forced to invite other researchers to replace Prof. Díaz-Andreu. Absolute nonsense achieved by an attitude of a terribly human accusation! To understand this situation, it is necessary to differentiate between two concepts that have nothing to do with each other: stringency and workplace harassment. It is essential that those in charge of supervising doctoral students raise their standards when working on a doctoral thesis. This because it depends on the [supervisor’s] communication of their knowledge to instill proper training and avoid complacency. Academic stringency cannot be regarded as workplace harassment.
Facing up to the error and exposing the truth to society would be a gesture of conscience, of which the world is so lacking. From public and private centres of learning and, no doubt, from the media, we should promote gestures and behaviour that dignify our ideas, ideals and beliefs unfearingly and rationally. We must banish the mediocrity, disloyalty, resentment, jealousy, competitiveness, greed and selfishness that are so terribly human. Instead, we should direct our efforts to promote from intelligence and virtue the social and collective awareness of the truth.
Prof. Margarita Díaz-Andreu is a researcher who was awarded the Menéndez Pidal National Award for the Humanities 2021 by King Felipe VI and the Queen Letizia Ortiz in 2022. Her professional career began with the award of a pre-doctoral grant between 1986 and 1990, This is something that only the best graduates achieve.
In 1991 she was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in the United Kingdom. She wasted no time there. She began coordinating three books with the best publishers in the country, a task she undertook jointly with prestigious British academics from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton.
Back in Spain, she worked at the CSIC [Spanish National Research Council] for a year and, when the opportunity arose, moved to the Complutense University of Madrid. For personal reasons, she returned to England, to Durham University. A few years later, her department would become the best in the country. Díaz-Andreu became the first Spanish archaeologist in January 1996 to become an assistant professor in her discipline at a British university, and the first lecturer among her female colleagues to marry and therefore have to combine her professional and personal lives.
Not only that. She was the first woman in her department to have a child. She continued to publish and move up the career ladder, beginning to train researchers at doctoral and post-doctoral level.
When, sixteen years later, in December 2011, she left Durham, five students had already completed their doctoral theses with her, and four others were about to submit them. Among the former, one is now a lecturer at the prestigious UNAM University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México); another has established herself as a researcher at the Universidad Nova de Lisboa; a third is a lecturer at the Metropolitan University of Leicester and the fourth is working in the field of commercial archaeology and cultural management in London. Their academic publications are numerous, and the influence of their teacher is clear in the way they now supervise their own doctoral students.
She is currently at the University of Barcelona, where she arrived in January 2012 with a prestigious position as a Research Professor in ICREA (the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies). She feels fully involved and committed to the mission of the two institutions and continues to impart knowledge to her new doctoral students.
In just eleven years, Prof. Díaz-Andreu already has seven students who have completed their doctoral theses and are now working. One is a World Heritage expert at Casa Batlló; another works at the Sorbonne University in Paris; a former student is now a lecturer at Durham University; one is a freelance practitioner; three others are post-doctoral researchers at the Universities of Verona, Edinburgh; and the last one is a post-doctoral researcher for a number of Chilean universities, including the prestigious Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. In addition, she is currently supervising seven doctoral students and four post-doctoral researchers, as well as having three assistants in her projects, a total of seven men and seven women.
Looking back on these years, Díaz-Andreu’s former students comment on her commitment to training future researchers and university lecturers at the highest level. One of her first students states that “I found her to behave in the most professional manner during my post-graduate studies, and during my time on her project”.
Another former Durham student says that “until the day I submitted my doctoral thesis, Prof. Díaz-Andreu was considerate, open to dialogue and reciprocal in her treatment of me. She never disrespected me or asked me questions that were not within the norms and normal academic activities expected in doctoral research”. Another student says that she “was supportive and friendly. She provided the necessary guidance I needed to pursue my research, was always encouraging … At the Ph.D.’s final stage, Dr. Marga was crucial in having it drafted and revised in time for submission. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her and to have had her as my PhD co-supervisor”.
Many students, both men and women, hold her in acclaim. Those who have already received their doctorates from the Universitat de Barcelona highlight her dedication and diligence. One of them says, she was an “attentive, thoughtful, and inspiring [supervisor]”. Another one declares that “she always provided me with punctuated and detailed feedback on every chapter/piece I wrote […] I usually received detailed feedback on any academic work I submitted to her within 24 hours”.
One of her most recent doctoral students states that «the follow-up to deliver work on time to reach the indicated deadlines was routine. This favoured the implementation of the necessary working methodology for all phases of the research, especially emphasising the ethical aspects of research in social groups. The level of detail in the feedback of the submissions by the professor was extraordinary both in form and content. Communication with me as a student was customary, as was the case with other colleagues within the doctoral programme».
Several of her current students underline her dedication and helpfulness, noting how she always had a kind word to encourage their intellectual growth. Several of her former and current students highlight her warmth and humanity and say they feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to write their doctoral thesis under her guidance. This helpful and supportive attitude is also attested by several researchers who have known Prof. Díaz-Andreu for decades.
Stringency and rigour
It is certain is that her direction is also accompanied by stringency. Several of the comments made by those she has supervised indicate that she is a rigorous director, which is something they appreciate. She offers “incisive constructive criticism … But I would expect nothing less… Many of these comments would require completely redrafting or starting over a chapter. However, I never felt undermined or personally attacked, nor questioned on my abilities to develop my research project”.
Another former student explains that Díaz-Andreu «never crossed the ‘too much’ mark because, as a successful female scholar, she is very well aware of the difficulties of young researchers«. Finally, another of her former students notes that her «rigour was welcomed because it meant our research was of the highest quality«.
It is precisely this stringency that explains the success of a large proportion of those who have been supervised by Margarita Díaz-Andreu, who are now continuing their academic careers or becoming professionals in their field, which is not at all common in the humanities. This is because the training does not focus exclusively on correcting the chapters of their doctoral theses, but goes beyond that.
Prof. Díaz-Andreu’ attitude towards a full education of her doctoral students is corroborated by one of the latter: “she encouraged me to attend academic conferences, apply for grants, publish academic articles, and participate in international research projects”. Another of her former doctoral students says that she urged him «to go on international stays, attend conferences abroad and publish in high-impact indexed journals». This, continues this former PhD student, «rather than causing me stress or anxiety, encouraged me to improve my level as a researcher, communicator and disseminator of social sciences and my research«.
Rigour and stringency, moreover, are a key elements for remaining accountable with the public and private funds invested in research, avoiding the misappropriation of these funds due to negligence or lack of effort on the part of the students. The vast majority of doctoral students gain access to this type of training through grants awarded by both public and private bodies, which require that the economic resources provided are made as much use of as possible.
This is the reason why stringency is necessary, because public money must be accompanied by results. Funds cannot be invested in people or institutions that only seek a title. This title has to come together with something beneficial for the community, regardless of the subject or the professional field in question.
One of the fields in which Prof. Díaz-Andreu’s research has been focused is gender studies. A synthesis she wrote on this subject is one of the most cited articles in the world, having been translated into several languages.
Her interest in gender studies is transferred to her supervisory style. Of the twelve doctoral students who have completed their doctoral theses with her, six are women. Five of them (and perhaps the sixth) work in the discipline today. She currently supervises seven doctoral students, four of whom are women. Of the fifteen post-docs she has supervised during her career, eight have been women (plus two others at present) and three men (in addition to two more today). Among them, one has since become a professor and vice-rector for Equality, Inclusion and Sustainability, and several of others have continued their post-doctoral careers in other centres. Among them today there is a tenured CSIC scientist and a university professor.
Currently, one of her most successful projects is working on the retrieval of biographies of women archaeologists for archaeological chronicles. The project has recovered, as can be seen on the website of this project, more than one hundred and fifty biographies of women unmentioned in the usual archaeological histories.
The project’s team is made up of both women and men. Together they carry out the much-needed task of reintegrating women into the discipline’s history. The additional forty or so volunteers (thirteen of whom are men) highlight the success of her efforts to ensure that breaking the silence on the role of women in the profession should not only be a women’s concern. Rather, she argues, this should concern everybody in the professional community, regardless of their gender.
The importance of work-life balance
Prof. Díaz-Andreu’s tremendous body of work, spanning multiple projects, copious books and articles, and her supervision of a large number of researchers, has not come easily. A former doctoral student commented that she still follows one of Díaz-Andreu’s maxims: “You must be organised”. As a matter of fact, one of the most important lessons I learned from her is how to harmonise my family life and my work”.
Like any woman who lives on her own with her child or children and works full time, Díaz-Andreu had to adjust her teaching and research life to an organised calendar and timetable that included both her professional and personal life. For this she made use, in her time at Durham, of nurseries, which finished at 6pm, while she had to teach some days until later. From the time her son reached the school age, he finished at 3pm.
There were countless babysitters, many of them students (not supervised by her and all paid) during those years in Durham, some shared with other colleagues. In Barcelona, until her son was almost 16, she had someone living at home on the condition that she would stay in charge when Díaz-Andreu had to travel for congresses. In the following two years, she only occasionally encouraged her son to take part in activities with one or another of her doctoral students. As one of them put it: “occasionally, I babysat her son, but that was always on a voluntary basis and because I felt part of the family”.
On another note, at present, in order to allow for the reconciliation of family and research in large projects such as the one she now has with the European Research Council (ERC), holidays are organised and agreed at project meetings. There has been no problem with this as long as the closure days imposed by the University of Barcelona, which closes its doors for several weeks in August, are respected.
Part of the success of those formerly supervised by her comes from the environment created by Prof. Díaz-Andreu’s direction. As one of her former doctoral students explains, “occasionally [she] went beyond the mere supervisory role. For example, she made it a point to receive students in her house, during holidays and term time, as a form of gathering to nest interaction and experience exchanges between her several students. I always treasure those moments as an opportunity to commingle outside work/research, a place to talk about life, mundane concerns, casual everyday events and jokes, and the world outside academia”.
One of her current doctoral students says that «when we have lunch together, we all talk freely and the atmosphere is relaxed». She also says that she has never felt obliged to be at lunches. Prof. Díaz-Andreu’s constant support and understanding of the difficulties, sometimes financial, experienced by those in the early stages of their research careers, is explained by one of her former students: “Prof. Diaz-Andreu has often hosted students at her home when they did not have a grant to live on. I state this as a matter of personal experience because I myself enjoyed her hospitality for a whole month”.
Stress, mental health and the pandemic
Given this overview regarding her professionalism and commitment to doctoral and post-doctoral supervision, how can such a different version of events have been disseminated by some of the media? At the end of 2021 problems began to arise with some of her researchers. The context of the pandemic partly helps us to understand the situation. As experts report, Covid has caused major mental health problems in all professions, and researchers are no exception.
This is clearly a pending issue in universities, which have continued their work without considering the consequences that lockdown and fear of infection have had on the staff and, in particular, the research community. In this case, it has been common for university teaching staff to find themselves, completely unprepared, having a number of affected researchers. As one study explains, due to the pandemic, people, both those infected by the virus and those who have not been infected, but all of them involved in home confinement, «have developed psychological alterations such as anxiety, depression, stress and suicidal ideation».
Given the confidentiality of this type of personal data, it is difficult to be 100% sure that some of Prof. Díaz-Andreu’s researchers were affected, but the dates of the beginning of the problems, the end of 2021, and certain events that took place at that time and in the following two years, seem to indicate a high probability that this was the case.
As experts comment: «The crisis caused by the SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) coronavirus pandemic is affecting every country in the world. The level of spread and severity of the disease has had a major psychological impact on the population. These are due to the many sudden changes that affected various personal spheres. Apparently, experts believe, globally one in five people has been affected».
In addition to the problems derived from Covid, there is the stress that researchers are put under by an extremely competitive system: those with pre-doctoral (PhD) contracts are also expected to lecture. Given that for those starting out, one hour of teaching means ten hours of preparation, this means that they have to try to combine this with what is already a full week – even though four hours of lectures may not sound like much – with research for their doctoral thesis.
Moreover, if the opportunity of teaching is unexpectedly given to them when they already have a very busy schedule, stress is practically guaranteed. Mental health problems among pre-doctoral researchers have been reported for years and have been studied in, among other fields, archaeology itself.
To the presumed effects of Covid and generalised stress, the circumstances created by group dynamics should be added: once several members of a group are, for one reason or another, caught in a spiral of anxiety, it is almost guaranteed that others will be affected.
The difficulties experienced by one or another are transmitted through conversations and attitudes, feeding the general psychological unease in the group and generating stress in the group. This is the situation that Prof. Díaz-Andreu presumably found herself in, trying to weather the storm without any preparation for such abnormal circumstances.
All this cocktail of circumstances can become explosive if we add the theory of rumour. What is rumour? «Any statement or proposition that has a specific, unverified content». For a rumour to be a rumour at least two conditions must be met. The first is that it is relevant, and certainly harassment, on which Prof. Díaz-Andreu herself has commented in several of her publications, is a concern for society. Secondly, the information must be ambiguous and limited, without too many details to give free rein to the recipient’s imagination. Rumours certainly change over time, feed our imagination and entertain it in a way that cold, rational truth and verified information do not.
Journalism is based on true and verified facts, not rumours. Newsrooms are full of unverified facts that can be the beginning of an investigation or the thread to pull to get a news story. This is because rumours can do a lot of damage, especially if it is shown that the rumour was nothing more than, as Javier Krahe used to say, «a crude rumour». And this, with the first-hand testimonies of several of the researchers who have worked and continue to work with Prof. Díaz-Andreu, is the way to work with information in a new style of effective journalism and opinion-forming among the public.
The new journalism and security from integral and intelligent communication is reborn from fair justice
Much of the media and communication professionals, with all due respect, base their model of success on the multiplication of the message, no matter what it is, and on the impacts that can be counted, rather than on the nature of what is transmitted.
Perhaps INDOCHAR’s methods may swim against the interests of many socially uncompromising people. However, in this method lies the safekeeping of the truth, and the social benefit of free and independent communication and not of subjugation. This is why I always stand up for the communication of reflective journalism, whose current and future vitality is more relevant than ever. I also reject entetainment as a solution to divert people’s attention from the things that interest them. Precisely because of these technological formulas that are intended to supplant thought, it is necessary to use knowledge and intelligence, in short, INDOCHAR: Information, Documentation, Knowledge, History (of which a fact is a part), Analysis and Reflection from thought. Justice is only real when it is fair.
I cannot accept freedom without dignity, and I will never accept the excessive power of the uninformed media. I take on only the information from reason and respect, far from the idealism of fanatical passion and intolerance.