A Quiet Victory: 

J. Michael Bailey is forced to resign as Chair of Psychology at Northwestern University


by Lynn Conway

December 19, 2004 

[Update of 3-17-05]





In the Spring of 2003, J. Michael Bailey, then Chairman of the Psychology Department at Northwestern University, threw the socially endangered community of transsexual women into serious distress, by authoring a book that pseudo-scientifically ridiculed and defamed their lives and identities.  The situation was made all the worse in that his book was published by the National Academies Press, the publishing arm of the eminent U. S. National Academy of Sciences.


Containing no specific references to other scientific work, the The Man Who Would Be Queen simply pronounced as scientific fact that transsexual women are either (i) effeminate gay men who undergo "sex changes" in order to have sex with lots of men, or, if not that, then they are (ii) sexual paraphilic males who "change sex" for bizarre autosexual reasons.  The book dismissed as irrelevant the current scientific understandings that humans develop gendered identities that can in some cases be in conflict with their physical sex, but provided no scientific explanation whatsoever for making such dismissive counter-pronouncements.


The book set off a firestorm of complaints from the trans community. The National Academies began receiving large numbers of well thought-out, sincere complaints about the credibility of Mr. Bailey’s scientific pronouncements, and about the dangers those pronouncements presented to transsexual women.  The complaints quickly escalated into a major trans community investigation into scientific and ethical misconduct on Mr. Bailey's part, leading to filings of many complaints of research misconduct against him at Northwestern University (NU).


In November 2003, NU officials announced a formal internal investigation would be conducted into the complaints. The NU investigation committee hearings finally began in March of 2004, and concluded in late June of 2004.  Many months later we began to get glimpses into the emerging impact of the investigation within Northwestern, when on November 22, 2004 several of the complainants were mailed letters informing them that:


"I have now received the formal report of the committee charged to investigate the matter; and I have taken action that I believe is appropriate in this situation."

- Lawrence B. Dumas, Provost, Northwestern University


Later, on December 1, 2004, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Mr. Bailey had resigned as Chairman of the Psychology Department back in October 2004.


What does this all mean? What has happened at Northwestern as a result of the Bailey investigation so far?  Why does so much secrecy surround the actions taken against Mr. Bailey by NU?



Noticing what Mr. Bailey "did not do":


A powerful method of investigation is to carefully take note of not only what people “do,” but also of what they “do not do”.  For example, here are some revealing things Mr. Bailey "did not do" in his work at Northwestern:


Mr. Bailey did not get IRB approval to interview the trans women in his "study" as research subjects, and they were blindsided by his publication of their case histories in his book (more).  He did not (and refused to) interview any trans women outside his small carefully selected "study group" of six to eight trans women.  He did not include any scientific references in his book (listing instead recent movies and pop-culture characterizations of trans women to prop up his ideas). He was not a member of the American Psychological Association. Worse yet, he was exposed in July 2003 as not even being a member of HBIGDA. When complaints were made about his book, Bailey did not defend his scientific work back into the scientific community, but instead publicly attacked his critics as being "mentally-ill sexual paraphilics".


It was by uncovering such "did not do's" that investigators became aware of Mr. Bailey's misconduct to begin with, and it was things such as these that in the end exposed him to the trans community (and at Northwestern) for who and what he was. 



Noticing things Northwestern "did not do":


When pondering what has happened inside Northwestern regarding Mr. Bailey's resignation, we similarly learn from what "they did not do":


Northwestern University did not announce Bailey’s resignation when it occurred in October.  The Psychology Department did not announce the resignation (except of course, very quietly inside), but only very quietly acknowledged it via an update of the Psychology Department's faculty-profile webpage sometime in November 2004.  Mr. Bailey did not announce his resignation, nor did he acknowledge it on his faculty website, other than to remove "Chair" from beside his name. The Daily Northwestern, which had followed the story of the investigation all along, did not even report on Bailey’s resignation. 


No one at Northwestern explained why Bailey had resigned, other than Northwestern's PR person being reported to have claimed “it had nothing to do with the investigation”. Furthermore, there was no announcement about a new person taking over as Chair of the Psychology Department, even though Alice Eagly did take over as Chair. Ms. Eagly's elevation as Department Chair was simply acknowledged via the inclusion of the word "Chair" after her name on the Psych Dept's faculty profile website sometime in November.


Even though there was growing outside interest in the results of the investigation, especially as months dragged on and there were interminable delays in the case, none of this leaked out until the Provost's letters in late November led to the Chronicle article in December, which finally revealed that Mr. Bailey had resigned as Chairman.



Inferring what has happened at NU:


Changing the leadership of a major academic department in a large research university isn't something that is done overnight. Of course in emergencies such as illnesses, etc., a temporary "acting chairman" may be named until a permanent chair can be identified.  But in most other cases it takes a lot of time to identify, gain the necessary approvals for, and make the arrangements for someone new to take over a major university department.


It especially takes time to plan ahead, negotiate and make all the logistical arrangements regarding research, teaching and committee assignments for both the incoming and outgoing chairpersons. Department chairs do not have to teach many courses and do not need to maintain a highly active research program as do regular faculty members.  Thus time is needed to shift courses away from the incoming department chair and to the outgoing chair, and time is needed for the incoming chair to wind down or put on hold their research and for the outgoing chair to initiate more research.


These aren't things that can be easily done right in the midst of an ongoing semester with almost no lead time.  Instead these are things that need to be worked out well in advance of the semester in which the transition in leadership takes place, often way in advance, so that everyone concerned can make the requisite adjustments in course schedules, research activities and other  responsibilities.


Reflecting on the timeline of events at Northwestern, it seems very likely that NU officials (and Mr. Bailey and key Psychology Department members) realized way back last summer that Mr. Bailey was going to have to step down on account of the investigation committee's findings, which were known inside NU in late June 2004. Thus they must have begun making plans last summer for a transition in Psychology Department leadership this fall, having realized way back then the he "was going to have to go".


This need for time to prepare for and implement an orderly transition in leadership also explains the interminable delays in the announcement of the NU investigation findings, delays that went of for month after month, long after the conclusion of the investigation itself (way back in July, 2004).  Even so, there apparently was not enough time to elevate or recruit a new permanent Department Chair, as we later learned in comments by Ms. Eagly regarding the fact that she was elevated as interim Chair following Bailey's "sudden abdication"


Meantime, the long delays in announcing that "actions had been taken"  also likely gave Northwestern hope of being better able to "non-event" the final announcement, and to more easily avoid criticisms regarding the absence of information about what "actions" had been taken.  By delaying the announcement until well after Mr. Bailey had actually resigned and had been replaced, NU officials perhaps also thought that the resignation might appear to be unrelated to any actions taken against Mr. Bailey. 


In many ways large institutions are just like individuals when it comes to admitting that they did wrong.  It is difficult, even impossible, for them to do that.  Just as with individuals, we sense when large institutions are having extreme difficulties in such things and are evading making admissions of wrongdoing. We especially see it in "what they do not do".


Thus it is in the Bailey affair. There is no other plausible explanation for what has happened, except that J. Michael Bailey was forced resign for cause, on account of research misconduct, as Chairman of the Psychology Department at Northwestern.  The "tells" are all there, and what else could it be?  Especially when Ms. Eagly is reported as saying that Northwestern University's administration may have seen her stepping in as a "good antidote" to Bailey!



Reflecting on Mr. Bailey's future:

As a result of these recent actions, Mr. Bailey has lost his bully-pulpit as a department chairman.  By being forced to resign as Department Chairman under a dark cloud of misconduct charges, he's also forever lost his chances at being promoted to higher academic leadership positions, such as becoming a Dean of Arts and Sciences somewhere.  It is also likely that he has just lost an offset of as much as 10% in his salary (a common inducement and reward for faculty members who take on department chairmanships). 


Instead, Mr. Bailey is going to have to work for a living now as a regular faculty member.  He's only 48 years old now and has roughly 15 to 20 years to go in his academic career.  He'll have to write research proposals, bring in research funding, recruit graduate students, recruit research subjects, do "scientific research" and publish results - and continue to do this for the next 15 to 20 years.

In doing this, he'll be facing ongoing and expanding GLBT community pushback (against his funding, his recruitment of graduate students, his recruitment of research subjects, his publications, etc.).  How he thinks he'll get gay male subjects for his research on homosexuality (which has been his only career activity) is beyond us, since he has been widely exposed as being into homosexual eugenics.  Perhaps he'll do this by quietly hiding his research participation as a non-principal investigator under other faculty members' primary research proposals, and maybe get some support that way? 


Also, just imagine how Mr. Bailey will look to coming generations of university students who attend his "sex courses", and who learn about his rampant defamations and ridiculing of trans women, and of his personal attacks on any women who dared criticize his scientific positions. Do you think that this is going to make him seem "really cool" to those coming generations of students?


Visualizing how this is all likely to play out, it wouldn't be surprising to see Mr. Bailey fade into academic ignominy as a "teaching professor" over the coming years, as his research career sinks into decline and he's forced to take on more teaching duties and departmental service work.  Of course he can still make pronouncements about transsexualism and homosexuality even as a teaching professor, but we and all his academic colleagues will know that these are mere ideological statements of a fading academic, and not the result of current "scientific research".


Furthermore, Mr. Bailey is likely to increasingly come under pressure as "that weird old transphobe" amongst the more savvy coming generations of students at NU, many of whom will wonder what mind-problems triggered Bailey to go on his anti-transsexual quest in the first place.  In the end, he may find it best to take a teaching position at some southern, religiously-conservative college where his thinking will find better resonance with coming generations of students.


In this Mr. Bailey can take some comfort, and find some support, amongst his little clique of ideologically like-minded colleagues, i.e., Anne Lawrence, Ray Blanchard, Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, W. Arune, John Derbyshire, Steve Sailer, etc.   However, Mr. Bailey's projected rise to scientific fame is over, as he is now forced to resign from his leadership position, doing so in total silence, with no explanation and in obvious disgrace.



The dark cloud still hanging over Northwestern's Psychology Department:


The Psychology Department at NU must now live with the legacy of having spawned some of the most hate-filled, unethically-generated junk science to come out of any U.S. university in recent memory.  As a result of Mr. Bailey's tenure as Department Chairman, a very dark cloud now hangs over NU's psychology department, and it is one that will not easily be dispelled.


We know of no faculty member or graduate student in Psychology at NU who did other than support Mr. Bailey's attacks on trans women.  No one there made any criticisms of Mr. Bailey's "scientific" positions.  The psychology faculty members circled the wagons around Mr. Bailey during the investigation of his misconduct, and the department's graduate students even made arrogantly dismissive and ad-hominem attacks on trans women who had dared to criticize Mr. Bailey or file complaints against his misconduct.


We sense that something is terribly wrong with the culture of the Psychology Department at Northwestern University.  It appears to be a culture where an elite "priesthood" of science can make pronouncements based not on evidence but only on inner speculations, and then by assertion proclaim these ideological positions to be scientific facts.  It is a culture where no one outside the "priesthood" dare criticize the "priests" lest they be declared mentally ill.  These cultural characteristics are not just local to Northwestern University, but are endemic across much of modern academic psychology, and are well characterized by Prof. Joan Roughgarden in her essay "Psychology Perverted"


The new department chair, Alice Eagly, has quite a job on her hands because of the legacy left by Mr. Bailey.  Does Ms. Eagly recognize the incredibly dark cloud that now overhangs her department?  And if so, can she figure out how to dispel it?  We really do hope so.


One thing we suggest is that Northwestern's Psychology Department faculty members would be well-advised to read Joan Roughgarden's essay and then read the response by a group of UK academic psychologists who go on to recommend ways in which research involving gender minorities can be more humanely and respectfully conducted.


A Quiet Victory against our tormentors:


The events surrounding this resignation must be causing acute embarrassment to Mr. Bailey's home institution (Northwestern), his funding agency (NIH) and his publisher (NAS/NAP) right now.  Their embarrassment, their concerns over loss of institutional credibility, and their collective inability to admit any wrongdoing is seen in their silence and their cover-up of the investigation results.  Moreover, the collective silence of these elite institutions speaks volumes about what has happened.  Their circling of the wagons and dashing into the closet of silence is ever so telling of their feelings of guilt, shame and denial about it all.


When the investigation began, many trans women were closeted in stealth out of shame, fear and embarrassment over how society viewed them.  However, as the investigation unfolded, more and more of these women came out of hiding and joined in to help the investigation - sensing that the tables were finally about to be turned on the academics who've tormented us for decades in some cases (McHugh, Blanchard, Bailey, Lawrence, Zucker, LeVay, et al). 


And that is exactly what has happened:  The tables have been turned. 


The cloud of shame, fear and embarrassment has been moved out from over the trans community, and has been placed instead over the heads of our tormentors and their supporting institutions, who must now learn to live under such a cloud.  


Where initially Mr. Bailey claimed that we were trying to "silence him" or "censor him" by censuring and criticizing his book, he now hides under a cloud of self-imposed censorship, ashamed and afraid of revealing any details of the actions NU has taken against him.  We have always been against such censorship, and this applies not only to Mr. Bailey's book but also to the results of the investigation into his research misconduct.  In the end, Mr. Bailey has been forced into silence and it is the results of the investigation that have been "censored" - not by us, but by his own hand and by the institution that houses him.


As a result of these recent events, Mr. Bailey now stands as an object lesson to all academics who might be tempted to ridicule and pathologize the lives and identities of transsexual women, whether in the service of some ideological position, or out of a need to "write a paper or a book about something".  The best advice is "Don't go there".  There is no percentage in ridiculing and defaming large emergent minority groups, especially ones that are rapidly finding their voice and honing their capabilities to collectively fight back against bigotry and defamation. 


Mr. Bailey's forced resignation as Chairman of the Psychology Department at Northwestern University thus signals a quiet but very major victory in trans women's struggle against ideological defamations by biased, bigoted academics. 


As Andrea James has said, the Bailey investigation was "a defining moment in our history".  This unprecedented victory by the trans community will have an impact far into the future.







This page is part of Lynn Conway's  "Investigation into the publication of J. Michael Bailey's book on transsexualism by the National Academies"