How hard is it to keep your pants on at work? After reportedly taking a bath during a Zoom meeting, author Joshua Wolf Shenk has resigned from his positions as the editor-in-chief at The Believer magazine and the artistic and executive director of the University of Nevada’s Black Mountain Institute literary center, according to the L.A. Times. Allegedly wearing a mesh shirt and using a virtual background, he stood up — without grabbing a towel or turning his camera off. Was there no way to reschedule the meeting or the bath? Is it really safe to be using electronics that close to a tub? We have some questions. According to the Times, the incident happened back in February on a call with about a dozen Believer and BMI employees. At least two witnesses reported the event to the University of Nevada’s Office of Equal Employment and Title IX (which handles sexual-harassment complaints), the Times reported, but they were informed that the complaints were closed when Shenk left. A literary agent acting as Shenk’s adviser told the Times that Shenk had been soaking in Epsom salts to relieve nerve pain from fibromyalgia. In a farewell email shared with staffers, Shenk reportedly wrote that he had made “a dumb, reckless choice to disregard appropriate setting and attire for a Zoom meeting. I crossed a line that I can’t walk back over. I sorely regret the harm to you — and, by extension, to the people we serve. I’m sorry.” According to the Times, the university has found an acting replacement for Shenk at BMI, while the future direction of Believer is unclear.
Update, May 6: Camille Bromley, a features editor at Believer, wrote in Defector that Shenk’s exposure of his genitals, while perhaps unintentional, reflected a larger pattern of disrespect toward employees. “If staffers had had no prior history of being mistreated by Shenk, we might not have experienced this incident as abuse,” Bromley wrote. “If Shenk had been a good boss, we would not have expected his resignation. And yet we did, we did.” She added that she was among at least three people who filed a Title IX sexual-harassment claim. The university, she said, told them that was their only option, and had issued a silencing order directing employees not to speak to the press or make public statements on the situation. According to Bromley, Shenk appeared to be wearing a normal T-shirt and was not in a bathtub, details that she felt were used by the L.A. Times as “convenient distractions.” An open letter from anonymous employees that called for an official comment from the university alleges that Shenk made women inside and outside the workplace uncomfortable, created an environment where employees felt pressured to share personal trauma with him, and maintained a record of pay inequity and tokenism in the workplace.