As Bromley wrote, Shenk remained on paid leave for two months following the incident. She also wrote that the bathtub incident wasn't precisely an isolated one, but to be viewed within the context of “a whisper network warning workers and students about Shenk’s behavior [that] stretches back years at UNLV.” The anonymous open letter published on Medium on May 3, written by staffers at The Believer and BMI, fleshed out some details of what that whisper network was about. The letter’s authors stated that Shenk had a reputation both in and out of the office for “making women uncomfortable” and that employees felt pressured to have “casual personal relationships with him.” Langdon's statement said, "Shenk turned a vibrant institution into one in which female students hid in their offices in the dark to avoid him."Two female Believer staffers—who, like other current staffers who spoke for this article, were granted anonymity because they fear for their jobs—independently told Motherboard that they had been warned about Shenk's conduct before or early on in their tenures. He made female staffers deeply uncomfortable, according to the accounts of four current staffers, though none said he had sexually harassed them. “He doesn’t seem to be aware of his body or of other people’s comfort or reality,” one staffer said, dryly.
"This is office politics intensified by the academic culture," Shank’s adviser said.
A staffer who said she didn’t write the letter told us, “I was told by someone in management that if I wanted Josh to take my concerns seriously, I needed to be warmer with him and be more emotionally open with him” making him feel “like a friend.” Shenk would insist they have dinner or hang out as opposed to having a normal work meeting, something she found frustrating, particularly at a time when many people on staff were contractors, being paid very little, and asked on top of that to perform a pantomime of befriending their boss, who was, according to public documents, earning over $200,000 in base pay. Shenk agreed to answer a few specific questions, though most were answered by Silverberg, his adviser. On the accusation of making women uncomfortable, Shenk told Motherboard via email, “I’m often awkward around folks regardless of their gender, and I own that. In imaginative spaces, you’ve got to balance deep appreciation for people’s boundaries with openness and creative risks. For any times I got that balance wrong, though, I want to learn from them and make amends.”
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Silverberg, in response, said that Shenk had created 6.5 salaried positions, with benefits, for women of color and had a pending full-time offer to another woman of color out at the time he left. "These numbers represent a commitment to DEIA principles," he wrote. "They exist in all aspects of BMI/The Believer’s work.”Everyone interviewed who worked at the magazine described Shenk as a basically absentee editor-in-chief who poured his energy into other aspects of BMI: a radio show connected to The Believer, for instance, and fundraising. He nonetheless managed to make people who worked underneath him miserable, they said.
“His criticisms were always over the top. And he mentioned many times to me that he prided himself in running these institutions like startups.”
Having spoken to my legal team, there is united disagreement with the interpretation that the statute applies to me in my capacity with The Believer. If UNLV disagrees, we happily and eagerly look forward to seeing you in court. When being brought onto The Believer, I was specifically and repeatedly told, including in writing, that I would not be a UNLV employee or state employee. The idea an email address magically makes me one in direct contradiction to what was agreed and signed between us is a laughable interpretation of the definition of employment.
You are absolutely welcome to look through and access all communications on the firstname.lastname@example.org account (password [redacted]), an account which I never sent a single message from.
I hereby resign my position at The Believer effective immediately. I have no interest in being affiliated with an organization that is using a ruling aimed at elected officials to bully mere literary magazine employees and contributors into disclosing their private communications. While my personal status may be unique, what you are doing to my colleagues, who unlike me may be state employees, is needless in addition to being wrong. An institution with any integrity would be supporting their workers by challenging the hilariously specious standards under which such a standard could apply.
You can inform the development team that the institutional funders I was lining up, the donation from my foundation that was to occur in 2022, and the future bequests in my estate, are canceled. And on a personal note, this is really not the best way to communicate with someone who is in the process of raising and personally contributing tens of millions of dollars to UNLV.
“There’s no explanation of how the review process works when we submit our records,” a staffer told us. One hypothetical scenario people worried about was whether a survivor's discussions of rape, using the requested terms, would be subject to release. “We’re not worried about the requesters, about you guys,” the same person said. “We’re worried about what university officials are going to be reading our private correspondence, much of which is critical of the university. ““I felt nauseous,” another person told us, about turning over their responsive communications, “when I sent that email in.” It appears that the situation abruptly resolved itself. On May 26, soon after Motherboard contacted UNLV’s media relations office with a request for comment about the communications they were instructing BMI and Believer staffers to turn over and other matters covered in this article, UNLV reversed course. In an email, the university told people subject to the request that they’d received the clarifications to our initial request that day. (Motherboard had in fact sent those clarifications in six days prior, alongside another request that was, somehow, received and promptly processed.)
“I felt nauseous when I sent that email in.”
“It never crossed my mind that he was in water,” one person said. Nor was he wearing a “mesh shirt.”
Several Believer staffers told us that the Zoom incident could have, and should have, forced a larger discussion about how dysfunctional and fractured the workplace was—the ways that BMI and Believer staff, for instance, were siloed from each other. And one staffer expressed a hope that going forward, The Believer wouldn’t have an editor-in-chief any longer, as it didn’t when the magazine was founded in 2003. “A horizontal leadership would be great and would function well,” they said, pointing out that this would not be a new arrangement, given what they said was Shenk’s absenteeism. “That’s practically how we function currently.” Going forward, the same staffer said, they’re holding out some hope that UNLV and BMI will allow the staff to self-govern to some degree, and that they won’t be held to the whims of another unpredictable or unclothed EIC. “We’ve done excellent work,” they said. “We know how our workplace should function. We don’t need anonymous, ill-informed university overlords to make decisions for us—especially not ones that affect our daily professional lives and the quality of work.”
“We’ve done excellent work. We know how our workplace should function. We don’t need anonymous, ill-informed university overlords to make decisions for us.”