Senate serious about harassment

As The Hatchet noted (April 24, p. 4, Enough talk), the Faculty Senate is now considering a sexual harassment policy. It is one proposed by an ad hoc committee the Senate created in December 1998, consisting of both faculty and administration members. That committee conducted a thoughtful yearlong review before it made its recommendations for a permanent policy. That policy deserves the thorough scrutiny it is receiving. Meanwhile, an interim policy remains in place to protect the University community.

Senate discussions have been so lengthy because the Senate Professional Ethics and Academic Freedom Committee has proposed more than a dozen changes to the ad hoc Committee’s proposal. I take issue with many of those proposals – in particular those that sought to shield classroom conduct from review and to weight the panel heavily in favor of the faculty. These panels do not determine sanctions, but sit exclusively to assess whether the conduct alleged occurred and whether it amounted to harassment. Most of our students are adults and are therefore entitled to sit in judgment on civil and criminal juries. There is no reason to bar them from panels in these university cases, particularly in light of the fact that faculty have no special knowledge or understanding concerning sexual harassment.

I also object to the view expressed by the members of the PEAF Committee that it is the function of the Senate to protect the faculty. The Senate is supposed to represent the views of the faculty concerning University matters, and most faculty members consider the well-being of their students their rightful concern. Many members of the Senate share that view, and I did not say, as reported, that (t)he senate is most interested in protecting themselves.

The faculty in general have not been polled on the specifics of the proposed policy. So I could not have said, and did not say, that the view that faculty members should have greater representation on the panel is one that has massive support in the Senate but is largely unpopular in the entire faculty population. The view on the Senate concerning the composition of the panels is mixed. In December 1998, the Senate recommended the original mixed panel that is a feature of the interim policy and that was recommended originally by the ad hoc committee. Even now, the majority of the Senate rejected the all-faculty panel and voted either for a 3-2 split or a 4-1 split. The vote for a 4-1 split was on a voice vote, so the specific numbers are not available.

As to the faculty at large, I can say only that I have heard from more than 30 members of the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences faculty in favor of a fair sexual harassment policy rather than one that offers exaggerated protections for the faculty. Moreover, the Dean’s Council of the Columbian School, the University Committee on the Status of Women Faculty and Librarians and the Dean’s Hiring Oversight Committee of the Columbian School have all registered their position in favor of a fair and balanced policy.

Two additional corrections: the comment from Michael Selmi, who teaches employment discrimination law at the GW Law School, referred to staff members who are victims of sexual harassment by a faculty member, not staff accused of sexual harassment. In that case, rather than face a panel consisting of four faculty members and one staff member, Professor Selmi wrote, staff members might choose to bypass the University process and go to the EEOC or to court.

Finally, The Hatchet article stated incorrectly that [i]f a student accuses a faculty or staff member of sexual harassment, then both parties would present their cases to a panel of four faculty members and one student. The proposal calls for panels made up of four members of the respondent’s group and one from the complainant’s group. Thus, a student accusing a staff member would face a panel of four staff and one student.

I hope that students will express their views on this policy, which affects the entire University community.

-The writer is associate professor of history and women’s studies.

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