GW seeks input on sex policy

GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is prepared to pass a sexual harassment policy drafted by the University in January, but first wants input from the GW community, according to an e-mail he sent to faculty members.

The University drafted a revised sexual harassment policy Jan. 3, using recommendations submitted by the Faculty Senate last May that redefined procedures for charging a student, professor or staff member with sexual harassment.

The Faculty Senate will review the draft policy April 13 and submit further recommendations. Students, staff and faculty members can submit comments on the policy to the Office of Academic Affairs in Rice Hall until March 15. Faculty members received copies of the proposal via e-mail.

GW has an interim sexual harassment policy that never received faculty approval. A Faculty Senate ad-hoc committee formed in 1998 to review the policy, but the Senate rejected its recommendations by a 13-9 vote, asking for less student input in the process and fewer restrictions on classroom speech.

The interim policy has been in effect to have something in place while a permanent policy could be considered, said Cynthia Harrison, associate professor of history and women’s studies.

Harrison said the Senate’s recommended policy “would have put the University in a difficult situation,” because it eliminated all classroom conduct from sexual harassment charges and gave professors too much representation on panels that review complaints.

The panels, which do not determine penalties but decide whether actions can be defined as sexual harassment, included four faculty members and one student in cases brought by students against professors. This system would be intimidating for a student filing a complaint against faculty members, she said.

Harrison said most faculty members did not support the Senate recommendations

“The Faculty Senate was not representing the faculty,” Harrison said.

Linda Gallo (SMHS), co-chair of the ad hoc committee, said the policy GW is prepared to pass reverts back to the ad hoc committee’s suggestions on the key issues.

“I am perfectly satisfied,” she said.

Under GW’s suggested policy, two students, two faculty members and one staff member would sit on the review panel if a student filed a sexual harassment complaint about a professor. The policy under consideration includes classroom conduct. In May the Senate favored a panel of four faculty members and one student in such a case, and asked to exclude classroom conduct, Harrison said.

In its effort to create a fair policy, Harrison said GW rightly ignored some suggestions from the Senate.

“I represent about three dozen faculty members who support a balanced sexual harassment policy that conforms to federal law and protects the members of the GW community from harassment,” Harrison wrote in an e-mail. “The current draft policy circulated by the president meets that need.”

Some faculty members said the policy would leave GW at legal risk if passed because complainants and respondents would not be able to call witnesses, and it unfairly limits speech that could be interpreted as sexual harassment.

GW law professor John F. Banzhaf III said the suggested policy enables easy convictions of accused sexual harassment offenders.

“The protections have been taken out of the policy at the risk of convicting someone who is innocent,” Banzhaf said.

The chief problem with the draft policy is a lack of due process, Banzhaf said. A professor who is accused of sexual harassment could sue the person who drafted the complaint and the committee dealing the charge, he said.

The policy limits free speech, Banzhaf said, preventing legitimate discussion in or outside the classroom on subjects such as abortion, rape and salary equality as related to gender.

“Hundreds of topics that relate to men and women” could result in convictions, he said.

Banzhaf said GW should have enlisted more legal advice before drafting the suggested policy.

“There was not a great deal of legal experience in terms of drafting and what the consequences might be,” Banzhaf said. “Everybody was aghast at (GW’s) law school . conservatives and liberals alike.”

The University hired an outside expert law firm to provide an independent assessment of the Senate recommendations, according to the e-mail Trachtenberg sent to faculty members. The recommendation was revised “only to comply with that firm’s explicit and unambiguous legal advice,” Trachtenberg wrote.

GW organized a special panel Jan. 26 with three law school professors, one member of GW’s General Counsel and one representative from an external law firm to look at the current draft and address faculty concerns, Lehman said.

Gallo said the special panel’s review of the draft may result in a closer alignment with what the Faculty Senate originally drafted, but said she is confident GW will pass a policy that satisfies most faculty members.

“I don’t believe the president would adopt a policy that his outside counsel did not feel was acceptable,” Gallo said.

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