University administrators and faculty have been busy filling in the details of the latest proposal for a sexual harassment policy covering all members of the GW community. This process, which has dragged on for years, has finally produced a result. The new draft policy is a move in the right direction because it includes a panel to hear cases that equally represents students, faculty and staff. The draft policy still has flaws, though. Everyone at GW should familiarize themselves with the proposal and work to fix any problems.
GW has never had a comprehensive sexual harassment policy. GW is governed by an interim policy that officials claim is sufficient to prevent problems, but clearly a permanent policy is needed. The central argument preventing the adoption of regulations concerns how the policy would be enforced and what conduct it would cover. Some professors and staff have genuine concerns about the policy’s use of due process. One major complaint is that the policy allows neither party to call witnesses to testify on their behalf. Mounting a defense under such a system could be extremely difficult. Another objection some faculty members have is that they see the new policy as infringing upon academic freedom by regulating classroom speech.
GW should be commended for ignoring concerns of a minority in the Faculty Senate who want to limit students’ involvement in the review process and exclude classroom speech.
Sexual harassment is not an issue unique to GW. The fallout from a suit can forever alter the working – and at GW the learning – environment and can have profound lasting affects on the people involved. And of course, sexual harassment lawsuits can cost unimaginable amounts of money.
With such dire consequences, the University should act decisively to protect all members of the community by creating a fair policy. The professors stalling the current draft proposal should work to repair any serious concerns they may have. The University and its employees – including the faculty – cannot view sexual harassment as an unseemly but necessary byproduct of academic freedom. A strong and equitable sexual harassment policy can only benefit the GW community and must be instituted as soon as practicable.