GW keeps interim sex policy intact

Efforts to create an acceptable sexual harassment policy at GW were once again stymied at a meeting between President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and the Faculty Senate last month.

Trachtenberg said as a Sept. 14 Senate meeting he will stick with the interim policy indefinitely with no immediate plans to consider the issue further, law professor Sen. Albert Wilmarth said.

The last efforts to mediate a deal between the administration and Senate ended in April, as the Senate unanimously voted to reject the administration’s final proposal. Only 15 members voted, citing a lack of due process for anyone accused of sexual harassment.

In April, the Senate had asked the University to require all people accused to be notified of complaints and give them a right to a hearing.

The Faculty Senate never approved the current interim policy, last revised in 1999.

Trachtenberg declined to comment on future plans to address the Senate’s concerns. He said in a prepared statement that his position in support of the interim policy has not changed since last April.

Law professor John Banzhaf said the changes Trachtenberg proposed in April had “many deep flaws,” citing a lack of “due process and fundamental fairness protections” for those accused of sexual harassment.

“The administration policy is too vague; we need more in the way of procedural hearings,” Banzhaf said. He also said witnesses should be compelled to testify before formal charges are brought against someone.

Other professors said they agreed with the adoption of the interim policy.

“I will say only, and again, that faculty do not have a right to sexually harass a student in the classroom or elsewhere and that the policy does protect faculty against false accusations,” women’s studies professor Cynthia Harrison in an e-mail said.

Senators also cite allowing anonymous witnesses as a flaw in the interim policy. Wilmarth said this is hearsay evidence that could lead to unfounded accusations.

Senators said they have little power to proceed with the issue.

“We have asked the administration to put together a policy that would both protect the potential victims of sexual harassment and the rights of those who have been accused,” said Lilien Robinson (CSAS), chair of the Faculty Senate executive committee. “It is in the hands of the administration.”

Under the University’s policy, a student, staff or faculty member wishing to file an informal complaint against a member of the GW community must consult with a “coordinator” assigned by the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel. The complainant or coordinator must prepare a written statement of accusation. The coordinator then carries out a confidential investigation, to which many Senate members are opposed.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.