Provost: Sexual harassment policy revised to improve, clarify procedures
Some faculty concerned about Title IX issues, sexual harassment policy
A new policy on sexual harassment and discrimination removes ambiguity regarding the investigation of sexual harassment complaints, Provost Harold Baillie, Ph.D., said.
The University instated the new policy Wednesday, Baillie said.
Complaints in recent years have drawn attention to the problems with the policy and the procedure, and The University revised the policy to improve the complaint and investigation process, Baillie said.
The main problem with the former policy, last updated in July 2011, was ambiguity, especially in the investigation process and who is responsible for investigating sexual harassment complaints. The new policy also includes more specific information about sanctions for accused individuals, Baillie said.
“This is focused on forms of illegal discrimination and harassment,” he said about the updated policy. “The policy also presents a revision of the procedure — I hope it meets and corrects shortcomings.”
The provost said revising the policy took almost two years, but called the revised policy “much clearer and much better” than the 2011 version.
During the revision process, Baillie and a small committee received feedback on the policy from the staff, faculty and student senates, as well as from Office of Equity and Diversity.
The senates requested that the new policy be broader and include offenses that do not explicitly violate the law, such as bullying, Baillie said. When Baillie and the other committee members tried to construct a more expansive policy, though, it was “just too complicated,” he said.
As a result, the new policy focuses on legal violations, but Baillie said he and others are working on another document about institutional policies against offenses that are not necessarily illegal.
Student Government President Donald Castellucci said the new policy has been provisionally implemented and is undergoing review by the University Governance Council (UGC) at this time. UGC includes representatives from the student, staff and faculty senates.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Castellucci said. “There are still some steps that need to be covered, but we’re working on those.”
Baillie said that when a new policy is being reviewed by UCG, the policy can be accepted provisionally when the former policy is inadequate. When the UCG makes recommendations, the policy will be altered as appropriate. Baillie said the updated policy was available on the provost’s website, but attempts to find the new policy on The University’s website were unsuccessful Wednesday night. Attempts to reach Baillie by phone and email Wednesday night for a copy of the new document were also unsuccessful.
Several faculty members recently addressed a letter of concern to The University regarding the former sexual harassment policy.
University English professor Michael Friedman, Ph.D., said the letter was addressed to the provost and distributed to the president’s cabinet.
The president’s cabinet includes the following faculty and administrators: Harold Baillie, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Vincent Carilli, Ph.D., vice president for student affairs; Robert Davis, Jr., chief of staff; Jerome DeSanto, vice president for planning and chief information officer; Robert Farrell, J.D., general counsel; the Rev. Ryan Maher, S.J., executive director of the Jesuit Center; the Rev. Richard Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., vice president for University mission and ministry; Gary Olsen, vice president for development and alumni relations; Edward Steinmetz, Jr., senior vice president for finance and administration; Patricia Tetreault, interim vice president for human resources and Gerald Zaboski, vice president for external affairs.
The concern of the faculty members who wrote the letter was that the sexual harassment policy is not in accordance with the federal law. Friedman, who signed the letter but did not take part in its composition, said Baillie provided a written response to the group of concerned faculty members on behalf of the administration of The University. Friedman said he has his own concerns about the sexual harassment policy as chairman of the Faculty Affairs Council (FAC).
Friedman said that when a faculty member faces discipline or the possibility of discipline regarding sexual harassment, that faculty member has the right to be accompanied to any meeting by a member of the union.
Friedman said he has been asked to accompany three different faculty members through these proceedings in four separate instances over the past eight years.
“My feeling is that in all of the cases I have been involved in, ultimately the process worked, but there were many problems along the way with the policy,” Friedman said. “We had to make separate agreements with the provost to make sure the process was fair.”
Friedman said the union and administration have a collective bargaining agreement and several different documents that comprise the agreements made between the employers and the employees. A collective bargaining agreement is the process of negotiations between employers and employees — in this case, faculty and administration — that are used to foster agreement between the two parties. These documents include the faculty contract, the faculty handbook and memorandums of understanding (MOU).
MOUs are used to help two parties come to an understanding through a signed document. Friedman said that under the old policy, MOUs were used frequently because of flaws in the policy’s process.
“Even as careful as we are with the faculty contracts and the handbook, in some cases MOUs are involved so that both sides can agree and so no one can come back and say that the rules are broken,” Friedman said.
Friedman cited one example in which a student complainant submitted “a lengthy document with numerous complaints.” Friedman said some of these complaints could be considered sexual harassment, and some of the complaints had “nothing to do with sexuality.” After the investigation began, the faculty member involved in the case decided to admit to “some of the charges, but not all of them,” Friedman said. He said the “Article IX. Investigation” portion of the policy gave no direction in how to handle a situation in which a faculty member wanted to admit to some of the charges and not to others.
According to this portion of the policy, “The accused may respond in writing to the complaint. If the accused admits to the complaint, the investigation will cease, and sanctions will be imposed … If the accused denies the complaint, the investigation will continue and a hearing will be held.”
“The policy gave no direction in how to handle a situation where some complaints were valid and where some were not,” Friedman said. “We had to sign a MOU that allowed the respondent to admit to some of the charges but not all of them. A situation like this shows you that the current policy is insufficient to deal with these kinds of unique situations.”
Friedman said the goal of the policy is to be fair to both parties and that there have been several revisions of the policy over the years. Recently administration “scrapped everything and started over,” Friedman said.
“Administration was trying to put every possible harassment policy under one policy — a one-size-fits-all kind of thing as opposed to separate policies,” Friedman said regarding the recent revisions to the policy.
Friedman said it was decided that there would be two separate policies. The first policy regards the harassment of legally protected groups, and the second policy would address harassment of those who are not legally protected. Friedman cited bullying as an example of this second type of harassment.
As of Wednesday morning, Friedman said he had not been able to find the new policy online. He said when he reads the policy he will know if the concerns have been addressed appropriately.
“The union is trying to reserve judgment on the new policy. I think it’s a good thing The University is attempting to make the policy better and in accordance with federal law, but I can’t yet say if the new policy has accomplished these goals,” he said.
Jean Harris, Ph.D., is the chair of the political science department and a member of the FAC at The University.
Harris mentioned a few aspects of the former sexual harassment policy. She said there are also many faculty members who are concerned about this specific topic.
“The punishment of sexual harassment is not clear-cut,” she said.
While The University has its own sexual harassment policy that The University community needs to follow in certain cases, national laws must also be followed.
“As long as we have a written policy and we follow it, we’re okay,” Harris said, “but it has to be in compliance with the law. It has to be a fair policy.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, every school needs a Title IX coordinator. The University has a Title IX coordinator, but proper notification was not provided to all University community members.
“Every school must designate at least one employee who is responsible for coordinating the school’s compliance with Title IX. This person is sometimes referred to as the Title IX coordinator. Schools must notify all students and employees of the name or title and contract information of the Title IX coordinator,” according to “Know Your Rights: Title IX Prohibits Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Where You Go To School,” the document containing additional information about requirements of Title IX in relation to sexual harassment and sexual violence.
The Office of Equity and Diversity handles complaints of sexual assault. At The University, the director of the Office of Equity and Diversity is the effective Title IX coordinator. Although the position of director is vacant, The University has an interim Title IX coordinator.
Rosette Adera, the former director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, used to have this title. After she left The University, the Title IX coordinator became Rob Farrell, J.D., general counsel. Farrell’s job as general counsel involves serving as legal counsel for The University, according to The University’s website.
Attempts to reach Adera for comment were unsuccessful.
Friedman expressed his concern that The University’s general counsel serving as the OED. Friedman said this position is a possible conflict of interest.
“A problem exists because in some cases the OED decides the sanctions if the respondent is found culpable. In those cases the OED acts as the defendant, as the prosecutor and as the judge,” Friedman said. “I found that to be very disturbing. The OED should have one of those jobs, but not all of them.”
“[Farrell’s] job is to protect The University from legal challenges,” Friedman said. “As Title IX officer it is his responsibility to engage in legal challenges between members of The University community.”
Searches on The University’s website for a Title IX coordinator provide no information about Farrell working in this position. The Office of Equity and Diversity also could not confirm that Farrell was the one currently presiding in the position.
Baillie said the situation is not a conflict of interest to his knowledge, but he also said Farrell is looking for a replacement.
“We don’t want the situation to last long,” he said about Farrell’s position as Title IX coordinator.
Editors’ Note: In light of recent information brought to The Aquinas we will continue to investigate recent cases of sexual harassment at The University and the correct implementation of the policies set forth by University administration.
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