Aug. 29, 2019 Update from the Chairs

We have appreciated the opportunity to serve as co-chairs of the Sexual Harassment Task Force which was convened by Chancellor Moloney this spring. Members of the task force are engaged and committed to developing recommendations that will foster the inclusive, safe and respectful climate that we all expect and aspire to for our community.  

Task Force Organization

The full task force has met twice since being convened, participated in a full day of training with a professional consultant with expertise addressing sexual harassment issues in higher education, and has broken into four subcommittees based on the chancellor’s original charge:  

  1. Policy/Procedures, 
  2. Communication, 
  3. Training/Education and 
  4. Culture/Climate.   

Subcommittees have each met, some several times, and will continue to meet into the fall. Initial meetings have focused on the current state of the university’s climate — Where are we now? What’s working? What’s not working? — and how we can best move toward a desired future state that aligns with university values and our goal of increased transparency.

The formation and work of the task force is a key piece of that transparency effort, as is a new website created to chronicle the work of the task force and its subcommittees.

At its next full meeting in late September, the task force’s subcommittees will report on their preliminary recommendations and will also consider regulatory changes that are expected to soon be issued by the federal government.  

Our goal is to have a set of recommendations that we can submit to the executive cabinet before the end of the fall semester. As the chancellor mentioned, we’ve made every effort to ensure that the task force reflects the diverse university community that we represent, but that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on good ideas. Please reach out to a one of us or another member of the task force and share your views and input.

Process Transparency

As noted by the chancellor, key areas identified for improvement are more clarity and transparency regarding the processes for reporting harassment and in determining sanctions for members of the community who violate our policies and values. 

The specific details of individual cases must always be kept confidential. By protecting the safety and privacy of those who report harassment, we are strengthening a culture where reporting is encouraged. 

A 2014 article in Inside Higher Ed discusses the tension between the competing values of transparency and confidentiality.  From our discussions, the task force believes that an important way to build trust, knowing that details must be kept private, is better understanding and communication of the process.

For example, efforts are underway to create and publicize clear flow charts of the processes for adjudicating complaints that indicate the steps in the process, the issues that will be considered at each step, and the university’s responsibilities along the way.

The task force also plans to publicize considerations university officials take into account when making decisions about violations and appropriate sanctions. Just a few examples of the factors the university considers when determining sanctions are:

  • The nature of the behavior – its severity, its frequency, its pervasiveness
  • The likelihood of recurrence
  • Any ongoing safety concerns
  • Prior discipline or similar allegations
  • Power dynamics 
  • Parties’ physical locations
  • Remedies sought by the complainant

The university also applies different levels of sanctions to different types of behavior. A single instance of an inappropriate joke or an unwelcome comment may merit a written apology, counseling or mandatory training. More egregious or repetitive behavior may result in revised job duties, physical relocation, probation, demotion or pay reductions or termination. In instances of non-consensual touching of a sexual nature or violent sexual acts, law enforcement options may be pursued.

We also plan to hold open conversations on campus in the spring about some of the most difficult issues in promoting a harassment-free campus, such as:

  • views of our current workplace climate and what we’d like to achieve, and 
  • clarifying the definition of zero-tolerance policies. 

Other topics for the open conversations may emerge from the task force as we continue to do our work and gather your feedback. 

The Sexual Harassment Task Force and its subcommittees will continue to update the university on the work we are doing and encourage you to share your ideas. Remember to visit the website for the newest information.

James Kohl, Keith Mitchell, Joanne Yestramski 
Task Force Co-Chairs