Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ain't No Bias at Diversity U: The DE gets rolled

Dear editors:

Regarding your editorial, "Perspective is Important":


You write that we should not let "past experiences" or "preconceived biases" inform our "perspective." But the Working Group is stacked with EIGHT-- ALL EIGHT -- members who have a vested interest in the old code (see list below).* They managed it, and made a career out of it (in some cases). If they are not biased, then no one is "biased." (There is nothing wrong with "bias"--an informed person ought to be biased one way or the other. Balance is lacking here).

I read the models SIU Legal Counsel said they relied upon:

U of I: see code
Princeton: see code
NYU: see code

ALL three codes state that the legal standard is "severe, persistent, or pervasive." Very clear language.

Like a good reporter, I carefully reread SIU's new draft policy, which you say provides a "solid foundation" for the future. There is no mention of severe, no persistent, and no pervasive. Those three little words would help guide conduct of everyone on campus, including those who investigate. Believe me, no one has a clue as to the standard unless it is stated by the university, investigators are trained according to the standard, and it is hammered into them that anything below "s, p, or p" is NOT a "hostile environment." As it stands, there is no standard to guide conduct and investigations.

Moreover, the definition of terms like "sexually explicit" is extremely broad ("sexually explicit" is an entirely new category to the code). Wal-Mart censors music, is that the model for SIU? What is a "sexually explicit" song? Image? Object?

You say the draft policy is a "good start" but you made no recommendations for any changes. Be realistic: With a month to go, what could "constituency groups" do to improve the policy before the BOT votes on it in November? "Constituency groups" already offered input through one of the high-level committees of two years ago. None of their major recommendations are reflected in the "draft policy." At this point, "what you see is what you get."

My "preconceived" understanding of this area of law and policy led me and the ACLU president to warn that the code was a "ticking time bomb" before it exploded ("Can the Code"). The ACLU president and I see nothing in the new code to prevent further abuses or, even worse, a "chilling effect" on student and staff behavior. We were also right on the religious freedom case (SIU lost and had to pay $100,000 settlement plus legal expenses). We were right about the DOJ case (SIU signed a consent decree). Our "preconceived bias" has produced a good track record. How is SIU Legal's track record these days?

With all due respect, you gave Legal Counsel far more credibility than they deserve. If they say they based their model on x, y, or z, then read x, y, or z and see if it is true. In this case, they blew smoke all over the Daily Egyptian.


Jonathan Bean
President, Illinois Association of Scholars
Professor of History
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901
jon.bean AT inbox DOT com

*From the Working Group:

"Committee Membership:
Sexual Harassment Information Advisor representatives
Jill Adams, Associate Professor, School of Law; also teaches and researches sexual harassment policy
Dave Dilalla, Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Joan McDermott, Director, Women's Studies
Michelle Hughes Miller, Director, UWPA
Carmen Suarez, Director, Office of Diversity and Equity
Sexual Harassment Scholars
Peggy Stockdale, Professor, Psychology and Faculty Senate President
Cheryl Anderson, Associate Professor, School of Law
Affirmative Action representative
Phyllis Khaaliq, Assistant Equal Opportunity Officer, Affirmative Action Office

The Committee will be facilitated by University Women's Professional Advancement and report its activities to the Associate Chancellor (Diversity).


Professor said...

I see three additional major problems with the proposed Sexual Harassment Code:

1) It states that a person accused of sexual harassment may be barred from campus on the basis of an investigation. It provides no requirement that the accused be told the charges against him or her, nor provide any avenue through which to dispute the accusations. Aside from dismissal, this is the most severe punishment the university can enact. Unless the individual poses a threat sufficient to call law enforcement to protect lives and property, such precipitous action is unwarranted.

2) The provisions for formal hearings are weak and provide no assurance that the accused can have counsel at the hearing. No one accused of a serious infraction should go into a formal hearing without the right to have counsel of their choosing.

3) The proposed changes provide an escalating list of potential sanctions for violations of the code. However, nothing in the proposed changes indicates what sorts of infractions lead to which level of sanction. Given the apparently arbitrary and capricious manner in which the code has been enforced in the past, this seems to be a serious oversight.

Without greater clarity and protections for the accused, the code remains open to arbitrary and capricious abuse.

i-History said...

Yes, indeed! It is difficult to catalog the many problems with this wide-open code. It grant enormous power to the Diversity Office. It troubles me if the person who heads that office has this attitude about free speech:

Read the line between the ***'s.

"***Our interpretations of what is freedom of speech or is not is not relevant to what we are required to do as a university***: to try to have a non-hostile environment so everybody can go to their classes and do their jobs," she said.

Bad policy, bad procedure, ultimately leads to bad actions by those in power.

Thank for chiming in. The BOT meeting is Oct. 16 -- ACLU president and I will speak for our five minutes. Make your voice heard here and elsewhere.