Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Faculty Senate Goes Halfway on Sexual Harassment

On November 19th, the Daily Egyptian reported on the Faculty Senate's recommended changes to the proposed new sexual harassment code. Kudos to Vice President Mary Lamb and the other senators who demanded changes to the proposed code. Although their input is purely advisory, the Senators sent a strong message that the lack of due process is intolerable. The recommendations deal almost exclusively with due process:
Faculty Senate's Amendments

1. Due process rights shall be afforded to all parties.
2. A Sexual Harassment Review Board shall be formed to work with the compliance officer.
3. A person shall be banned only if he or she poses an immediate threat.
4. Judicial Review board members may be appointed to the Sexual Harassment Panel for cases
involving faculty.
5. The accused shall be notified about the complaint within five working days.
6. The accused and complainant shall have access to a redacted version of the preliminary
investigative report.
7. The accused and complainant shall have the right to appeal and present their own cases.
8. The Sexual Harassment Panel shall submit a report to the chancellor.
9. Records of cases shall be kept under strict confidentiality.
10. The definition of sexual harassment shall be consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act.
This is progress but the Faculty Senate only went halfway. The overly broad definition of "sexual" harassment still includes everything but the kitchen sink, and still intrudes on the classroom.

The new code expands the definition of "sexual" harassment and adds to the laundry list of possible infractions. This is precisely the kind of "chilling" approach that the Office for Civil Rights (U.S. Department of Education) rebuked several years ago. The code's definition allows accusers to claim "hostile environment" in the face of innocent quips, humor, gestures, and "sexually-explicit" material that is "inappropriate." It extends the code to on and off-campus activities. I went over this ground in my "Open Letter."

If you think it can't happen here, it has happened here and on many other campuses. For example, I am currently reading Todd Tucker's Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. This book examines a proud moment in anti-Klan activism, yet simply reading that book got one student-employee at Indiana University-Purdue into trouble ("a shop steward told Sampson that reading a book about the KKK was like bringing pornography to work").

I agree 100% with fellow civil libertarians, and the Faculty Senate, on the need for due process. Amen, I say, Amen! But nearly all these spurious allegations, treated ever so seriously, need to be short circuited at the definition stage. An administrator may dismiss such nonsense at the outset but there is no guarantee.

As our Founding Fathers noted when constructing the Constitution, if men (or women) were angels there would be no need for limits on government. That applies to university administrators who have every incentive to respond to each harassment charge that comes their way.

Let's draft a precise definition that deals with actual sexual harassment. That is something we can all agree upon. Anything less is unjust, anything more is cause for mischief.


Old Man Winter said...

Halfway measures are better than ignoring reality and, for the University's sake, opening it to yet another round of lawsuits that it has no chance of winning. Still, "halfway" is only to the 50 yeard line and only at the far length of the best kicker's field goal range. More likely, if SIU doesn't convert its "third down" play--revising the code with legally-sanctioned and law-abiding definitions--it will have to "punt" and begin playing defense against a well-coached squad with deep resereves on the bench who will stop at nothing to win. And let's remember, as Coach Vince Lombardi supposedly said, that "winning isn't everything: it's the only thing,'" Funny: I thought Universities were about educating instead of winning."

SalukiFan said...

The Student Conduct Code still sucks.

For an administration that says that the students come first, they sure have a funny way of showing that care.

i-History said...

Stay tuned for news on student speech