How do we fix reporting of harassment?

Mar 08 2016 Published by under [Education&Careers]

The more and more we hear about discrimination and harassment in academia, the more it becomes clear that one of the biggest problems with the current system is the potential for roadblocks along the reporting path. Somewhere along the way, it is possible for a Chair, Dean, Administrator, Lawyer, etc., to say "this isn't enough to be considered." and that's it. And certainly, with the degree to which universities appear to be more interested in self-protection than fixing the problem, these incidents can and have been swept under the rug with little to no change.

So how do we start to fix the reporting side? How do we remove roadblocks to the reporting process so that complaints are at least heard at the different levels they need to be? At my institution there is a form that one fills out to submit a complaint, which is filtered through our (woefully understaffed) Affirmative Action office, which spends 90 days investigating before a finding is sent to the Provost. Just the Provost.

I see a lot of issues here, many of them stemming from whether the mindset of a few individuals is set to protect the university or protect the complainant. Recent cases in the news make it very clear where many administrators are inclined to come down.

I don't have the answer, but I do seem to have the ear of the people in admin who could likely effect change. How do we set up a reporting system that is both transparent enough, while protect victims? Who needs to be informed of a complaint and when? How do we simplify the process to make it as easy as possible for victims to be heard? What safeguards need to be in place to protect them after a complaint? How do we make it so we are not asking the victims to shoulder all the work and consequence of this process?

I am aware of the issues that exist on the punishment side of this equation, but for now I would like to focus on the reporting side.

5 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    Just the Provost.

    Right here is one clue. Can't be left in the hands of a single individual. How about a faculty Senate subcommittee?

  • zb says:

    "How do we set up a reporting system that is both transparent enough, while protect victims?"

    I think this is really really tough, because protecting victims seems to include anonymity of victims, while transparency requires some degree of public dissemination of information.

    I think the one step is that we have to take clearer stances against some of the gray areas of conduct, specifically in situations where power dynamics play a role. I've read some of the faculty codes at different universities and have been troubled by the amount of gray that's left in the codes -- usually alleged to protect the free association and speech rights of professors. I would like to see a larger variety of conduct defined as unacceptable: as a starting point, let's define all romantic relationships between faculty and students they teach -- including any graduate students in their department and all undergraduate students as unacceptable. Are they going to happen sometimes anyway? Maybe, but if they do, faculty should know that they will bear consequences.

    In the stories that have now become public, it's clear that a significant factor in the reaction has been the collaboration of stories -- harassers have turned out to be serial harassers, and putting the stories together makes the behavior much more difficult to deny. And, the secrecy surrounding the process (which has served to protect victims but also perpetrators) prevents the collaborative testimony from being generally known. Could this information be collected in some way while still protecting victim's anonymity? In theory I think that was what some people hoped of the Title IX officers, but these stories make me think that these offices are not independent enough of powerful interests within the university.

  • Melanie says:

    One place to start would be to ask "why don't students report harassment?" Ideally, get some data on that with a survey or something. When I was a student, we didn't report harassment because we feared that reporting it would be career-ending. I was a student a long, long time ago, though (I'm in my 40s), and I have no idea if that is still a primary concern for students. I strongly suspect it is, but it would be better to ask someone younger.

    Anyway, if the fear of reporting being career-ending still exists among students, then you need policies in place that mitigate that. One idea that comes to mind is to put some sort of 3rd party review of recommendation letters in place. This would have to be designed carefully, but given the huge weight those letters carry in getting to the next step in your career, and given the fact that students often don't see those letters and therefore have no chance to address any issues, the fear that reporting will ruin your letters- particularly if you think that doing so goes against the wishes of a professor whose letter you need- can be a big factor.

  • dr24hours says:

    I am coming round to the opinion that there needs to be an independent body, that accredits institutions. The way the Joint Commission accredits hospitals for quality and safety.

    The body would be made up of appointed officials, NOT funded by universities, and would be the place to report harrassment, etc. For things that are crimes, rising above harrassment to assault and rape, non-university police departments should be the place to report.

    No one paid by a university should have the power to investigate that university.

  • K Grogan says:

    This TED talk describes one possible option. It doesn't necessarily address who the report goes to in the University system, but it does address the issue of corroboration as well as harrassees not feeling comfortable reporting at the time of the assault.

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