Report urges new harassment board

A group of female faculty and staff released a 76-page report on sexual misconduct at Yale Thursday evening via the organization’s Web site recommending a comprehensive overhaul of the University’s sexual misconduct policy and disciplinary procedures.

The Women Faculty Forum Council Report on Sexual Misconduct at Yale, which has been in the works since last fall, builds on the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education (SHARE) Report sent to students by Yale College Dean Mary Miller on Sept. 2 , and echoes the SHAPE report’s call for a standing committee to examine sexual harassment policy. But the new report also calls for the proposed committee to craft new, universal policies to replace the current rules among the professional schools and Yale College, and suggests the creation of a new sexual misconduct grievance board to administer the policies for the entire University.

In an e-mail Thursday night, Miller said she “would be pleased” to see a committee similar to the one SHAPE recommended put in place, but would not comment on the time frame in which the committee would form. University President Richard Levin said he hadn’t yet reviewed the group’s final report and would do so only after consulting with Provost Peter Salovey.

But the Women Faculty Forum expects the University to create such a committee and name a chair before December, said Connie Bagley, a member of the group’s steering committee and the co-chair of the committee that authored the report.

“I think it’s something that’s been talked about and recommended and reasonable,” Bagley said. “We’ve certainly received no indication from anyone we’ve talked to in the 12-month process to make me feel like that would not happen.”

But the potential impact of the Women Faculty Forum’s recommendations could be greater than the report seems to suggest. Priya Natarajan, a co-chair of the report committee and a former member of the Executive Committee, said that the new grievance board would sidestep the Executive Committee and assume responsibility for sexual harassment cases. The forum emphasizes the importance of transparency on issues of sexual misconduct, while the Executive Committee has strict policies on confidentiality and anonymity.

“ExComm is not trained to deal with these cases,” Natarajan said. “They are obviously very competent in dealing with Undergraduate Regulations. But we are suggesting that sexual misconduct cases be removed from Yale College … We want these cases all to be moved to the central body.”

Natarajan added that the Women Faculty Forum has worked closely with General Counsel’s Office to ensure that the group’s recommendations comply with federal law.

“We’ve already done a lot of the leg work,” Natarajan said. “We’re very hopeful.”

Over the past year, Women Faculty Forum researchers have presented their proposals to a variety of faculty and administrators to largely positive responses, Bagley said.

Peter Parker, convenor of the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, which deals only with individual cases within Yale College, reviewed the report twice while the forum was still developing it. Though discrepancies in sexual harassment policy across Yale’s schools have not presented a problem for the Grievance Board, Parker said he supports the new recommendations.

“I think that what they’re suggesting is a good idea,” Parker said. “As chair of the Yale College board, I would look forward to working with them on this.”

Issues related to sexual misconduct have recently surfaced at Yale. The U.S. Department has still not released the report of its investigation into Yale’s compliance with federal crime reporting requirements, and in the winter of 2008, a group of students pledging Zeta Psi fraternity posed for a photo outside the Yale Women’s Center with a sign reading, “We Love Yale Sluts.”

The Women Faculty Forum explicitly states in their report that their recommendations are not intended as a response to any one instance of sexual misconduct at Yale. But both Women Faculty Forum researchers interviewed pointed to the Preseason Scouting Report e-mail, an anonymous message forwarded to several student panlists earlier this year that ranked the relative attractiveness of 53 women in the class of 2013, as an example of the need for increased transparency and preparedness at the University level.

“We want the University to adopt a crisis response plan where it would be able to treat situations that have become public through viral e-mail, or in a widely published photo,” Bagley said. “We are calling on the administration to keep the public apprised of what’s happened and what action has been taken.”

The Women Faculty Forum formed in 2001, at the University’s tercentennial, to advocate for issues of gender equality.

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