Soon after two reports — one by a group of female professors, the other by a committee of administrators — suggested comprehensive changes to existing rules on sexual harassment, the Provost’s Office has organized a committee to evaluate and potentially alter University policies.
The committee is a key component of the sexual harassment policy overhaul proposed by the Women Faculty Forum in its 76-page report, released in October. Provost Peter Salovey has almost finished recruiting 12 faculty and administrators to serve on a new committee, which will be chaired by Philosophy Department Chair Michael Della Rocca and will review sexual harassment policy at Yale, Salovey said in an e-mail Monday. And though University President Richard Levin said the group will not convene until the beginning of the spring semester, the committee’s agenda is rapidly filling up, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said Thursday.
At the same time, the Provost’s Office is finishing an updated faculty handbook, due Jan. 1, and recently announced a tougher policy on consensual teacher-student relationships — which the new committee will examine as part of its consideration of sexual harassment policies.
“We read it, conferred and decided that the suggestion in the report — to appoint a committee to reflect on the report — was a good one,” Salovey said of the Women Faculty Forum report. “I think it’s written in a thoughtful and constructive way, and I think it gives us many interesting ideas to consider.”
Miller said the new committee will begin by examining the Women Faculty Forum report as well as the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education report, which was completed in May 2008 and released to students Sept. 2. Like the Women Faculty Forum report, the SHAPE Report also recommended that the University appoint a committee to review existing sexual harassment policies.
The committee will review current University policy, which is already in flux. In a November memo to professors, Salovey released a new policy from the upcoming edition of the faculty handbook that prohibits all consensual relationships between undergraduates and teaching faculty. Under the new rules, graduate and professional students acting as teaching fellows may not engage in consensual relationships with their own undergraduate students, or with undergraduates they might expect to work with. But the rule does not ban all consensual relationships between undergraduates and teaching fellows.
Since the release of the last faculty handbook in 2002, consensual relationships had been prohibited between teachers and students “over whom [instructors] have or might reasonably expect to have direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities” and between students and faculty in a position of power, such as athletic coaches and supervisors of student employees.
Deputy Provost Charles Long, who is responsible for assembling the handbook, said the old policy seemed arbitrary.
“If a new person is assigned to be director of undergraduate studies, or a new person is assigned to be a [department] chair — sometimes people move around,” Long said. “It seemed artificial to say relationships [with undergraduates] in between those times you supervise are OK.”
Both the current and previous policies on consensual sexual relationships were designed to prevent sexual harassment and sexual discrimination and to protect against potential lawsuits, Salovey said in his e-mail to the faculty.
“This policy was established to prohibit sexual or amorous relationships between faculty and students that by their nature may raise conflicts of interest or hold the potential for coercion or sexual harassment,” Salovey said in the memo.
In its report, the Women Faculty Forum also recommended that new, University-wide policies against sexual misconduct replace existing policies, which vary across Yale College, the Graduate School and the professional schools. They also want Yale to shift its focus from sexual harassment to the broader issue of sexual misconduct — an umbrella term that applies to both sexual harassment and assault, and includes other sexually motivated behaviors intended to intimidate or threaten.
The Women Faculty Forum also called for the creation of a centralized sexual misconduct grievance board to administer the new policy and address complaints from undergraduates, graduate and professional students, faculty and staff alike. Currently, complaints are evaluated by four different grievance boards across the University.
“We don’t think there’s a lot of additional study necessary in terms of outside research,” Woman Faculty Forum report co-author and School of Management professor Connie Bagley said. “I hope the group is serious about the issues and willing to roll up their sleeves, dig into the [Women Faculty Forum] report and policy and just get this done.”
Miller said the University’s quick response to the report’s demand for a review committee and new policy on student-faculty relationships signals a “recommitment” to preventing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
“The administrators we’ve been working with agree that sexual misconduct has no place at Yale,” Bagley said last month. “They’re serious about trying to take additional steps to eliminate it.”
Both Bagley and Priya Natarajan, a professor of astronomy and physics and a co-chair of the committee that authored the report, said they are pleased with the University’s response to the Women Faculty Forum report so far, but added that this is just the beginning of the process. The new committee must act quickly and decisively and follow the policy changes outlined in the report, Bagley said.
The report came from over a year of research, writing and consultation with faculty and administrators, most of whom supported the group’s proposed policies, Bagley said. Members of the committee responsible for the report worked with the General Counsel’s Office to ensure that the policy changes offered in the report were legally feasible.
The Women Faculty Forum began work on its report on sexual misconduct in fall 2008, after several pledges to the fraternity Zeta Psi posed for pictures outside the Women’s Center with signs that read “We Love Yale Sluts” and 100 medical students wrote a letter to School of Medicine administrators in December 2007 expressing concern over the prevalence of sexual harassment at the school, according to the report. The Women Faculty Forum’s goal in writing the report was to help administrators to develop a workable, University-wide anti-sexual misconduct policy, Bagley said.