The University Record, March 14, 1994

Sexual harassment policy aims for mutual respect

Editor’s Note: The text of the policy begins on page 8.

By Jane R. Elgass

After two years’ experience with the policy, changes in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, and slight revisions to the document, the University is republishing its Faculty/Staff Sexual Harassment Policy. (See pages 8–9 for complete text of the policy and procedures.)

First published in November 1991, the policy is “a strong statement of our commitment to have a community in which individuals can work and learn in an environment that fosters dignity and mutual respect,” notes President James J. Duderstadt.

“The policy also serves to help members of the University community understand what sexual harassment is, why it can be so devastating to individuals and to our community, and how we can recognize and do something about it,” explains E. Kay Dawson, assistant to the provost.

Within the University, sexual harassment is viewed as one form of sex discrimination, as conduct that impedes equal opportunity in the workplace and in the academic setting, Dawson notes. “It can be quite obvious, such as a faculty member pressuring a student for sexual favors, or it can be more subtle, such as sexist remarks and behavior that focus attention on sex characteristics in a context in which sex would otherwise be irrelevant or inappropriate.”

Duderstadt adds that “sexual harassment harms individuals who can be derailed from performing and achieving at their highest levels through no fault of their own. It also harms the University because it threatens the atmosphere of trust and collegiality so necessary to fulfilling our educational mission.”

During the period Nov. 1, 1991–Dec. 31, 1993, 50 incidents of sexual harassment on the Ann Arbor campus only were reported to the Affirmative Action Office, as required by the policy. However, Dawson notes, other incidents may have been reported and resolved only at the unit level.

Since implementation, there have been a number of educational activities, presentations to teaching assistants, workshops conducted by the Affirmative Action Office, discussions with faculty groups and presentations by the Center for the Education of Women (CEW) and by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC).

Dawson notes also that all members of the Office of Student Affairs staff participated in a video conference on sexual harassment.

In addition to the types of programs listed above, beginning in April specially designated staff members within each unit will receive special training to help them assume their responsibilities as complaint receivers.

Development of the training program has been a collaborative effort of staff from Human Resources/Affirmative Action, SAPAC and CEW.

Sally M. Johnson, assistant director of personnel-support and development programs, says the training sessions are designed to brief the complaint receivers on the policy and its procedures so they can “handle informal complaints as close to the local level as possible, presenting them with a variety of potential solutions that will help them respond to the complaint, and to resolve it without formal action when that is appropriate.

“The law requires employers to take speedy and appropriate action, but doesn’t specify actions,” Johnson explains. “We’re offering a variety of actions. For instance, if what happened is simply a misunderstanding, it likely can be handled in a private three-way meeting of the complaint receiver, the person making the accusation of harassment and the alleged harasser. If the accuser is not comfortable with the resolution at this point, there are options to pursue in other ways. We want complaint receivers to be aware of all options.”

Development of the training program has been under way for about one year, with an aim of “consistency across units” in handling complaints of sexual harassment. “We also worked very closely with the Office of the General Counsel,” Johnson notes.

During the four-hour intensive, interactive training sessions, participants will work through hypothetical situations designed to help them understand the variety of solutions available. Videos will review “the issues and emotion that can be attached to alleged sexual harassment,” Johnson notes.

The training is designed to help complaint takers:

  • Understand their responsibilities, the University’s legal obligations, and the limits on actions that should be taken.

  • Receive, investigate and resolve a complaint.

  • Become familiar with a range of solutions.

  • Know whom to contact and when.

  • Know when and where to refer complainants.

  • Demonstrate non-judgmental behaviors toward the individuals involved.

  • Understand the type of follow-up that may be needed, including some sense of appropriate preventive measures.

    Additional information about sexual harassment and key elements of the policy is forthcoming in a brochure that will be distributed campuswide.

    The brochure defines sexual harassment and provides a list of units to contact regarding sexual harassment, examples of sexual harassment, action that can be taken by individuals who feel they are the victims of sexual harassment, tips on preventing sexual harassment, and a discussion of consensual relationships.

    The policy is included in the University’s Standard Practice Guide and copies can be obtained from any of the offices listed in the box on page 7 titled “Tell Someone.”