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Stanford adopts new sexual harassment policy
STANFORD -- After three years of debate and rewriting, Stanford has a new policy prohibiting sexual harassment.
The policy, which is applicable as of today (Oct. 6), replaces the existing 1981 policy. The policy continues to apply to faculty, students and staff, and creates a more extensive informal means of resolving complaints, while retaining existing formal grievance procedures.
A panel and advisers to carry it out are to be trained and in place by Jan. 1.
Violations can result in discharge, expulsion or other appropriate sanctions, the policy states. (See complete text, page XX.)
The policy, which is issued by the president, was unanimously endorsed by the Faculty Senate on Thursday, Sept. 30. President Gerhard Casper led efforts this summer to rewrite a draft version aired on campus last spring.
The new version incorporates suggestions made by faculty when Casper consulted the senate last May. It emphasizes informal resolution of complaints and strengthens language on confidentiality.
Unlike policies instituted recently at some universities, Stanford's does not prohibit consensual relationships, but it does warn that there are risks when the relationship is between individuals in "inherently unequal positions," such as teacher and student. Those relationships may be "less consensual than the individual whose position confers power believes," the policy states.
At its first meeting of the 1993-94 academic year, Casper told the senate that the actual statement of policy at the beginning of the document remains essentially unchanged. What have changed are the implementation procedures.
Several senators suggested additional changes, including the idea that an independent adviser would be the first point of contact for a complainant in all cases. Casper and Provost Condoleezza Rice rejected that suggestion. Casper accepted other small changes, including making outcomes in informal procedures more open ended. This and other minor changes have now been incorporated.
The policy will be reviewed and amended, if necessary, in two years.
In the redrafting this summer, the document was reorganized and edited to make the language less bureaucratic and legalistic, Casper told the senate. The most important changes are that "what we intended all along has been made more emphatic."
The policy "comes down squarely on the side of confidentiality," Casper said of the conflict between the desire "to establish records of transgressions that can be reviewed later" and the assurance of confidentiality that would help encourage victims to come forward.
There are situations, however, in which the university may be obligated by law to disclose the name of an accused person, he said, advising that complainants can avoid giving names initially.
Provisions of the policy
The document opens with the statement that "it is the policy of Stanford University to maintain the university community as a place of work and study for students, faculty and staff free of sexual harassment and all forms of sexual intimidation and exploitation."
Sexual harassment is defined as consisting of unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other visual, verbal or physical conduct.
The policy "is not intended to stifle freedom of expression nor will it be permitted to do so," the document states. This provision is aimed at preventing an individual from claiming sexual harassment when, for instance, an art history professor displays paintings of nudes by Rubens.
The policy provides for a group of trained advisers to help individuals; a coordinator to supervise the advisers, encourage education to prevent harassment, and keep records showing the disposition of charges; and a Sexual Harassment Panel that would be available to assist schools or administrative officers. Schools and administrative units also may designate an individual to respond to concerns or charges.
For all parties, the policy states, "informal resolution of charges is generally the preferable course." Four examples of this are spelled out: advice, moderated discussion, mediation, and investigation followed by supervisory action.
Alternatively, complainants may file formal grievances. The applicable procedure depends on the whether the grievant is a faculty member, student or staff member. Most formal grievances must be filed within a specified time limit.
Senators raise more questions
During last week's Faculty Senate discussion of the draft, Myra Strober, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Education, said the policy has been "greatly improved" since last spring.
However, she was concerned, she said, that the grievance procedure students would use in a formal process directs them to discuss their complaints orally or in writing in stages: first with the individual most involved; then, if there is no resolution, to the department chair; finally with the school dean.
Strober proposed that the student be allowed to go directly to the dean.
Associate General Counsel Iris Brest, a guest of the senate, told Strober that the language of the student grievance procedure applies to all kinds of complaints, not just sexual harassment.
Conley advocates neutral outsider
Another guest of the senate, Fran Conley of neurosurgery, said her concerns dovetailed with Strober's. She worried aloud about intimidation and conflicts of interest, and suggested that to make the policy more "user friendly" the first person to hear a complaint should be a neutral individual outside the work unit.
It could happen, Conley said, that a concern or charge would be heard only by a supervisor, department chair or dean. She suggested that "a person having a problem of this nature in their workplace needs to be heard by a dispassionate, unbiased person who has no vested interest in the outcome."
Conley drew media attention in 1991 when she submitted her resignation from her tenured post to protest what she called an environment of "pervasive sexism" and insensitivity in the Medical School. She later withdrew her resignation, citing progress the school was making in addressing the issue.
"It may come as a surprise to some of you," she said forcefully, "to learn, as I have in the past couple of years, that department chairs, supervisors, even deans - not necessarily all at Stanford - do not have themselves unblemished records with regard to inappropriate behavior, and more importantly, many of these people are aware of and in close alliance with some of their faculty or other workers whose behavior is questionable, but which they have condoned and dismissed.
"Often those with the behavior problems are powerful figures in the particular work unit; they may bring in a lot of money or have prestige from awards. As they gain in stature they use their power inappropriately over others, because no one, including their department chairs, dare defy or stop them.
"Sexual harassment most often has very little to do with sexual attraction or passion," Conley said. "It is the misuse of power based on gender - the mindset that 'I can do what I want with you because I am a big somebody and you are a little nothing.' "
Elizabeth Traugott, linguistics, said she supported Conley's ideas about the need for an independent adviser as first point of contact. She asked if the sexual harassment advisers would be faculty or staff and wondered how they would be selected.
Casper said they could be either faculty or staff, and that Provost Rice would make the selections based on qualifications and past experience.
Terry Karl, political science, and Ronald Rebholz, English, also favored the idea of sending complainants first to an independent adviser. Hester Gelber, religious studies, agreed with that suggestion, saying the adviser could help with an "intimidating process."
Both Casper and Rice rejected the idea that advisers had to be involved at the first step.
Although she would encourage use of the informal complaint process and its advising component, Rice said the formal grievance procedures - which do not refer to the sexual harassment advisers - should be in place for anyone who wants that option.
"I would not want to inadvertently deprive people of their rights, and we have to keep the formal grievances in place," she said.
Requiring involvement of an independent party at the beginning of the process would remove from the complainant the important decision of which process to use, she said. "If a complainant decides to pursue grievance procedures, I think it is not our place to first tell that person to go see someone else."
Karl worries about time limits
Karl told Casper she was opposed to time limits set forth in formal grievances, but Casper assured her that informal procedures can be initiated at any time and pointed out that the policy allows the university and complainant to mutually agree to extend time limits for formal grievances.
"Studies show that timely response in sexual harassment cases is the exception, not the rule," Karl said, citing a case she knew of at Stanford where it took a student two years to come forward.
In response to another comment by Karl, Casper said he would review language on outcomes of informal procedures to make it more open ended. He also agreed to add a statement that reprisals against a complainant are against the law. The most recent version of the policy simply said "no reprisals will be tolerated."
Karl, who serves as director of the Center for Latin American Studies, became one of the first women in academe to file and win a grievance for sexual harassment. The case involved a senior faculty member at Harvard who was director of the program in which she was an assistant professor.
Karl said after the meeting that she was "very pleased with the outcome," even though not all her suggestions were accepted.
"This is part of a process of making Stanford a discrimination-free environment," she said.
She expressed appreciation for Casper's role in pushing revision and adoption of a policy that had languished for several years.
"Casper has been very open and forthcoming on this issue, and many of us are very pleased that he feels so strongly that Stanford must have a policy and that it must be a strong policy," she said.
"A strong policy and discussion of a strong policy and media coverage of a strong policy helps to reduce the incidences of harassment," she said, citing a 1992 article in the Journal of Higher Education that reported a 10 percent drop in harassment over a six- year period at the University of Massachusetts after implementation of a harassment policy.
Karl was one of several faculty members consulted about the policy as it was redrafted during the summer. "It was difficult for them because I was out of the country. I received several faxes in obscure places," she said.
Karl said she is eager to see how the soon-to-be- appointed harassment advisers will be trained. She also wondered if the deans will be trained.
"My experience in a number of cases is that even with the best of intentions, the most compassionate people are not always equipped to deal with issues of sexual abuse," she said. "It is very difficult not to say something that will make the victim flee."
Contrasting the senate discussion to her experience at Harvard 10 years ago, Karl said she was pleased that "there are enough female faculty members on the senate and at Stanford to raise this issue and push it with great seriousness."
Stanford's sexual harassment policies date back to May 1978, when informal procedures were established through the Dean of Students office and the Ombudsman's Office. The university formalized a policy in 1981.
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