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Stanford considers revisions to sex harassment guidelines

STANFORD -- A draft updating Stanford University's sexual harassment policy has been completed and is now ready for public review and comment.

Among other things, the draft elaborates upon the definition of sexual harassment, and adds a warning about the perils of consensual sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and students, or supervisors and employees.

The draft also proposes a system for handling concerns or complaints. That proposal involves trained harassment advisers to help individuals; an adviser coordinator, who would supervise the advisers, encourage education or prevent harassment, and keep records showing the disposition of complaints; and a Sexual Harassment Panel that would be available to assist school or administrative officers.

Stanford community members are encouraged to review the proposed text of the policy - which covers all students, faculty and staff - and submit their written comments, no later than April 30, to Mary Edmonds, vice provost for student affairs (for student comments), or Barbara Butterfield, vice president for faculty and staff services (for faculty and staff comments).

President Gerhard Casper hopes to make a decision on the policy by the end of this academic year.

"Community input is important," said senior university counsel Susan Hoerger, a labor and employment law specialist who helped draft the revision with representatives of the student government, the Judicial Affairs Office, the Office for Multicultural Development, Employee Relations and the Medical Center.

"In particular, if a reader sees a problem in the draft, we hope that she or he will propose alternative language to solve the problem. We want the policy and its procedures to be clear and to be workable."

Stanford administrators began working on the revision two years ago, in response to recommendations from the university's Sexual Assault Task Force. The university's original formal statement on sexual harassment, groundbreaking for its time, was written in 1978.

"Sexual harassment violates state and federal law," Hoerger said. "The draft policy is intended to make clear that Stanford will not tolerate sexual harassment - that the university will take reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place; will fully and effectively investigate complaints; will take effective action to remedy violations; and, when necessary, will discipline those who sexually harass others.

"We also are attempting to make the procedures defined in the policy more user-friendly," Hoerger said.

The draft policy retains the basic definition of sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual advances, request for sexual favors and other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature" when they are implicitly or explicitly tied to academic or employment decisions or evaluations, or when they create a hostile and unacceptable educational or work environment.

The draft adds: "The determination of what constitutes sexual harassment will depend upon the specific facts and the context in which the conduct occurs. . . . Regardless of the intentions of the actor, the key question is always whether the [sexual] conduct is unwelcome to the individual to whom it is directed."

The new section on consensual relationships warns of "the special risks" in any consensual sexual or romantic relationship between faculty member and student, or supervisor and employee.

Although Stanford has no formal policy prohibiting such relationships, relationships in which one party is in a position to review or influence the other "may provide grounds for a complaint when that relationship gives undue access or advantage, restricts opportunities, or creates a hostile and unacceptable environment for others."

"Furthermore," the draft states, "circumstances may change and conduct that was previously welcome may become unwelcome. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to a romantic involvement, this past consent does not remove grounds for a complaint based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct."

Responsibility for implementing the new policy will remain with the university officers responsible for faculty, staff and student affairs. However, the policy suggests that they be helped by individuals specially trained and charged with specific responsibilities in the area of sexual harassment.

"People who are specially trained and are knowledgeable about the internal options and how other cases have been handled are likely to be able to work quickly towards a resolution that works," Hoerger said.

Under the proposed system, complainants could go either to superiors in their unit, or to one of the trained advisers. If the complainant only sought changes in the subject's behavior and the facts were undisputed or uncontested, the adviser could help to mediate a resolution.

If the complainant sought a retroactive remedy (such as a changed grade or back pay) or the facts were disputed, the matter would be referred back to the dean or administrative unit head for further action. A Sexual Harassment Panel, appointed by the president, would provide guidance and advice as necessary.

If the informal approaches didn't work, the complainant still could file a formal complaint under the university's established grievance procedures.

The draft also states that in cases when it is impossible to determine whether the harassment in fact occurred, "it may nonetheless be appropriate for the school or administrative unit to renew prevention education efforts."

Such efforts, organized by the sexual assault adviser coordinator, might include guest speakers, videotape programs and distribution of written materials.

The new sexual harassment guidelines are paired with a policy on sexual assault that was approved in November 1991 by then-President Donald Kennedy.

That policy states that "sex by force or coercion, including deliberate coercion through the use of drugs or alcohol, is absolutely unacceptable at Stanford" and that faculty, staff or students found in violation of the policy face maximum university sanctions in addition to criminal prosecution.

The assault policy was intended to bring Stanford into line with California State Law, Assembly Bill 3089, which requires that colleges and universities develop procedures for dealing with sexual offenses taking place within their jurisdiction.



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