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Sexual harassment policy modifications proposed

STANFORD --Individuals who violate the university's sexual harassment policy and/or their schools may be required to reimburse the university for any expenses incurred as a result of wrongful behavior, under changes proposed to the university's two-year-old policy on sexual harassment.

The proposed changes, prepared by a review committee appointed by the provost, also would allow the university to maintain records of incidents of sexual harassment as long as the accused are informed, and would modify slightly the current structure for handling sexual harassment complaints.

Structural changes include elimination of a sexual harassment panel and placing more emphasis on third-party interventions and formal mediation to resolve complaints.

The draft policy is "simplified, direct and addresses issues that were not as clear in the previous policy, such as confidentiality," said Jean Fetter, assistant to the president, who chaired the 11-member ad hoc review committee of staff, faculty and one student. The committee, she said, invites comments on the draft from faculty, staff and students until Nov. 15, at which point it will review them before sending a final draft to the president and provost. The draft is scheduled to be presented to the Faculty Senate on Nov. 30.

Comments should be sent to Fetter at the President's Office, Building 10, or electronically to hk.jhf@forsythe. A copy of the proposed policy is printed in Stanford Report (Oct. 25, 1995).

The proposal calls for eliminating the sexual harassment panel because of "confusion" over its role, said Laraine Zappert, a member of the committee who is the university's sexual harassment coordinating adviser. The university has had 28 trained sexual harassment advisers who were divided into two groups, one that dealt with concerns or complaints raised by faculty, staff and students and another "panel" whose members met with administrators who had to adjudicate sexual harassment complaints raised in their areas of responsibility. The panel itself had no adjudicating responsibility, Zappert said. The advisers still will meet periodically to discuss issues, but they won't be formally called a "panel."

A more significant structural change, she said, is the emphasis on resolving complaints through mediation or other forms of third-party intervention. A subgroup of the advisers will be trained in mediation, and outside mediators also will be called upon for cases where a higher degree of training or experience is desirable.

"In most cases what people want is for the harassment to end, and often [the complainant and the accused] must still work together," Zappert said. Mediators are effective at getting both parties to clarify working conditions for the future, she said. "Mediation doesn't exclude discipline in addition," she said, and is not always carried out face-to-face.

If adopted, the policy would allow Zappert to keep records of incidents in cases where the accused had been notified of them. "No record-keeping was permitted before, and that was unworkable," she said.

Limits on confidentiality also are explained more clearly in the draft policy, both for those who raise a complaint or who are disciplined by the university.

"Confidentiality will be maintained to the extent reasonably possible, subject to the need to inform other faculty, staff and students when remedial actions are taken, and consistent with fairness to the individuals involved," the policy says. "Examples of situations in which confidentiality can not be maintained include circumstances when the university is required by law to disclose information (such as in response to legal process) and when disclosure is required by the university's outweighing interest in protecting the rights of others."

Attorney Susan Hoerger, a member of the ad hoc committee, said the wording was changed partly because "there has been a concern over the years of people saying 'We don't know if any action is ever taken.' The question is, How do you make sure the university community knows sexual harassment is taken seriously if no one reports back out what happened?"

Those who want to seek consultation on sexual harassment aalso are advised that there are limits to confidentiality. They may want initially to raise concerns without identifying other persons or even themselves if they are concerned about confidentiality, the policy says.

"We don't want to alarm people, because ordinarily confidentiality is not a problem," Zappert said, "but one of the problems with the old policy was that it wasn't clear that there is no blanket confidentiality."

U.S. law permits licensed therapists, chaplains and priests, for example, to hold privileged conversations that do not have to be revealed later in courts of law, but even their privileges are not total, Zappert said. For example, in the case of illegal activity concerning a minor, professionals with such privileges are obligated to report information, and university officers have obligations to use information to prevent harm to others. "If it's something egregious enough, the university is on notice and has to do something about it," she said.

The policy also states that the university may hire outside investigators in some cases and that it may seek to recover its costs from individuals found guilty of sexual harassment and from their schools. This could apply to the potential cost of any future sexual harassment lawsuit settlement or judgment, but is not limited to those costs, Hoerger said.



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