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Senate discusses harassment policy

By John Ashby

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 1 - August 25, 1994

The Staff Senate heard an update on changes in the university's sexual harassment policy at its August meeting, and was notified that President Charlie Stott will be stepping down.

Elyzabeth Holford, director of the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office, told senators that changes in the proposed policy were more in the nature of definitions, procedural improvements, and clarifications than in philosophy.

New language defines consensual relationships, for example, and states that "faculty members or supervisors involved in consensual relationships must remove themselves from any activity or evaluation that may reward or penalize the student or employee." Also added to the language is notice that faculty members and supervisors who are "conducting consensual relationships with students or employees they supervise makes them liable for formal action."

Holford said the old policy had no requirement to notify the accused person that an investigation into a charge of sexual harassment was under way. The new policy adds that requirement.

New language defining the responsibilities of administrators and supervisors prompted concern from senators. The policy states: "Administrators or supervisors have a legal obligatoin to act whenever they learn--either directly or indirectly--about sexual harassment. This obligation exists even if the victim requests that no action be taken. It is not the reponsibility of the individual being harassed to correct the situation.

"Administrators and supervisors have the legal responsibility to protect a victim from continued harassment or retaliation. They must also protect persons accused of harassment from potential damage by false allegations."

Wyatt Sasser expressed concern that these obligations could threaten confidentiality between employees and supervisor. Holford said the requirement was part of the old policy, but had not been stated explicitly. She likened the need to report any knowledge of cases of sexual harassment to reporting the existence of hazardous conditions in the physical plant on campus. She said the choice was a personal one for the supervisor, but that the university would still be liable. "If you choose to ignore it personally, then the university becomes at risk. Generally, the individual is not liable as long as they are not personally in control of the situation. We could take the section out, but it's still the law."

Senators discussed recent rumors circulating regarding possible changes in the state's leave policy. (For information from Personnel Services in response to concerns on this issue, see page 1.)

Stott announced to the senate that he had accepted a faculty position and would be required to step down as president. The senate constitution provides that Sasser, currently vice president, will move into the vacated position. "I know that you'll continue to do the work that we've started," Stott said. He expressed his appreciation to the senators, who responded with applause.

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