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Some professors dislike changes to sexual-harassment policy

BY HOLLY HINES | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Proposed changes to the University of Iowa’s sexual-harassment policy aren’t fair to alleged violators, some faculty members said.

Members of the UI Faculty Senate expressed concerns at their meeting on Tuesday regarding an aspect of the policy that would allow officials to address some informal complaints of harassment without notifying the reported offender.

But Professor John Menninger said he wants alleged sexual-harassment offenders to be able to defend themselves against complaints, something that might not happen if the policy changes aren’t adjusted.

Additionally, some faculty members were concerned records of informal complaints — such as e-mails between those addressing the concern — could lead to problems for alleged offenders who are found innocent.

“Any record is subject to discovery,” Menninger said.

He said that, if found, the evidence could injure the reputations of the individual or serve as legal evidence that could be brought against an individual outside the university.

Menninger and other senators voted against approving the revisions, saying they had strong objections to the policy as proposed.

Officials began the process of updating the sexual-misconduct policies at the three state universities in December 2008, after the state Board of Regents mandated revisions in response to the UI’s handling of an alleged October 2007 rape of a student-athlete.

Rob Porter, a member of the committee UI President Sally Mason appointed to address the revisions, said cases such as the ones Menninger and others outlined would be extremely rare.

An alleged offender may not be informed of complaints in certain cases, Porter said, such as one in which a student did not want a professor informed.

At the meeting, he said he encouraged Faculty Senate members to communicate with committee members regarding their concerns with the policy changes.

“I want to make sure that if changes need to be made, they are made,” he said.

Associate Professor John Wadsworth also raised concerns regarding whether professors in supervisor positions would be notified of complaints alleged against those they supervise.

Even though the chance officials would not notify alleged harassers may be slim, he said, it only takes one instance to jeopardize a faculty member’s career.

Faculty Senate Secretary Katharine Tachau agreed concerns regarding supervising professors need to be addressed.

She said she’d like committee members to meet with faculty to address the concerns of supervising professors.

Porter said committee members hope to finish revisions to the policy by June 1, after which they will present them to Mason, who will make the decision on any changes.


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