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Saying No to Sexual Harassment in Academia

AAU member institutions are committing to a groundbreaking set of principles to protect students, faculty, and staff from sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

Last week, the presidents and chancellors of AAU’s member universities adopted a groundbreaking set of principles to help address and prevent sexual harassment on college campuses. Adopting these Principles on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Academia demonstrates that AAU members are committed to leading the way in taking meaningful steps to fight sexual harassment in our campus communities.

The principles affirm that it is the responsibility of AAU members to work to create an environment for our students, faculty, and staff that is free from sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct. The principles charge our members to take steps to prevent abuse from happening in the first place by fostering a climate and culture where sexual misconduct is unacceptable and by educating our campus communities about institutional values and policies. They also commit our members to remove barriers that too often have hindered victims from reporting abuse and to provide victims with the help and support they need. Finally, the principles entrust our members to handle all reports of sexual misconduct in a respectful, fair, and ethical manner that holds harassers accountable.

Two principles in particular should go a long way toward making our campuses safer. AAU members have committed to share information about accused harassers, consistent with applicable law, between prospective and previous employers and, whenever possible, to see all investigations of sexual misconduct through to completion, regardless of whether the accused harasser has moved on to other employment. We’re doing this to eliminate the phenomenon known as “pass the harasser,” in which an abuser commits sexual misconduct, resigns before the investigation is completed, and then moves on to a new job at another institution where the abuser continues to perpetuate abuse.

The principles, which are nonbinding and are designed to be adaptable to each institution’s unique cultural and legal context, are the culmination of multiple years of thoughtful work by AAU’s Advisory Board on Sexual Harassment in Academia. The board consisted of 20 senior leaders and administrators from AAU member institutions whose goal was to identify innovative methods to address sexual harassment within the academy. The board was co-chaired by University of Southern California President Carol Folt and University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod. Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, who was previously provost at the University of Texas at Austin, also served on the board.

The principles follow previous efforts by AAU to fight sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus. In 2015, AAU conducted a survey on the prevalence of campus sexual assault and issued the “ AAU Campus Activities Report: Combating Sexual Assault and Misconduct ,” which provided data and information about the work AAU members are doing to reduce sexual misconduct on campus. We followed up on the report with a new campus climate survey in 2019 and the creation of the Advisory Board on Sexual Harassment in Academia.

Our work on this issue is not over. AAU will continue working with the National Academies’ Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education and its Partner Network to prevent and address sexual misconduct in colleges and universities. Sexual harassment does great harm to its victims and can make students, faculty, and staff feel unwelcome and unsafe in the places that they live, learn, and work. AAU is committed to continue supporting our member schools as they implement the principles and seek to create a campus climate where everyone can fully participate in the campus community.