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AAU Expanding Fight Against Sexual Misconduct on Campus

Fighting sexual misconduct on campus is an issue about which AAU and our member schools care deeply.

In 2015, AAU conducted a groundbreaking survey on the prevalence of campus sexual assault, soliciting the experiences and views of more than 150,000 undergraduate and graduate students. A follow-up report to the survey, “AAU Campus Activities Report: Combating Sexual Assault and Misconduct,” provided an extraordinary amount of data and contained information about the ways our member universities are working to reduce the incidence of sexual misconduct among students and to address its consequences.

We are currently wrapping up work on the latest iteration of that survey, this time drawing respondents from an even broader sample of our member campuses and looking at a wider set of issues. We are anxious to see whether reporting of sexual assault and misconduct among student bodies has improved since 2015.

But there is more to be done to fight multiple forms of sexual misconduct on campus. This includes not only sexual assault committed against students, but also sexual harassment and gender discrimination among students, faculty, and administrators.

That is why AAU has created a new Advisory Board on Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination. The board is composed of 22 senior administrators, experts, and other campus leaders from AAU member campuses. Board members are meeting, talking, and thinking about how AAU can best help our campuses respond to the ongoing issue of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the academic workplace.

The group will also advise AAU as we work with our federal and nonprofit partners to investigate, analyze, and promote additional research on and implementation of evidence-based practices to combat sexual harassment and gender discrimination. These practices will include efforts to change campus culture around harassment and discrimination and to help campuses and affected individuals recover from the effects of harassment and discrimination.

The advisory board will also provide valuable input to the AAU staff as we assess and comment on congressional and federal policy proposals aimed at addressing sexual harassment and gender discrimination on university campuses.

Yesterday, representatives from two AAU institutions testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the issue of sexual harassment in science. Jean Morrison, Provost of Boston University, said: “I entered the academic world in the 1980’s by pursuing a Ph.D. in earth sciences. Like all aspiring scientists, we were taught that our science had to be rigorous, exacting, objective, and unforgiving in its pursuit of the facts. These approaches remain the same today, nearly 40 years later. But in hindsight, it is also clear that we misapplied these approaches by extending them to the culture of our workplace and to our relationships. We created a tough, unforgiving and unwelcoming workplace environment. No wonder then that people, especially our junior students and faculty, felt more hazed than helped, and that women, feeling the additional burden of gender discrimination, fared even worse.”

Philip Kass, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of California, Davis, and a member of the AAU Sexual Harassment Advisory Committee also testified. He highlighted how UC Davis is exploring new ways to fight sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Last year, the school announced a new pilot program for the 2018-19 hiring year to conduct reference checks on final candidates for academic appointments with tenure or security of employment. Kass said that, so far in the pilot program, none of the reference checks have led to disclosure of disciplinary actions. “We believe that potential applicants for faculty positions who have been disciplined, upon reading UC Davis’ requirement for a signed authorization in order for their application to be considered, will be dissuaded from applying. The UC Davis reference check process therefore is likely acting as a pre-screening preventative,” he said.

When asked during the questions and answers what more could be done to assist institutions in combating sexual harassment, Kass pointed to the AAU Advisory Board. He said the board’s broad-based campus representation creates a good venue for identifying practices such the one UC Davis is using and discussing ways that campuses can work together to combat sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination are evils that often have lifelong negative consequences for individual victims and their families. They are also evils that traumatize entire campuses and make large groups of students, faculty, and university staff feel unwelcome and unsafe. As universities and our society confront the myriad issues around sexual misconduct, AAU is committed to supporting our member schools in combating, preventing, and healing from sexual harassment and gender discrimination.