More sexual harassment sanctions

WSU’s discrimination and sexual harassment policy has been revamped into two policies, a new one to cover consensual relations. The drafts detail more potential sanctions for offenders and guidelines for selecting sanctions and reporting incidents.

The university community is invited to comment until Sept. 30 on the drafts, which were prepared by a committee of the Faculty Senate and provost.

“We made some significant changes,” said Frances McSweeney, vice provost for Faculty Affairs. 

“Sometimes, even if both parties agree, a consensual relationship is not acceptable,” she said. “There is no informed consent if one person holds power over the other. Our goal is not to eliminate romance, but to make sure relationships are truly consensual.”

In writing the consensual relations section, the committee consulted similar policies from about a dozen other universities, said Barry Swanson, executive secretary of the Faculty Senate and chair of the committee.

Three areas covered
The committee summarized the three areas of the policies:
• the discrimination policy prohibits actions that interfere with the work, academic performance, environment or participation in university activities of members of protected categories.
• the sexual harassment policy prohibits unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors.
• the consensual relationship policy prohibits romantic or sexual relationships between supervisors and those that they supervise or believe they will supervise in the future. 

Many sanction options
To enforce prohibitions, the committee expanded the list of potential sanctions to include mandatory training or counseling, transfer or reassignment, verbal or written warning, censure, demotion, reduction in pay, withholding of pay increases, denial of professional or retraining leave, withholding of promotion, suspension and dismissal.

The previous policy offered administrators only two options: sending a letter of censure or dismissing the employee. Intermediate steps were needed to provide an appropriate sanction for all offenses, McSweeney said.

The committee included guidelines for selecting the appropriate sanction, with the goal of consistent, non-arbitrary punishment. Administrators are required to view the totality of the circumstances and to select a sanction severe enough to prevent future incidents.

Reporting required
The drafts require that all offenses known to supervisors must be reported to the Center for Human Rights for statistical purposes. It requires that any action taken by the university be disclosed to the complainant, reported to the Center for Human Rights and included in performance reviews. 

“We wanted to make it possible for anyone to go to the ombudsman and maintain confidentiality or to file a complaint and expect to know what happened,” Swanson said. “In addition, we wanted to keep these policies to three or four pages in length, so everyone will actually read them and comment.”

Comment on policy:


*Mail: Donna Jean Cofield, Office of the Provost, P.O. Box 641046, Pullman, WA 99164-1046

*Due: by Sept. 30.  After that the committee hopes to present the revised policies to the Faculty Senate in late October and to the Board of Regents in November.

*Draft policies:

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