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Archive for Friday, January 8, 1993

HARASSMENT POLICY CHANGE SOUGHT

January 8, 1993

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A Kansas University task force has proposed an overhaul of sexual harassment policies guiding university faculty, staff and students after concluding a one-year review of existing procedures.

"As specifically as we could, we've put down, in black and white, what is sexual harassment and what isn't," said Sandra Wick, chair of the student, faculty and staff task force.

The task force's report provides more precise definitions of unacceptable conduct and ideas for streamlined procedures that assure prompt and fair due process, she said.

"We came up with a set of recommendations that attempts to make clear what sexual harassment is and what recourse people who are sexually harassed have," said Richard DeGeorge, a task force member and professor of philosophy.

"At the same time we've attempted to protect innocent people from being charged with offenses they didn't commit," he said.

THE TASK force was formed by former Executive Vice Chancellor Del Shankel and Chancellor Gene Budig in the wake of allegations in 1991 by KU law students that a faculty member sexually harassed them.

The final task force report forwarded to Ed Meyen, executive vice chancellor, and KU's faculty governance leaders, proposes an expanded definition of sexual harassment.

The report states "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature" would constitute sexual harassment.

"Sexual harassment is often a specific form of discrimination in which power inherent in a faculty member's or supervisor's relationship to his or her students or subordinates is exploited," the report said.

THE REPORT also proposes:

Twelve sanctions, ranging from verbal warning to firing, for sexual harassers. No such list is currently used by KU officials.

Designation of a central reporting entity, such as the Office of Affirmative Action, for all sexual harassment proceedings.

"Lack of centralized reporting makes it virtually impossible for the university to identify perpetrators and prevent further harassment," according to the report.

Elimination of the 180-day time limit during which charges of harassment can be heard. There should be no time limit, the task force said.

Rewriting sexual harassment pamphlets to eliminate legalistic and official language. As its final act, the task force wants to review those amended pamphlets.

Creation of a policy that discourages, but doesn't prohibit, romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students.

THE TASK force also said the university's sexual harassment policy should include a strong statement about the consequences of bringing false charges, Wick said.

Task force member Mike Kautsch, dean of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said the task force placed emphasis on educating people about sexual harassment.

"It seems to me that the report is quite strong insofar as it deals with the question of defining sexual harassment and recommending ways to educate faculty, staff and students about the problem and remedies," he said.

In addition to Meyen, KU's governance committees may review the proposed policy. Budig will make the final determination of what policy is implemented.

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