Faculty Statement on Sexual Misconduct and Harassment
University of Minnesota, School of Public Health
February 8, 2019
We, the faculty of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH), submit the following statement to reflect our culture of mutual respect, inclusion, diversity, equality, and justice. We explicitly state that sexual misconduct in any form is inconsistent with our values and we will neither tolerate nor ignore it.
A recent Title IX investigation conducted by the Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) addressed complaints of sexual harassment against a faculty member holding a position of leadership within the SPH. Although the details of the EOAA’s investigation are not publicly available and we do not have access to the final report, in good faith, we accept the conclusion of our School’s Dean, that violations of the University’s sexual harassment policy occurred. These events have created an opportunity for our faculty to carefully reflect on our current culture with regard to sexual misconduct.
Let us be clear: Sexual misconduct has no place in our institution and it is particularly unsettling that such offenses were committed by someone in a position of authority and leadership.
While it is tempting to view events that precipitated our SPH Title IX investigation as isolated and our problem as resolved, local and national media reports over the past several years have revealed a number of high-profile accounts of workplace sexual misconduct, including in academic environments. The problem is pervasive and persistent. Here at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, a recent survey showed that nearly 74% of students experienced sexual harassment, and 13% reported they experienced sexual harassment by a faculty member or staff person.
As we have reflected on accounts of sexual harassment here and nationally, we have identified common themes that are worth emphasizing as our SPH prepares to take actions to prevent sexual harassment. First, initially subtle, yet inappropriate behaviors often worsen and create toxic environments if left unchecked. Second, power differentials often exist, and are at times intentionally leveraged, making it difficult for individuals who are targets of harassment to express their discomfort, for fear of retribution. Third, many institutions are ill-equipped to appropriately prevent or respond to acts of sexual harassment and misconduct because their policies tend to be reactive rather than proactive.
It is critical for the University of Minnesota and our SPH to be proactive in its prevention of sexual misconduct, as well as appropriately reactive when it becomes aware of alleged misconduct. Initial guidance on doing so can be obtained through the University’s required sexual harassment training and the University’s existing policy on sexual harassment. Going forward, we call on School and University leadership to continue efforts to cultivate a climate that will (i) prevent sexual misconduct; (ii) provide a supportive environment for individuals affected by sexual harassment and misconduct; (iii) simplify the process of reporting and investigating inappropriate behavior that upholds due process for all parties involved; and (iv) make it easier for individuals in positions of leadership to respond to allegations of misconduct and take action when they occur. Doing so will curb inappropriate behavior and reset the boundaries of normative interactions in workplace and educational settings.