Southern Illinois University–Carbondale Faculty Senate Assails Proposed Sexual Harassment Policy over Abridgement of Rights

By October 17, 2008

The faculty outcry against the administration at Southern Illinois UniversityCarbondale (SIUC) over its sexual harassment policy continues. Torch readers will remember that the administration’s mistreatment of two faculty membersin violation of their due process rights, to say the leastled to a number of lawsuits along with, it seems, the death of one of the faculty members.

Well, SIUC’s proposed new sexual harassment policy has been released, and it has received scathing reviews from a fearful and angry faculty. As Morgan Hottes and Sean McGahanthe report for the Daily Egyptian, this Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting was bad news for the administration’s proponents of the new policy. Faculty members spoke out against its violations of freedom of speech and due process:

"I think that this entire document is produced for the purpose of defending the Board (of Trustees) and board rights rather than looking at a fair and equitable process," [Senate Vice President Mary Lamb] said. [...]

[Lamb] was followed by James Ferraro, an associate professor of physiology. Ferraro quoted excerpts from the Illinois Human Rights Act and a statement from the National Association of Scholars on matters of sexual harassment that he said provided clearer language than the university’s proposed policy.

Ferraro, who teaches two classes on human sexuality, said the policy’s definition is too broad and vague because it states harassment is defined by a victim’s perception of an act.

He said that loose definition could lead to misinterpretations of innocent acts. A woman could be walking with something written on the back of her shorts and someone reading it could be accused of expressive behavior of sexual harassment, he said.

"Any facial expression could be interpreted by a person in any way they want to interpret it, and there would be no defense of that because it specifically says it’s defined by the person’s perception," Ferraro said. [...]

[Lamb also said,] "There’s so much wrong with the powers given to the compliance officer beyond the power to choose who hears their appeal. They have very inappropriate and absolute power over the process."

Lamb was put in charge of the faculty’s policy discussion because Senate President Peggy Stockdale abstained from the conversation because she is also a member of the Sexual Harassment Working Group. [...] Stockdale said the policy needs much more clarification and the review process … should slow down.

"The faculty are concerned that we’re rushing it too much, and we need to take some time to discuss a little bit more, and I think that’s a reasonable concern," Stockdale said.

A second account of the meeting is given at the new FreeSIU blog (emphasis and links in original):

I attended the Faculty Senate meeting, where University Legal Counsel (Phyleccia Cole) presented her office’s proposed sexual harassment code. Professor Mary Lamb (English) made a brief, sharp presentation assailing the code. Then the senators started to say how "atrocious" the code was and Lamb asked for a show of hands whether people were as "hot" as the speakers (herself included)most hands went up [...] Lamb posted a questionnaire for professors and everyone else to make their feelings known.

The constituency heads were there and one said his constituency was "very strongly" against the code and they didn’t realize how bad it was until now. The senator from the medical school cited the NAS Statement I ran in the Daily Egyptian and used it to criticize the code and propose common-sense guidelines.

Professors were a bit taken aback by the Powerpoint slide indicating that Legal Counsel would hand over documents to the accused IF A COURT ORDERED THEM TO DO SO. Otherwise, everything is secret. [...]

Many [senators] feared a real "chilling effect." After the show of hands, the Faculty Senate agreed to draft a resolution strongly opposing the code revisions, to be presented at the next meeting.

It is refreshing to see faculty members standing strong for their rights.

Schools: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale