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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 83, Number 1 (Nov. 1981)

Hacskaylo, Christine
The University takes a stand on sexual harrassment,   p. 18


Page 18


The University Takes a Stand
On Sexual
Harassment
By Christine Hacskaylo
he University is moving in a formal
       and comprehensive way to protect
       students and employees from the
frustration, indignity, and-at times-
danger of sexual harassment. Last May,
emphasizing its commitment to "an envi-
ronment of respect for the worth of all
members of the University community,"
the Board of Regents adopted a broad
definition of sexual harassment and out-
lined steps to end it, warning that such con-
duct is "unacceptable," "impermissable,"
and "not to be tolerated" at Wisconsin.
   "Oh, come on," some might be saying
at this point, "aren't we overreacting? So a
prof cracks a joke or two before lecture.
Who really cares?" That reaction is not un-
usual. A subcommittee on sexual harass-
ment, set up in 1980 as part of the Regents'
Task Force on the Status of Women, found
people often skeptical about whether or not
a genuine problem exists. Most women, it
noted, are afraid to publicize incidents of
harassment. And such silence leads many
to believe that because no one complains,
no one suffers.
   But in testimony gathered by the task
force, these and other incidents were re-
ported often enough to cause concern:
   A professor closed his office door and
unexpectedly kissed a woman student on
the mouth.
   An advisor threatened to withdraw sup-
port of a student's assistantship unless she
dated him.
   A faculty member received an obscene
pendant in her mailbox.
   An instructor required a woman student
to take a makeup exam at his apartment,
then made sexual advances.
   A department secretary was repeatedly
pinched and touched by male colleagues.
   A lecturer showed a slide of a nude
woman to "liven up" his class.
   Either women or men can be targets of
harassment, but in practice, according to
the task force, "women are overwhelm-
ingly the victims." Sometimes the offense is
blatant; more often it's less obvious: a joke,
a leer, a whistle, a repeated inuendo.
Women have lived with the problem, but
men are frequently unaware of how com-
mon and how constant it is. Ted Finman,
law professor and recently appointed chair-
man of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual
Harassment, remarked, "While I never
doubted the hurt to a student who is told,
'Put out or you won't get a good grade,'
there was a lot I didn't know about more
subtle-but nonetheless serious-kinds of
harassment." This lack of knowledge stems
partly from the reluctance of victims to talk.
According to the subcommittee's report,
many simply feel nothing will be done.
When they do complain, they are often "ig-
nored, discredited, or accused of 'misun-
derstanding"' an intention. Moreover, a
woman is generally harassed by a male su-
perior, so that she frequently feels intimi-
dated, fearing retribution should she com-
plain. Until now, the absence of a standard
grievance procedure has also hindered the
reporting of incidents. The University has
had no comprehensive policy and no mech-
anism to deal effectively with complaints,
said the subcommittee report.
   The regents' policy statement defines
sexual harassment as a "form of sex dis-
crimination," occuring in a "variety of situ-
ations which share a common element: the
inappropriate introduction of sexual activi-
ties or comments into the work or learning
situation." It may be described as "unwel-
come sexual advances" in situations where
"submission or rejection of such conduct"
is made a "condition of employment or ed-
ucation"; where such conduct interferes
with "academic or professional perform-
ance"; where it creates an "intimidating,
hostile or demeaning environment in which
to work or study."
   In formulating their policy, the regents
perform a formidable juggling act. They
must answer to the requirements of
Affirmative Action guidelines, state law
(Wisconsin is the only state in which certain
forms of sexual harassment are a crime),
the demands of campus women, and the
claims of concerned faculty. They must
safeguard the rights of the accused to due
process even as they protect the victim's
need for confidentiality and redress. They
must do all this, moreover, with one eye on
First Amendment protections of free
speech, trying to insure that academic free-
dom in the instructional setting is not vio-
lated. They appear undeterred by such
complexities, ordering that a "concerted ef-
fort" be made to "rid the University of Wis-
consin System of such conduct."
   To achieve this, in its implementation
guidelines, the board directs each institu-
tion in the system to establish both educa-
tional programs and disciplinary proce-
dures. Employees and students are to be
informed about the nature of sexual harass-
ment; sensitivity to the problem is to be in-
creased; and the procedures, sanctions, and
remedies that already exist are to be publi-
cized. Each campus is asked to produce
definitions of those forms of sexual harass-
ment which will be grounds for disciplinary
action, as well as to set up formal hearing
procedures to address complaints. UW-
Madison has already completed the first
part of the task: its rules were approved by
the Faculty Senate last spring.
p rof Finman, whom a colleague de-
       scribes as "careful, controlled and
       cautious," talked about the
tribulations of rule-making and the deli-
cate balancing required of the committee
he chairs as it writes campus law.
   Politically "in this kind of situation, we
find people whose interests have long been
neglected suddenly becoming vocal. We
hear demands for things that truly ought to
be done, but we hear some excesses as well.
We discover people on the opposite side of
the fence, resisting any sort of change,
afraid of change. So we have to strike a sen-
sible accommodation between these var-
ious interests.
   "In the area of sexual harassment, as in
most things in life, you don't get something
good without paying a price. When we
write rules that outlaw certain conduct,
they have a cost. There's a risk that some-
one who really behaved properly will be
disciplined. There's always a risk, too, that
definitions will be too inclusive or so ambig-
uous that a teacher might refrain from per-
fectly harmless conduct just to be on the
safe side.
   "Take this problem as an example. A
                         Continued on page 22
18 / THE WISCONSIN ALUMNUS


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