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University of Michigan students and faculty are hopeful new mandated online sexual misconduct training for faculty will combat misconduct on campus, but are still skeptical of its overall efficacy.
University President Mark Schlissel announced the new requirements Sept. 20 as a part of the administration’s ongoing initiative to combat sexual misconduct.
According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, the training will likely be rolled out this fall and will consist solely of an online course. Fitzgerald said the training remains under development and will likely be changed and refocused in the future in a manner similar to current student training. Schlissel reiterated this intention and said the training will be informed by the changing environment of sexual misconduct at the University in a previous interview.
“We’ve been working on how to continuously improve the safety and the inclusive campus climate,” Schlissel said earlier in September. “We’re continuing to study our current procedures … The idea is to continuously improve in this really important area, so there will be more to come in the months ahead on what we can do to diminish the frequency of misconduct on our campus.”
The training was born out of the Working Group on Faculty and Staff Sexual Misconduct, a committee which investigated current University policy and published findings. The committee was co-chaired by Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for Human Resources, and former U-M Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little. The committee’s published recommendations included mandatory faculty programming, as the University previously required only newly hired staff to undergo such training. Proposed modules in the training include topics of institutional commitment, principles and values and behavior expectations.
The University’s annual sexual misconduct report released in September reported data from only student misconduct filings. An independent crowd-sourced database of sexual misconduct in academia, however, called the “whisper network” attracted attention last winter with a log of more than a dozen incidents of sexual assault, harassment and rape perpetrated by University faculty members.
American Culture Professor Lisa Nakamura welcomed the trainings, predicting they would certainly raise awareness of protocols among faculty, but expressed reservations about the long-term efficacy of the online course.
“It depends a lot on how the training is done and if there’s follow-up,” Nakamura said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction to have some training, but if people do things just once they tend not to remember it very well. So if people blow things off, if they feel like they only have to do it for the sake of form, then nothing comes of it.”
Nakamura said she believes the training is necessary, as she has personally witnessed incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment on the part of the faculty. She also, however, noted the limits of what the training could accomplish.
“The optimistic part of me says if we all just knew what the rules were, then we would know how to avoid the problem and it wouldn’t happen anymore,” Nakamura said. “The cynical part of me says maybe we all might know the rules and it would still happen anyway.”
LSA junior Kathy Smith had to undergo similar online misconduct training in order to teach a class in her hometown and said it is easy to ignore the lessons of such training. Smith expressed confidence that the training would do well at the University, but said more could be done to combat misconduct through educating faculty.
“I think it will be effective,” Smith said. “I don’t know if it will be as effective as they want it to be … Will it bring awareness? For sure, but I think there’s already a lot of awareness.”
Nakamura stressed, whether or not the training is enough to make an impact on misconduct rates, the University response must prioritize victims of sexual misconduct and hear their experiences.
“If it’s just training, and there’s still problems, that’s pathetic and it shouldn’t be enough,” Nakamura said. “The question of what is enough, I think, is very individual. There should be something that at least makes the student feel like the University cared about what happened to them.”