SACUA report recommends changes to Office of Institutional Equity procedures

By Shoham Geva, Daily News Editor
and Carly Noah, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 11, 2015

In a report sent to media Wednesday, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs said the body sees several major flaws with how the University’s Office for Institutional Equity treats faculty members who are subjects of harassment and discrimination investigations.

The report’s central concerns are the adequacy of due process protections in OIE procedures, and OIE’s application of those procedures in the cases of three faculty members who submitted complaints to SACUA. OIE is tasked in part with investigating and resolving instances of discrimination and discriminatory harassment at the University.

“The evidence available to us, examined in the course of reviewing OIE’s practices, raises serious doubts about the validity of the OIE findings in these cases,” the report read. “SACUA does not take a position on the outcome of these cases. But our findings regarding lack of due process necessitate reconsideration of these cases.”

In regards to the identified issues with due process, Wednesday’s report recommended that OIE consult with SACUA to incorporate “fair and adequate notice, fair investigation processes and the ability to obtain an independent, meaningful and timely appeal of findings,” into its operations. The recommendation mirrored one provided in an April report to University Provost Martha Pollack.

SACUA, the executive committee of the body that formally represents faculty, first began looking into OIE’s policies in 2012 when the faculty grievance monitor raised concerns about the lack of due process in OIE’s procedures. The faculty grievance monitor is responsible for monitoring grievance procedures, but has no power in the process. They report their findings — specifically unacceptable delays — to the director of Academic Human Resources.

SACUA raised these concerns to the director of Academic Human Resources and the director of OIE in November 2013, according to the report. They also included their concerns in an April report to Pollack.

Shortly after that report was filed, SACUA received a formal complaint from a faculty member who had been the subject of an OIE investigation. Because SACUA considers faculty members as under its jurisdiction, the group asked the Faculty Hearing Committee to investigate and report on the complaint’s allegations. Two subsequent faculty complaints about OIE policies were also filed to the FHC on August 4, 2014, and September 8, 2014, respectively.

More broadly, Wednesday’s report recommended that all OIE decisions and actions be subject to immediate review under the current faculty grievance procedures until new ones are adopted. It also recommended that all OIE investigations that would result specifically in the termination, dismissal or demotion of a faculty member should be conducted under the auspices of Regents Bylaw 5.09, which governs how faculty are dismissed, demoted and terminated.

Additionally, in regards to the three faculty members who submitted complaints to SACUA about OIE proceedings, the report recommended that the verdicts in their cases be reversed until they could be “reconsidered in a forum with appropriate due process protections.”

The report cited minutes from an August 26, 2013 SACUA meeting where the chair read several responses from OIE to questions from SACUA, including a response that held that OIE proceedings against faculty are not subject to standard grievance proceedings, protocals for challenging a University action.

According to SACUA’s website, any University faculty member can file a complaint to SACUA within 90 days of the date the grievance first took place. The parties at which the faculty complaint is directed are responsible for making a decision at the departmental level. If the grievance cannot be resolved at the departmental level, it is brought in front of the Grievance Hearing Board. The GHB is only to be attended by the grieving parties and their advisers, who can be attorneys. Witnesses are only to be present at the GHB when they are testifying.

In an e-mail interview, SACUA Chair Scott Masten, a professor of business economics and public policy, wrote that the next step for SACUA is to present the report to the Senate Assembly Committee where representatives from the University’s departments will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal.

“Beyond that, we expect to work with the University administration to explore ways to improve OIE procedures to address our due process concerns, including the establishment of a credible appeal process,” Masten wrote. “All of this, of course, will be done with recognition of the University’s commitment to maintaining a work environment free of discrimination and harassment.”

Masten added that for most faculty members, the report will have little effect because the majority of University faculty will not be accused of the types of behavior OIE is responsible for investigating.

“But for those who do, the addition of basic due process protections — of the type that students are already guaranteed — should help to assure that outcomes are fairer and less prone to error,” Masten wrote.

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in a statement that the University plans to review the recommendations detailed in the report.

“We stand behind the professionalism of the staff in Academic Human Resources and the Office for Institutional Equity,” he wrote. “We also note that the SACUA report has some good suggestions about enhancements to our processes that we are looking into implementing, and we will carefully consider what SACUA has provided.”