Panel addresses how faculty should deal with sexual misconduct

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 2:05pm

Heinz Werner Professor of Psychology and Linguistics Dr. Susan Gelman speaks at Michigan's panel on sexual harassment policies and reporting in the Pendleton Room at Michigan Union Wednesday morning.

Heinz Werner Professor of Psychology and Linguistics Dr. Susan Gelman speaks at Michigan's panel on sexual harassment policies and reporting in the Pendleton Room at Michigan Union Wednesday morning. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

Wednesday morning, to a crowd of more than 50 faculty and staff members, University of Michigan Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers acknowledged there is work to be done in making misconduct reporting more accessible for faculty on campus. Sellers moderated a panel to discuss the University's institutional response to sexual misconduct.

The panel featured five speakers whose positions within the University connect to the resolution process for sexual misconduct reports. The panelists represented the Office of Institutional Equity, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, University Human Resources, LSA and Michigan Medicine.    

Attendees were comprised mainly of University faculty and staff members involved in organizations from the Michigan Alumnus magazine to the MHealthy Alcohol Management program.

Discussion centered specifically around sexual misconduct by faculty and staff members investigated under the policies outlined in the U-M Standard Practice Guide 201.89. A different policy applies to student sexual misconduct.

In his opening remarks, Sellers acknowledged while sexual misconduct has been at the forefront of academia in the last decade, recent sexual misconduct from administration at Michigan State University has highlighted the work that still needs to be done. Additionally, in February Mark Hoeltzel — a former University pediatric rheumatology specialist — faced charges for child pornography and sexual relations with a patient.

“We are committed here at the University of Michigan to efforts to work to make sure sexual misconduct and the University’s responses to that as well as each individual's resources, opportunities and responsibilities are clearly stated and clearly made evident,” Sellers said.

The first presentation featured Michigan Medicine Chief Psychologist Bruno Giordani, who addressed the fears that prevent people from reporting cases of sexual misconduct specifically related to the hierarchical organization within an institution.

“There is an unequal power balance that drives academia … between deans, associate deans, chairs, full professors, associate professors, that sets a power balance and we need to look at those factors, and we don’t have a conversation if we don’t do that,” Giordani said.  

Giordani stressed University should ensure no one is discouraged from reporting a sexual misconduct incident in fear the University will exhibit partiality to senior faculty members.

“No university will ever be an academic university if it has the feeling that, ‘Well, it will be okay because we keep will keep this golden boy by himself and keep him away from undergraduates and graduate students and junior faculty because he makes us a lot of money,’” Giordani said.

At the beginning of the semester, The Daily reported on a crowdsourced database of incidents of harassment and assault in academia — the University of Michigan appeared in reports by faculty and former graduate students more than a dozen times. 

SAPAC Director Kaaren Williamsen gave insight into the confidential resource of SAPAC, which often serves as a contact point before deciding to report a case to the OIE. Williamsen acknowledged the fact the University is aware of the significance behind the instances of sexual misconduct that go unreported.  

“We know we don’t get a lot of reports … and the dynamics from institution to institution are very similar,” Williamsen said. “When thinking back to the 2015 Campus Climate Survey … I was struck by the results for why students are not reporting. The top reasons are they don’t want to get the other person in trouble, they blame themselves, they feel embarrassed or ashamed, they did not think the institution would do anything, and they did not believe the incident was serious enough.”

Williamsen continued to explain how she believes sexual misconduct and the fear of reporting should not only be considered at the individual level, but also as a broader cultural issue.

Representing the OIE, Senior Director Pamela Heatlie highlighted the specific architecture of how a report is handled under SPG 201.89 when a faculty or staff member is involved. Heatlie stressed in most cases this process is amended to fit the needs or specific circumstances of the parties involved.

The process begins with an initial meeting with a complainant. At this meeting before the incident is even discussed, Heatlie explains the investigation process and answers any questions a complainant may have about their privacy or rights. Complainants are also allowed to bring a support person, but this person does not play an active role in the meeting.

Following the meeting, a report is drafted that includes details from the discussion with the complainant. This written statement is then sent to the complainant for review.  

Then, OIE approaches the respondent and schedules two meetings to first discuss the investigation process and then to give them a space to respond to the allegation. A report is then drafted and sent to the respondent for review. OIE also asks the complainant if there are any witnesses or documents that may provide additional insight into the investigation. OIE follows up with these sources and compiles all information into a preliminary report. This preliminary report is then sent to all parties for review.

The complete report is then sent to an investigator who will make a finding that can be categorized as four possible outcomes. Even in cases where the report is found to not violate the sexual misconduct policy, it can be referred to a different department, such as Human Resources, who then examines the situation based on its own policies.

Rackham student Dogacan Ozturk was in attendance at the event and appreciated how the University handles cases that are found to not violate the sexual misconduct policy but still may be a concern for the University environment.

“What I like most about it is how there are other classifications in the system,” Ozturk said. “Even if it does not violate the policy, it can be transferred to different offices to get the optimal solution for these types of cases.”

Ultimately, Heatlie emphasized the process is designed to be as transparent as possible for the people involved.

“Our whole point is that when we get to the end, we have looked at everything the parties think is relevant and everything we think is relevant … At the end when we make a finding, none of what we have considered is a surprise to the parties,” Heatlie said.