URBANA — A draft policy requiring mandatory sexual harassment training for all University of Illinois employees could take effect by July 1, according to UI officials.
A task force reviewing the UI's policies on sexual harassment and abuse is also considering expanded background checks for university employees.
Maureen Parks, associate vice president for human resources, briefed a UI trustees committee last week about the work of the task force appointed following the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. She plans to update the full board when it meets in Chicago next week.
President Michael Hogan last December asked the task force, led by University Counsel Tom Bearrows, to inventory and review the UI's policies, processes and training programs relating to sexual abuse reports. The panel was to determine whether the policies are "adequate and consistent" and whether faculty and staff are educated about their responsibilities under the law.
He also asked the task force to identify potential cases where background checks might be appropriate, such as all job applicants or anyone with access to university facilities; and identify areas that merit extra oversight, such as youth sports camps or summer music camps, and recommend ways to inform the public about how the UI protects children in those settings.
The president asked the UI Office of Human Resources to initiate mandatory sexual harassment training for all UI employees.
Parks said the task force has completed the required inventories of applicable laws and policies and is almost finished with its review of existing UI policies.
State law requires all students to undergo sexual harassment training, but it's currently voluntary for employees, Parks said.
The UI this semester developed a 30-minute online training course on sexual harassment and encouraged all faculty and staff to take it. The "I-Initiative: the Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Education Initiative" also addresses other forms of discrimination or inappropriate conduct based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
It includes hypothetical situations, explains how they would be covered by sexual harassment law and policies and what an individual should do in those circumstances, according to spokesman Tom Hardy.
"It's been received very well," Parks said.
Officials at the time said participation in the class was voluntary but "highly recommended."
The goal is to make it mandatory and have the new policy in place for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, Parks said. All new and existing employees would be required to go through the training.
Parks said the draft policy is circulating among task force members and others on the three campuses, and comments are due Wednesday. Besides Bearrows and Parks, the task force includes univeristy risk management, UI ethics officer Donna McNeely, and representatives from athletics, student affairs, the provost's office and police units from all three campuses, Parks said.
Parks said she doesn't expect many objections, as the policy involves protecting students and children.
"I think it's pretty common sense in terms of the expected behaviors," she said.
Hogan's directive last December reiterated that anyone who witnesses sexual abuse or other crimes or misconduct must report the incident to appropriate legal officials, university superiors, administrators and/or the UIs ethics officer; and that people who report such incidents will be protected from retaliation.
Parks said most Big Ten schools have sexual harassment training, but it's not mandatory. However, a growing number of schools are requiring it, including the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Connecticut, the University of Maine, the University of Cincinnati and, soon, Indiana University, Parks said.
Illinois legislators have also approved a measure requiring all public university employees to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect, making them so-called "mandated reporters," as teachers and school employees are now. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the extension of the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act soon, Bearrows said. It would likely take effect this summer, but the UI would be given time to comply, Parks said.
Some UI employees already fall under the act, including doctors, other medical personnel and day care providers.
Parks said employees will likely undergo training for that requirement alongside the new mandatory sexual harassment training.
Parks said public universities may combine their training programs, as they do now with ethics training, which is led statewide by McNeely's office.
Regarding background checks, the university currently requires them for employees in security-sensitive jobs, such as day care providers, medical personnel and those who work with money or records, but an expansion may be warranted, Parks said.
Parks said the task force has completed an inventory of sports camps and other youth activities on campus. The goal is to create a computerized database and set standards so that anyone considering a new program involving children will know what is required in terms of safety.
Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach at Penn State, was charged in early November with molesting eight boys over a 15-year period. He has denied the charges. A grand jury report said at least two of the assaults were witnessed on campus, and one of those was reported to Penn State President Graham Spanier.
Days after the report was made public, Penn State's board of trustees fired Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno, who has since died.