URBANA — A daylong summit on sexual harassment will be held for senior administrators at the University of Illinois, where recent high-profile sexual misconduct cases prompted a formal review of campus procedures for handling complaints.
“Cultivating Bravery, Changing Culture: The Illinois Summit on Sexual Harassment,” scheduled for Oct. 16, will feature national and local experts on sexual harassment on college campuses.
Sessions include “Mythbusting around the science of sexual harassment,” “Problems with the culture of compliance,” and “Moving toward a culture of bravery.”
Addressing and preventing sexual harassment on campus is a “collective responsibility,” said Sean Garrick, the UI’s new chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. His office includes the Office of Access and Equity, which investigates sexual misconduct complaints against faculty members and other employees.
“In recent years, high-profile sexual harassment cases against professors and administrators at colleges and universities have attracted national attention and sparked widespread debate about what colleges and universities should be doing to address and prevent sexual harassment,” Garrick wrote in an email inviting department heads and other senior officers to participate.
The purpose of the summit is to put the issue in context, talk about challenges unique to higher education and give administrators the tools to “move beyond a culture of compliance toward a culture of bravery,” he said.
Garrick said Thursday that the summit grew out of a 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that studied sexual harassment of women in academia.
The committee reviewed 30 years of data on the science of sexual harassment and found that in male-dominated environments, about 75 percent of women report experiencing sexual harassment. It also found that gender harassment is a more pervasive problem than more sexual forms of harassment.
“This was not prompted by any particular instance here,” Garrick said. “Sadly, it happens almost everywhere,” particularly in environments where women are underrepresented, such as the military and university campuses, he said.
The campus invited several hundred department heads and other academic leaders to the summit to help raise awareness about the issue, get them involved in promoting appropriate behavior and discuss how the institution can “make its values real in a day-to-day sort of way,” Garrick said.
“I think if you would ask any person in the institution, they’d say, ‘This is abhorrent, it shouldn’t happen, and we won’t condone it,’” he said. “But you have to take that and translate it into action and policy.”
One complicating factor at universities is the role of tenure, which is designed to protect faculty from attacks on academic freedom but can make it difficult to take quick action against professors accused of misconduct.
Another challenge, Garrick said, is that — because of privacy concerns — it’s not always clear what’s happening behind the scenes when an accusation is made against a professor.
“One can think that the university is not doing something or not doing the appropriate thing, but because of the privacy issue involved” it’s almost impossible to find out until a case is resolved, he said.
Over the past year, critics have complained about several UI cases where accused professors or academic staff were allowed to quietly leave the university, continue being paid or even return to the classroom during or after investigations.
A campus Academic Senate committee has drawn up recommendations to improve procedures for addressing faculty sexual misconduct, including ways to provide transparency and navigate the delicate issues involving tenure and privacy rights. The panel’s recommendations are scheduled to be released later this semester.
Garrick said the summit will deal more with issues of the overall campus climate.
“It’s just really laying the groundwork for when the senate finishes deliberations,” he said. “You want to make sure that everybody is sufficiently educated to take all of that in.”
Among the guest speakers at the summit:
— Lilia Cortina, psychology professor at the University of Michigan, whose research focuses on the victimization of individuals in the workplace, especially women, and how sexual harassment and other abuse unfolds.
— Joanna Grossman, law professor at Southern Methodist University, who has written extensively on sex discrimination and workplace equality, in particular sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination.
— Vicki Magley, psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, who studies sexual harassment coping, workplace climate and “incivility interventions.”
— UI anthropology Professor Kate Clancy, who served on the committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
A panel of graduate students will also share their stories about sexism, gender discrimination and sexual harassment to illustrate the academic and professional impact of that conduct.