Title IX and Faculty Misconduct: Steps You Need to Take Today

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Here are steps Title IX coordinators can take in the next day, week, month, and year to start changing the culture on campus.

An interview with Rabia Khan Harvey, Academic Impressions, recently Title IX coordinator at Columbia College Chicago

Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions. Rabia, thanks for another conversation. There are so many stories emerging over the last year regarding sexual harassment or other misconduct toward students by some faculty. What has struck you as especially critical for Title IX coordinators to pay attention to? What conversations do they need to be having with department chairs?

Rabia Khan Harvey. That’s a tough one. That’s a really tough one. I really feel this needs to become a strategic initiative for the institution. That’s what it will take to get the necessary buy-in and engagement with the whole faculty. Because the steps we need to take aren’t small ones. We need to improve relationships with students from historically marginalized populations. We need to talk with faculty about how the academic department is choosing to nurture students to become alumni of the department. If we don’t provide a department and an institution that is safe for them, that will come back to haunt us tenfold. And if this is a systemic problem across campus, then we need to build it right into the institution’s strategic plan. Have a task force whose role it is to hold the institution accountable.

Daniel Fusch. What are most institutions not even thinking about, related to addressing or preventing issues of harassment by faculty?

Rabia Khan Harvey. We all know that you need to get Title IX training to faculty, but part-time and contingent faculty may not get that training. This is a vulnerability. Many adjunct faculty are close in age to their students. You need to let them know that there is real accountability, and that any Title IX misconduct reported could jeopardize their career.

Most faculty want what’s best for their students, but there is an element in the culture where some faculty can feel untouchable. So our first duty is to educate.

And that education has to be conducted through the faculty. We need to tap well-respected faculty members who are already educated on Title IX to educate their peers. That is critical. It can’t just be training imposed from outside. Peer-to-peer training is how to address this.

Daniel Fusch. Rabia, what do institutions need to do today? What should each of our readers do before the end of the day?

Rabia Khan Harvey. Identify your faculty allies who can educate others. Know who they are. These are potential members for a faculty focus group or task force. Maybe there is a faculty ally or faculty lead you trust to coordinate that task force, rather than you trying to break into a very protected circle.

Daniel Fusch. Say I have them identified. What’s next? What do I do in the next week?

Rabia Khan Harvey. The Title IX coordinator needs to meet with that faculty focus group or task force. Share with them: Here are the issues I am dealing with, and here are the data from reports I’m getting. You can tell them: “I’m not going to single out a faculty member, but I have 16 reports of faculty who are being reported by students for sexual harassment, so help me brainstorm how we can reach your fellow faculty to make sure this behavior stops. Help me know how we can work together to end this. They’ll listen to you, they won’t listen to me.” Start with the data. Give them the information, without outing specific faculty.

Second, invite discussion of perceived “gray areas” between academic freedom and permitting a pervasively hostile learning environment. This is easier said than done, but this conversation needs to happen. We need to discuss: What are the best practices if a student is showing sexually explicit art in class? For example, does the faculty member issue a disclaimer or trigger warning, letting students know that they won’t be penalized if they need to absent themselves from the class? Also, we need to educate faculty about where that line gets crossed, legally speaking.

The Title IX coordinator also needs to take the opportunity to educate faculty about the Title IX investigation process. For example, faculty and department chairs need to be aware that they can’t just tell an accused student “you’re okay”; they need to understand the liability while an investigation is underway.

And we need to ask questions of our faculty and listen very openly. Ask the faculty, “Why do you perceive that we will or may intend to hinder academic freedom?” And listen to their answers.

To make this conversation about gray ones productive, two things matter to faculty: Starting with the data (the faculty culture is evidence-based) and the confidence that faculty are genuinely being heard.

Third, get the provost involved in the conversation. The provost can open doors, and the provost needs to be aware of the systemic issues the coordinator is addressing.

Daniel Fusch. What do we need to do next month?

Rabia Khan Harvey. Two things, if you haven’t already.

First, talk with the faculty senate. If you have a faculty task force who can present what’s coming up in their discussions, have them present that to the faculty senate.

Second, get training in place. So many institutions don’t have mandatory faculty training in place because they suspect faculty are likely to boycott these trainings. So in the absence of mandatory training, you need to consider: What is the incentive for faculty to come, and how do we do this training innovatively?

Even the most basic training can make a big difference: Here is our protocol, here’s what we need to do to support our students. The vast majority of faculty are not harassing students. But they need to know what’s being reported, and they may have the desire to know. Here is how you can frame the training around three questions that faculty want answers to.

  1. What does the student go through, in a Title IX investigation process?
  2. What do I (the faculty member) go through, in the process?
  3. Will the university protect me, if I’m accused?

Also, be innovative with the training:

  • Think about who does the training. (This has to be a peer they respect.)
  • Think about how the training is delivered. (Can you do a brown bag lunch and design the training as an informal forum and conversation with faculty? Can you design an experience that both provides critical information and provides an opportunity to listen to faculty and make sure they are heard and know they are being heard? Maybe you have faculty task force members at each table, ready to plant key questions in the conversation.)
  • Think about the follow up. Type up, capture, and share out faculty responses to those questions, anonymously. Set the tone that you want faculty to help you not make assumptions about faculty culture or the campus culture, ask questions and document the answers, and then create and share out the knowledge. Sharing these “findings” anonymously is very powerful. And it is a way of navigating an intermediate space between training and learning opportunity.

Daniel Fusch. And after that training is in place, what are the further steps? What do we do over the course of the year?

Rabia Khan Harvey. Develop a plan to keep the dialogue going. Faculty training and conversation around Title IX can’t be “one and done.” New issues will arise. And concerted culture change on campus can take 3-5 years. Getting buy-in and developing mutual trust between Title IX coordinators and faculty—that can take a year, just by itself. So create a plan for how you’re going to sustain momentum and keep building on these conversations.

Daniel Fusch. Thank you for the conversation and the advice, Rabia!

Related article: Title IX and #MeToo–Next Steps for Title IX Coordinators