AMHERST--The Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) earlier this week enacted a formal procedure for handling sexual harassment cases, resulting from two years of students lobbying for the university to enact a concrete policy.
In the 1970s, the university had been considering formulating a procedure because Title IX, the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1972, requires a sexual harassment grievance procedure for any institution receiving federal assistance for its educational programs. Ronald J. Sinacori, coordinator of the UMass Affirmative Action office, which handles formal harassment complaints, said.
However, student initiative in presenting a procedure to the administration in 1980 and continual pressure from organizations accelerated the final policy, which was put into effect by the chancellor on Tuesday, he added.
"Students were involved with this from the very beginning," said Jane Zbyszynski, a senior who is an advocate for the Women's Issues Team. "By itself, the administration would have been much slower," she added.
The actual procedure involves two phases. First, a complaint must be filed informally with the university's ombudsman, who tries to resolve the complaint with both parties.
If the complaint is not resolved informally, both parties present the case before a 13-member panel, comprised of two faculty members, two administrators, four administrative sides, two undergraduate students, two graduate students, and an advisor to the chancellor.
The panel recommends its decision to a vice chancellor, who rules on their recommendation. Ten days after the vice chancellor's decision, either party may appeal to the chancellor for a final decision.
"If harassment has occurred, the panel's recommendation is flexible, even to the point of firing the guilty party," Sinacori said.
Despite the two years of debate over the procedure, everyone involved with its formation seems satisfied with the compromise product, though faculty and students hope to make changes when the university reviews it, Sinacori added.
"It's about as good as we can get, considering it has to cover every group on campus," said Arlyn Diamong, associate professor of english and Woman Studies and who serves as vice president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors. Though the faculty senate passed the procedure unanimously, "we want to make sure that the enforcement of penalties is also subject to due process, so we are still bargaining with the administration," she added.
"For students, the fact that any policy has been enacted is a victory," a senior, Lisa P. Nazzaro, said. "It's certainly a workable procedure, but we still would like the panel's decision to have more authority, so that the panel isn't just an administrative tool," she added.