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Faculty Council Discusses Sex Assault Policy

Alcohol use likely to be focus in review of report’s findings

By Rebecca D. O’brien, Crimson Staff Writer

At its regular meeting yesterday, the Faculty Council discussed the findings and recommendations of the Leaning Committee’s year-long review of sexual assault. The Council also heard for the first time the full list of students, professors and administrators who will sit on the committees that will review the curriculum starting next fall.

While the Council addressed the logistical concerns of implementing the various policy changes suggested by the Leaning Committee’s report, much of yesterday’s discussion focused on the issue of alcohol on campus and its link to sexual violence.

Benedict H. Gross ’71, who will become dean of a new office that will combine the offices of the Dean of the College and the Dean of Undergraduate Education next fall, said that he expected the discussion of student alcohol use to play a significant role in the implementation of the Leaning Committee’s recommendations.

“There is concern [in the Faculty Council] that if we don’t address the issue of alcohol, we are not going to get as far as we should,” he said.

Noting that 80 to 90 percent of cases of sexual assault “hang on the misuse of alcohol,” Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn said that identifying and eliminating conditions that can lead to sexual violence is crucial.

“We must address the issue of rape, but we also as a community have to deal with the problem of alcohol more seriously,” he said. “There is need for further investigation in the Harvard community to see just how much we need to do about it.”

The Council also addressed some of the more procedural issues raised by the Leaning Committee’s report at yesterday’s meeting, including how to better educate students about sexual assault and make investigations more efficient and fair.

The Council devoted much time to discussing the role that should be played by the “single fact finder,” or independent investigator recommended by the report to search for information on sexual assault complaints.

“It is a system in which we are not interested in prosecuting, but in bringing forth the facts, to figure out what went wrong—who was to blame, and to what extent,” Mendelsohn said of the Council’s goals for the new post.

No decision was made, however, about the exact responsibilities this fact finder—who may be drawn from either inside or outside Harvard—should bear.

The Leaning report—released to the public two weeks ago—had already been discussed at previous Faculty Council meetings, but this was the first time that most of the members had read the report in its entirety.

Mendelsohn, a member of the Leaning Committee as well as the Faculty Council, said that he was pleased with the discussion at yesterday’s Council meeting.

“I was impressed, as a member of the committee, by the seriousness with which the members of the Council had taken the report, by the questions they raised and by the fact that their discussion was so informed,” Mendelsohn said.

The full Faculty will discuss the findings of the Leaning Committee at a meeting next Tuesday. Then, at a second meeting at the end of May, the Faculty is expected to vote on a motion to implement the Leaning Committee recommendations and review their progress next spring.

But in order to review the effectiveness of these policy changes, it will be necessary to establish a better way of gathering and interpreting data of incidents of sexual assault on campus, Faculty Council members said yesterday. For instance, if the changes successfully lower the number of incidents of sexual assault but also increase the frequency with which these incidents are reported, the current statistical methods used by Harvard would fail to reflect this achievement.

Also at yesterday’s meeting, Kirby and Gross announced for the first time the full list of students, professors and administrators who will serve on Harvard’s four curricular review committees.

Though the committee chairs and student members had been announced earlier this month, Kirby and Gross have spent the last few months courting Faculty members to serve on the committees that will lead the largest evaluation of the undergraduate curriculum since the 1970s.

“I had never thought about [serving] in this kind of context, but I have been very interested in the curriculum and in the idea of review,” said Professor of Anthropology Daniel E. Lieberman, who will serve on the working group on students’ overall academic experience. “This is a very complex institution in which there are lots of highly integrated and interdependent units. Unless you think about how they all fit together, you could end up with a disaster.”

—Jessica E. Vascellaro contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at

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