Committee Finalizing FAS Sexual Harassment Procedures

UPDATED: January 8, 2015, at 4:39 p.m.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ sexual harassment procedures are likely to remain largely unchanged from a revised version presented at December’s Faculty meeting and will still remain within with the University’s central procedures, despite recent news that Harvard Law School adopted a set of procedures that break from that very standard.

History professor Alison Frank Johnson, who chaired the committee tasked with reviewing and making changes to the FAS sexual harassment procedures, said that since the faculty meeting, the committee has only altered some of the draft’s language for clarity. She added that any time the committee made a change to their draft, they consulted the University’s Office of the General Counsel to ensure that all revisions complied with federal Office for Civil Rights standards.

Johnson also said that she hopes the policy will be ready for review by FAS Dean Michael D. Smith by next week, noting that “the committee has more or less finished its work.”

The recommendations presented at December’s Faculty meeting included a number of significant changes to the interim FAS procedures unveiled this fall, stating that faculty and staff cases would be handled by a central University office—the Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution—and that both cases of sexual harassment against individuals unaffiliated with Harvard and cases of quid pro quo sexual harassment within extracurricular student organizations would be subject to the FAS procedures.


Yet even with these changes, the FAS procedures always aligned with the University’s central procedures, which state that all student cases of sexual assault and harassment within the University would be investigated by the ODR.

Harvard Law School faculty members, in contrast, recently voted to adopt a new set of sexual harassment procedures that, if implemented, will deviate from University procedures by sidestepping ODR and incorporating a school-specific Title IX unit to investigate its own student sexual harassment cases and offer legal counsel to all parties involved. The procedures must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as part of a recent agreement between the office and the Law School, which was found in violation of Title IX.

Johnson said she received a draft of the Law School’s new procedures prior to sharing her committee’s recommendations at the December Faculty meeting, yet made no substantial changes to the FAS policy after reading them.

She also said that, beyond requiring faculty and staff cases to be handled by the ODR, her committee had never considered departing from University procedures.

“When the University announced its policy and procedures, we were told that part of the purpose was to have a uniform policy and a uniform set of procedures for everyone in the University,” Johnson said, adding that she believes “there are real benefits... to having consistency across the schools.”

University spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an emailed statement last week that the Law School’s “distinct pedagogical mission and longstanding reliance on a different adjudicatory system for resolving disciplinary cases” motivated its departure from central procedures.

When asked if she thought the University may grant other schools the leeway to depart from central procedures, Johnson was uncertain.

“I wouldn’t guess that they would,” she said. “I would guess they would say we’ll work together as a University to have University-wide procedures through the review committee that we’re all happy with, rather than have each school or unit go its own way.”

FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an email that Smith was unable to comment as of the time of publication because he was out of the country.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION: January 8, 2015

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article stated that Harvard Law School proposed a new set of sexual harassment procedures as part of its resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. To clarify, while the Law School consulted OCR when drafting the procedures, it was not a term of the resolution agreement.


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