November 02, 2016

Wesleyan Faculty Seek Ombuds for Title IX Issues

An editorial signed by 34 faculty members asks Wesleyan University to create an Ombuds program to help handle student accusations of sexual misconduct.  The issue at the private liberal arts college has come to the fore after it was revealed that a current staff had been fired by a prior employer for inappropriate behavior.

The faculty editorial came in response to an email from President Michael Roth that promised to improve transparency, review Title IX procedures, and follow-up on task force recommendations on equity and inclusion.  The College has made no public comment about the possibility of an Ombuds.

Here is the test of the faculty's editorial:
In a recent email to the campus community, Michael Roth wrote that, “In regard to Title IX, we are meeting with students and bringing in a consultant to review all our procedures and help us decide if we should use outside personnel to handle accusations of sexual misconduct involving students.” He also wrote, toward the end of that message, that “Students, staff and faculty desire and deserve a transparent, responsive, and respectful community” (emphasis added). We are writing to express our belief that the use of outside personnel to handle accusations of sexual misconduct is just as important for faculty members as it is for students. We strongly concur with a number of other campus groups that the University desperately needs an ombudsperson, a neutral adjudicator of complaints who can operate independently of the University administration. Currently, there is no neutral place for a community member to turn for help.

We have grave concerns about the gap between what the University promises to do and what it actually does in cases of harassment and retaliation. Were one of us to be sexually harassed tomorrow, we would have no confidence in the institutional structures that are in place to uphold and adhere to the law. In the case of a complaint against an esteemed colleague, we believe that the complainant would be at considerable risk of being silenced, blamed, defamed, and isolated. Treatment of a faculty member who makes a complaint depends far too much on factors outside their control. Specifically, the likelihood that contingencies such as one’s institutional location, position, and social and professional networks may influence the handling of the case undermines the capacity of the current system to provide justice.

Individuals who investigate and adjudicate harassment and retaliation cases must be able to pursue an independent judgment of the case, even if their findings may negatively affect the University’s reputation and financial interests. When those individuals operate entirely within the University’s administrative structure and receive salary and employment at the discretion of the University, a clear conflict of interest endangers the possibility of neutral judgment. We affirm that along with students and staff, faculty do indeed desire and deserve better than our current system. We call on the administration to repair this system by introducing truly independent review in all cases involving faculty harassment or retaliation.
Emphasis added.  (Wesleyan Campus Update; Wesleyan Argus.)

I submitted the following comment to the editorial:
There seems to be some misunderstanding about the role of an Ombudsman. At most colleges and universities, Ombuds practice to four ethical standards: confidentiality, independence, neutrality, and informality. Ombuds therefore do not serve as a "neutral adjudicator of complaints"; but more like an embedded mediator and dispute resolution specialist. For Title IX matters, most Ombuds are exempt from mandatory reporting requirements and serve as a place for individuals to get information about relevant resources, policies and procedures. Ombuds can also give upward feedback about systemic issues and trends, including matters related to Title IX issues. By and large, however, Title IX matters are not a significant portion of the cases that Ombuds handle.
Related: Other Ombuds Blog posts related to Title IX, especially IOA Compiles Title IX Resources.

No comments:

Post a Comment