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"The Initial Case"
Johnson County Community College was upset this past 1996 Fall Term by a case of sexual harassment, involving a philosophy professor. In short, this professor had over a period of time established a number of student contacts with his female students that were often friendly, professional and close. On the other hand, some of these contacts led to complaints from some students that he was being overly concerned with them, and they feared either a hostile environment if they did not accept his invitations to concerts, plays and other events, or they felt uncomfortable in his classroom when he singled them out for attention. While the College had been keeping tabs on this professor from previous semesters, new allegations surfaced which caused the College to discipline him. Two visiting students from a neighboring college wrote a letter that accused this professor of asking them for a date. According to the complaint, the professor called one student and asked her to attend a flute concert with him. She told him she was busy, whereupon he asked for the phone number of the student's friend who also attended the same class. When this student was called, she informed the professor that she was married. These phone calls made them feel uncomfortable and they felt that their refusals might in some way affect their standing in the class. The College decided to take action against the professor.
At first, he was to take certain sensitivity seminars to help him with the perceived problem. He then would be able to return to the classroom for the 1997 Spring Term. However, the professor decided to appeal the initial discipline to the next stage of the Hearing process. At this point, he was again found to be at fault, but instead of reinstating the previous solution of seminar training, the College decided to remove him entirely. Through negotiations during the Winter Holidays, he was able to obtain full pay for the Spring 1997 Term, but he also was required to leave the College. THE KANSAS CITY STAR reported, "A suspended Johnson County Community College philosophy instructor accused of violating the college's sexual harassment policy has decided to accept early retirement....(he) acknowledged that he invited the women to a flute concert but said he didn't intend it as a sexual advance."
"The Faculty Association Response"
This situation soon caused the Faculty Association, an NEA affiliate, to look at the process being used by the College in its effort to handle student complaints. In the area of sex harassment, the College had provided a pamphlet available to both students and faculty regarding the proper procedures to be used in reporting, investigating and acting on these complaints. This pamphlet, "Sexual Harassment Is Prohibited at JCCC," includes a definition of sexual harassment, a guide for students who are harassed, and the steps to be used by the College to follow up on the complaint.
While the pamphlet is very thorough regarding the protection of the alleged victim of sexual harassment, the actual procedures for the accused faculty member are not spelled out except for the Hearing process, which includes a right to reply to the accusations in writing, followed by an interview with the College investigators. (Initially, the pamphlet urges the student to confront the faculty member or report the incident to College authorities after the alleged incident.)
The Faculty Association became concerned that the Dean's Policy on Discipline, as published on the JCCC Home Page, allowed for an investigation to begin BEFORE THE FACULTY MEMBER HAD BEEN INFORMED. Such an investigation, thought the Association, should begin AFTER THE FACULTY MEMBER HAD BEEN TOLD. The difficulty of these situations was compounded by the need for confidentiality for the student and for the protection of the faculty member accused. In any case, the faculty member might not know of any accusation for some period of time while the investigation continued. In speaking of the Dean's policy language, one male faculty member said, "I think the policy needs to be written with the objective defined. As I read the thing, it will not protect me or you if a complaint were filed nor will it assure the student that anything constructive will be done. Also, I can't see how the thing got by us!" The Association decided to bring this problem to the Council of Program Directors. In reply, the Dean stated that some leeway was necessary in dealing with capricious student complaints, without the obligation of informing the faculty member of such complaints.
At present, the Faculty Association has two basic problems to address:
"The College Response"
The College, meanwhile, scheduled a series of workshops on sex harassment, "Sexual Harassment in Higher Education: A Workshop Presented to Johnson County Community College Faculty," which were presented twice a week during the Fall 1996 and Spring 1997 semesters. Faculty were strongly urged to attend these sessions, with a follow-up reminder to each faculty member who had not yet attended. To emphasize the importance of faculty attendance at these seminars, one male administrator wrote, "If you did not participate in the November 1 workshop, please call ______ at ext. ____ and let her know which of the above workshops you attend." The student newspaper, THE CAMPUS LEDGER, reported, "The training is part of the faculty's compliance agreements with the college. Another option given to faculty is to do a lengthy, self-directed study on sexual harassment." During these sessions, specific incidents from other cases nationwide were discussed by a female Speech teacher appointed by the College as moderator at all of the sessions. Questions from the faculty and staff were answered and guidelines for behavior outlined during these sessions. Specifically, the definitions of "sex harassment," " quid pro quo," " hostile environment," "reasonable person/ reasonable woman," and "unwelcome" were discussed. Most faculty felt that these sessions were appropriate and effective.
At its January 9, 1997, General Meeting, the Faculty Association decided to begin to formulate faculty guidelines to present to the College regarding professional conduct and sexual harassment concerns. One female faculty member wrote earlier in November, " Did you say someone was drafting a statement of principle. I hope so-it sounds like a reasonable response although it will be a very difficult task." No deadline for this report to the College has been determined. In October of 1996, the CAMPUS LEDGER had reported, "The college currently has no policy prohibiting instructors from dating students while enrolled in their classes."
"The Faculty E-Mail Survey"
In an effort to find out more about faculty concerns in the area of sex harassment , a survey was taken by e-mail from February 17-21, 1997, over the e-mail list serve (email@example.com) on campus. As a result, 16 surveys were returned, with 8 females and 8 males responding. In taking the survey, respondents were asked to rate each statement on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, with 5 meaning strongly agree and 1 meaning strongly disagree. Each respondent was asked to add comments.
|A. The JCCC policy on sex harassment is working.||3.16||3.375||3.28|
|B. The administration is proactive in handling sex harassment situations.||2.33||3.0||2.71|
|C. Faculty agree on what constitutes sex harassment.||2.71||2.5||2.60|
|D. The College has disciplined sex harassment infractions appropriately.||1.80||3.125||2.61|
|E. JCCC needs exact rules for Student/ Faculty interaction.||2.85||2.75||2.80|
The overall results show the respondents believe that the College's policy might be working adequately, but the 3.28 total seems to be less than a resounding affirmation. One male faculty member replied: "I don't think it's necessarily doing what The Powers want it to do, which is to protect them from law suits. And I think they have an abysmal record of dealing with such issues before they become major problems." A female faculty member stated, "I think the College has ignored these problems in the past and they have eventually raised their ugly head."
Each other statement received less than an average approval rate, with the least amount of approval given to faculty understanding of sex harassment. A female faculty member said, "I think most or many know what sexual harassment "IS" but I think we still need to get up more specific guidelines for all instructors (salaried and adjunct) and STAFF members." While agreeing that the Faculty know what sex harassment is, a male faculty member stated, "I'm not in favor of exact rules for anything. This is the road to legalism and excessive bureaucracy." Another male stated, "No, there is disagreement, and some of the disagreement-as you can imagine-falls along gender lines."
These gender lines can especially be seen regarding the disciplining of faculty in sex harassment cases, with females agreeing with the discipline ( 3.125 ) while the males disagreed ( 1.80 ). It might be inferred, that since males are most often the offenders in sex harassment cases with females being the accusers, males would most often be uneasy regarding any discipline applied, particularly in light of the lack of understanding or confusion over what constitutes sex harassment as indicated in faculty responses to letter C. of the survey. One female faculty member stated, "I know of only one person who was "punished," but, since I'm sure there must have been others, I'm glad I never knew about them. I hope all is taken care of quietly. I do think we have a problem here and have heard from students who felt "harassed." In the case of the professor disciplined this Fall in the aforementioned case, one male faculty member stated, "Increasing the punishment was very unfair."
In an effort to be fair and to clarify the issues, the College's Sex Harassment Seminars seemed to be an appropriate response in making the definition of sex harassment crystal clear. However, since most faculty members had attended these seminars before this survey was conducted, perhaps the seminars were only moderately successful in clarifying these issues. One female faculty member seemed to explain the problem best in her survey response. "I think we should define certain activities as problems but should hasten to promote the use of common sense. And to let people know the consequences of their actions. I would hate to see this institution indulge in a witchhunt. Both parties in an incident should bear some responsibility for their actions or inactions."
"The Students Respond"
In two unsigned editorials on December 5, 1996, THE CAMPUS LEDGER mentioned a number of student concerns about student/ faculty dating. Citing possible "turmoil in the classroom," "favoritism" in grading power over a student, and "awkward and uncomfortable feelings," one writer thought that a strict college policy should be adopted. The other student writer urged that no policy forbidding dating should be adopted because, "Dating between adults is personal and not the business of the college." This writer further mentioned that "defining a date" would be difficult. Besides, wrote the author, "...Pressuring...is no longer consensual dating; it's harassment."
The division over implementing exact rules seen in these two editorials shows the confusion still felt by most students and faculty over this issue. One female faculty member responded, "I am one of those who think this is a real GRAY issue, for me personally, what is a valid joke from one person would be entirely unwelcome from others. I have had dinner and gone to a play with a male student. Neither of us thought anything of it ....if anyone DID make something of it, I would be very upset."
Furthermore, some classroom activities might break any exact rules promulgated. A female faculty member stated, ""I just don't think there CAN be 'exact' rules, and I hold that belief because of the discipline in which I teach....I often touch them on the shoulder to relax them and let them know that it's okay to feel the way that they do....Exact rules would dictate that ALL matters be handled in the same way, and I can't say I think that's entirely appropriate."
In an article in THE KANSAS CITY STAR, Colorado University professor Stan Jones stated that he believes that concern about sexual harassment has inhibited teachers in their use of touch as a teaching tool. "Most people intuitively know the difference between an inappropriate touch and an appropriate touch....When organizations give employees training, I'd like to see them talk about other types of touching, too....Touch can be a positive, powerful communication tool."
In the Fall of 1996, students in two Composition I courses at Johnson County Community College in light of the sex harassment case on campus were asked to extrapolate the future of touching, dating and sex harassment in the generations to come. Each student was given a list of plot ideas to include in the story, along with the JCCC pamphlet explaining the definition and procedures used to handle harassment on campus. Then, each student wrote a science fiction short story where humans had to deal with sex harassment by other humans, by aliens or by robots of assorted invention in the distant future. It was thought that some sort of important discoveries of student psychology might be obtained in such an open-ended assignment. Would the students show a knowledge about sex harassment politics and policies? Would they understand the possible themes of power, intimidation and embarrassment? Would their stories lead to some hope in the future?
The 39 stories submitted revealed 118 touching episodes between the fictional characters. Of these 118 touches, 19 proved to be of a positive nature (as borrowed from the terminology of Jones) such as handshakes, congratulatory hugs and consensual kissing. However, 99 of the touches involved negativity, such as physically aggressive touches, sexual interest touches, and killing touches. In fact, 18 of the 39 stories used killing as a plot device, mostly as revenge against a (usually) male aggressor practicing sex harassment. The most common killing was death by laser for the perpetrator, often without recourse to any sort futuristic court system. Revenge and vigilantism were the themes in most stories.
One story written by a female student, "10th Squadron: 3012 A. D.," ended abruptly on a high note of revenge.
"That's right. You know the punishment," Sally said as she pulled her weapon from the holster that hung on her slim waist. Pulling the trigger, she fired her weapon which unleashed a force of flesh penetrating, pulsating laser that cut through Meyer's skull, leaving his brains sizzling on the floor like a strip of bacon in a red hot skillet."
Such revenge themes were common in the stories and might also be similar to common fantasies of those who are degraded or manipulated by sex harassment or sexual attack. While other stories looked at alien harassment of humans and even of female sex harassment of females, most stories depicted an out-of-control, yet controlling, male human making unwanted sexual advances to a human female.
So, our students who look into the future still seem to see sex harassment as a futuristic, intergalactic problem, one where the victim is often ignored, and who often must take revenge by the physical act of killing her tormentor.
Judging from the above student stories, it's probably good that Johnson County Community College is trying to develop a better method of recognizing and controlling sex harassment now.
"Harassment Paper Survey," JCCCNET. 17 February 1997.
Harkness, Geoff. "Allegations Prompt College Look into Sexual Harassment Issue," THE CAMPUS LEDGER. 17 October 1996.
"THE LEDGER Takes on Student/ Teacher Dating," THE CAMPUS LEDGER. 5 December 1996.
"Sexual Harassment in Higher Education," JCCC Pamphlet. Fall 1996.
"Sexual Harassment Is Prohibited at JCCC," JCCC Pamphlet. July 1995.
"Sexual Harassment Workshops," JCCC Memo. 15 November 1996.
Smith, Scott. "Did Workplace Overcorrect?" THE KANSAS CITY STAR. 6 January 1997.
"Student Complaint Guidelines," Dean's Page. JCCC Home Page. 1996-97.
"Student Science Fiction Short Stories," JCCC Composition I. Fall 1996.
"Teacher to Retire," THE KANSAS CITY STAR. 17 January 1997.
Supporting documentation mentioned in this paper may be obtained by contacting the author directly.
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Last updated: July 22, 1997