Sexual Harassment and Unprofessional Conduct Guidelines
Guidelines in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences seeks to maintain a learning and work environment free from sexual harassment, including unprofessional conduct in faculty-student relationships and sexism in the classroom. These kinds of behavior are barriers to the educational, scholarly, and research purposes of the University.
Any member of the FAS community who believes that he or she has been sexually harassed, who has experienced problems involving unprofessional conduct, or who would like clarification or information on FAS complaint and resolution procedures, is encouraged to speak with an appropriate officer of the Faculty. A list of officers can be viewed on a related page. There are specific procedures for the resolution of sexual harassment and unprofessional conduct problems. These cover situations involving individuals of different University status and individuals of the same University status. They range from informal counseling and mediation to formal procedures for disciplinary action. A written description of these procedures is available upon request from any of the officers listed. (Please note that members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) are covered by the sexual harassment policies agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement and described in the Personnel Manual. For union members those policies take precedence over the policies governing other members of the University community.)
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In addition to being illegal, sexual harassment is unacceptable because it interferes with a person's sense of dignity and well-being in the community. The determination of what constitutes sexual harassment will vary with the particular circumstances, but it may be described generally as unwanted sexual behavior, such as physical contact or verbal comments, jokes, questions, or suggestions. In the academic context, the fundamental element of sexual harassment is ordinarily the inappropriate personal attention by an instructor or other officer who is in a position to exercise professional power over another individual. This could involve an instructor who determines a student's grade or who can otherwise affect the student's academic performance or professional future; or a tenured professor whose evaluation of a junior colleague can affect the latter's professional life. Sexual harassment can also occur between persons of the same University status. An example would be persistent personal attention in the face of repeated rejection of such attention. Such behavior is unacceptable in a university. It seriously undermines the atmosphere of trust essential to the academic enterprise.
UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT IN RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS OF DIFFERENT UNIVERSITY STATUS
Amorous relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances always have inherent dangers when they occur between any teacher or officer of the University and any person for whom he or she has a professional responsibility (i.e., as teacher, advisor, evaluator, supervisor). Implicit in the idea of professionalism is the recognition by those in positions of authority that in their relationships with students or staff there is always an element of power. It is incumbent upon those with authority not to abuse, nor to seem to abuse, the power with which they are entrusted.
Officers and other members of the teaching staff should be aware that any romantic involvement with their students makes them liable for formal action against them. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to the development of such a relationship, it is the officer or instructor who, by virtue of his or her special responsibility and educational mission, will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior. Graduate student teaching fellows, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants may be less accustomed than faculty members to thinking of themselves as holding professional responsibilities. They may need to exercise special care in their relationships with students whom they instruct, evaluate, or otherwise supervise, recognizing that their students might view them as more powerful than they may perceive themselves to be.
Amorous relationships between members of the Faculty and students that occur outside the instructional context can also lead to difficulties. In a personal relationship between an officer and a student for whom the officer has no current professional responsibility, the officer should be sensitive to the constant possibility that he or she may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for the student's instruction or evaluation. This could involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation or to serve on an admissions or selection committee involving the student. In addition, one should be aware that others may speculate that a specific power relationship exists even when there is none, giving rise to assumptions of inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved. Relationships between officers and students are always fundamentally asymmetric in nature.
SEXISM IN THE CLASSROOM
Sexism in the classroom usually involves conduct by members of the teaching staff that is discouraging or offensive especially, but not only, to women. Alienating messages may be subtle and even unintentional, but they nevertheless tend to compromise the learning experience of members of both sexes.
Some teaching practices are overtly hostile to women. For example, to show slides of nude women humorously or whimsically during an otherwise serious lecture is not only in poor taste, but is also demeaning to women.
Other alienating teaching practices may be simply thoughtless, and may even be the result of special efforts to be helpful to women students. For example, it is condescending to make a point of calling only upon women in class on topics such as marriage and the family, imposing the assumption that only women have a "natural" interest in this area.
Consistent with principles of academic freedom, course content and teaching methods remain the province of individual faculty members. At the same time, faculty members should refrain from classroom behavior that focuses attention on sex characteristics in a context in which sex would otherwise be irrelevant.
NOTE: Anyone interested in arranging a training or discussion session concerning sexual harassment should call Karen Flood, 496-8912.