Assembly members postpone vote on discriminatory harassment policy

By Mary Jo Frank

A loquacious Senate Assembly tabled discussion of a proposed Faculty Discriminatory Harassment Policy last Monday until its May meeting to allow members more opportunity for debate.

Elizabeth S. Anderson, assistant professor of philosophy and chair of the task force drafting the policy, said the proposed policy emphasizes informal dispute resolution and would protect faculty rather than subjecting them to dismissal, as recently happened at Central Michigan University where a coach was dismissed after allegedly using racial epithets.

After faculty approval, the proposed policy must be approved by the administration and the Board of Regents.

Under the proposed draft, the following behavior would be discriminatory harassment and subject to discipline:

Speech or conduct by a faculty member that:

(a) is made in the discharge of professional responsibilities, or in a University setting, or at a University-sponsored event, AND

(b) is directed at a specific individual member(s) of the University, AND

(c) harasses that individual(s) on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, or handicap, AND EITHER

(d) uses threatening, stigmatizing or demeaning epithets or other “fighting words” of equivalent non-verbal representations, OR

(e) has the purpose or reasonably foreseeable effect of injuring an individual by either

(i) inflicting severe emotional distress (beyond mere offense), or

(ii) interfering with his or her academic efforts, employment or participation in University-sponsored extracurricular activities, or

(iii) interfering with his or her personal health, safety, or security.

Under the proposed definition, speech or conduct is harassing for purposes of 1(c) and 1(d) if it would be judged by a reasonable member of the group designated by the behavior, to:

(a) beset with repeated annoyances, provocations, or discriminatory demands, or haranguing, contemptuous insults; or

(b) intimidate through express or implied threats, such as to a person’s health, safety, conditions of employment, or academic standing, or through tormenting conduct such as stalking, anonymous phone calls or letters, or invasions of privacy; or

(c) stigmatize by designating individuals as inferior or shameful on account of their membership in the groups mentioned in 1 (c), or of characteristics associated with such membership; or

(d) demean through defamatory statements.

The proposed policy also spells out what is not considered discriminatory harassment:

The examination and defense of general, impersonal claims of public concern, including offensive and discomforting claims about group differences, the proper treatment of groups, and similar controversial subjects, in a context that permits these claims to be challenged and in a manner that neither intends to deter or discredit an individual’s participation in University activities nor singles out an individual for demeaning attention… The mention of epithets and representation of harassing acts and images for educational purposes in a similar context and manner shall also not be considered discriminatory harassment under this policy.

Alex M. Aisen, associate professor of radiology, was among those faculty members expressing reservations about the proposed policy. Aisen says he doesn’t believe such a policy is necessary and objected to the premise that “discriminatory harassment by faculty is prohibited by law.”

He also objected to judging of speech or conduct as harassment by “a reasonable member of the group designated by the behavior,” asking how he can be expected to know everything that might offend any protected class.

Louise K. Stein, assistant professor of music, said she would like to see something in the policy that would protect faculty against undue accusations.

Although they still want to discuss details of the proposed policy, Assembly members praised Anderson and the task force for their efforts.

Anderson said she would welcome additional comments from faculty on the proposed policy. Copies are available at the SACUA office, 4008 Fleming Administration Building, 764-0303.


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