Faculty members question draft sexual misconduct policy


University of Michigan faculty members posed questions and offered input on the university’s draft umbrella policy on sexual and gender-based misconduct during a Faculty Senate meeting Nov. 18.

A dozen people inquired about various topics, including why faculty and staff cannot appeal investigative findings by the Office for Institutional Equity, and which employees can be suspended without pay while an investigation is underway.


The questions were posed to four members of a universitywide team involved in drafting the policy: Christine Gerdes, special counsel to the provost; Patricia Petrowski, associate vice president and deputy general counsel; James Burkel, assistant vice provost for academic and faculty affairs; and Sascha Matish, associate vice provost and senior director of Academic Human Resources.

The draft U-M Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct would apply to students, faculty, staff and third parties on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses. The university is seeking feedback through Nov. 22.

The draft policy is largely consistent with current policies, procedures and resources for addressing sexual and gender-based harassment and misconduct on campus. It brings together this information in one policy with separate procedures for employees and students.

An issue raised by several faculty members involved who could be suspended without pay during an investigation.

Gerdes said the new policy does not change existing rules. Faculty members covered by Regents Bylaw 5.09, which governs tenure procedures, are not subject to suspension without pay, and faculty and staff covered by collective bargaining agreements are subject to provisions in those agreements. Any other employees could be subject to unpaid suspension, she said.

“It still strikes me as that’s a penalty without process, and it still strikes me as unfair, so it seems to me that this might be an opportunity to revisit that,” said Pamela Brandwein, professor of political science.

Anna Kirkland, professor of women’s studies, sociology and political science, and executive director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, asked how employees responsible for reporting potential violations should handle “low-level harassment” — actions that are inappropriate but may fall short of being a reportable violation.

“The first that comes to mind is training,” Petrowski said. “Training, training, training. The one thing we know about the responsible-employee space is that it’s ripe for confusion.”

While the student procedures provide for a hearing and the opportunity to appeal OIE findings in certain cases, there are no such provisions for faculty or staff. If a faculty member is found to have violated the policy, they may file a grievance if they believe subsequent sanctions are unfair.

Sally Oey, professor of astronomy, said that leaves “quite an imbalance or asymmetry in the fact that students have a procedure where they can appeal a finding.”

Petrowski acknowledged the issue had come up in other meetings with faculty groups. “We hear you,” she said. “Our group will take it up in further discussions.”

A resolution put forth by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs stating that students, faculty and staff should be afforded the same level of consideration and due process could not be voted on because the Faculty Senate meeting did not draw the necessary 100 members for a quorum.


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