In an effort to ensure that reporting and compliance of sexual harassment policies across The University of Texas System are more efficient and robust, the UT System Board of Regents has adopted more than two dozen wide-ranging policy and culture changes.
Fourteen changes in policy and 12 culture changes were recommended in the report by the Employee/Student Relationship Task Force. The 15-member task force was comprised of student and faculty representatives, administrators, athletics representatives, campus presidents and outside legal experts, and headed by Regents’ Chairman Paul L. Foster.
“I am confident that we have identified the best practices to address sexual misconduct on campus by creating a policy for all our campuses that does not merely discourage inappropriate relationships, and clearly prohibits certain relationships where a real, or perceived, abuse of power exists,” Foster told the Board of Regents at a meeting Thursday. “At the same time, we are laying out recommendations for the best path to a culture that fosters a safe environment and that does not tolerate inappropriate relationships.”
A 2011 federal mandate announced new requirements for colleges and universities related to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence and also precipitated much dialogue and change to institutional policies. At that time, the UT System implemented new reporting mechanisms to cover instances of sexual misconduct.
Created in March 2013, the Task Force was charged with examining policies and processes related to employee/student relationships across the UT System and with making recommendations for needed changes.
“Our collective goal is to provide a safe and respectful environment for our faculty to teach and create new knowledge and our students to learn,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa. “We not only want our universities to be centers of excellence, we want to be able to provide a great work atmosphere for education, research and healthcare to take place. The observations in this report are consistent with these important goals and provide a pathway for continual improvement.”
In its far-ranging charge, the task force was directed to study “all existing programs directed at preventing such inappropriate relationships and include the issues of preventing and addressing sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and other inappropriate relationships to ensure a safe, healthy environment for students. This committee should address current campus practices and attitudes surrounding these topics and identify ways to create a culture of no tolerance for inappropriate relationships with students or staff. It should review policies and practices across the 15 institutions of the UT System, including how allegations of sexual misconduct between employees and students - specifically between faculty and students and between athletic professionals (including coaches) and student-athletes, student volunteers or student employees - have been handled over the past five years.”
The Task Force recommendations, adopted by a unanimous vote, noted that: “What may begin as a seemingly consensual relationship can quickly transform into a sexual harassment complaint from the student. Consider (that) a 2001 survey of undergraduate students found that 40 percent of women and 28 percent of men had perceived that they had been sexually harassed by a college professor or instructor.”
The report noted that the recommendations “set forth in this report are designed to create a safer environment for students and employees across UT System,” and urged that reviews should be done on an annual basis to ensure the changes in both policy and culture are fully implemented.
Policy Changes Include:
Culture Changes Include: