Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 26, 2014: Are the faculty in a university department somehow collectively responsible for monitoring other faculty in the department regarding possible sexual harassment? If so, how are they supposed to proceed to do this monitoring? How often is the possible sexual harassment public enough that other faculty can observe it when it is occurring?
After a certain faculty member has been found guilty of a sexual harassment charge, should his identity as a harasser be made public? If his identity as a harasser were made public, what exactly should the other faculty members in the philosophy department do as a result of knowing this? But if his identity as a harasser isn't made public, what, if anything, is supposed to deter him from further sexual harassment?
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These intriguing questions are raised by Sarah Kuta's news story "Philosophy profs.: CU-Boulder shouldn't have shared private info" in the Daily Camera, the newspaper in Boulder, Colorado, dated February 24, 2014.
I know, I know, Colorado is flyover country. Why should Americans be concerned about what the administration of the University of Colorado-Boulder is doing to the philosophy department there?
Unfortunately, many university administrators think they are mighty administrators. But I think the administration there is abusing its power against the philosophy department. Let me explain my concern.
The administration shared confidential information with the three-member visitation team from the American Philosophical Association in connection with their invited assessment of the climate of the philosophy department. The three signed confidentiality agreements regarding the confidential information they reviewed in the files of the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH).
Nevertheless, the three stated in their report that "at least 15 complaints" against faculty in the philosophy department had been filed with the ODH -- evidently, since 2007. Those complaints formed part of the background that got the philosophy department into hot water with the administration, leading eventually to the invitation for the site visit.
But isn't it a violation of their confidentiality agreement for them to reveal the minimum number of complaints filed against the faculty in the philosophy department? Or was this already common knowledge in the philosophy department? If it was, was it also already common knowledge in the news media in Colorado?
On January 31, 2014, the administration made the report public by posting it online for any interested persons to view, thereby making the factoid about the 15 complaints public.
As a result of the administration's unexpected action in making the report public, the number of cases filed against the faculty in the philosophy department has been widely reported in news stories and in op-ed commentaries since then.
In the above-mentioned news story, Sarah Kuta makes the following statement:
"Under the Colorado Open Records Act, public institutions are required to deny the inspection of sexual harassment files to the general public. However, CU officials said that because the site visit team investigators were performing an administrative function for the university, they were not acting as members of the public."
Got that? Three faculty members from three other universities were not acting a members of the public, in which case the names of the parties involved in each complaint would have been redacted from their view.
At first blush, the administration's line of thought here may sound reasonable enough.
But the administration's line of thought here does not explicitly address the specific factoid in the report about "at least 15 complaints" having been filed against faculty members in the philosophy department.