A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty
96 Pages Posted: 22 May 2017 Last revised: 26 Oct 2017
Date Written: May 20, 2017
One in ten female graduate students at major research universities reports being sexually harassed by a faculty member. Many universities face intense media scrutiny regarding faculty sexual harassment, and whether women are being harassed out of academic careers in scientific disciplines is currently a subject of significant public debate. However, to date, scholarship in this area is significantly constrained. Surveys cannot entirely mesh with the legal/policy definition of sexual harassment. Policymakers want to know about serial (repeat) sexual harassers, where answers provided by student surveys are least satisfactory. Strict confidentiality restrictions block most campus sexual harassment cases from public view.
Taking advantage of recent advances in data availability, this article represents the most comprehensive effort to inventory and analyze actual faculty sexual harassment cases. This review includes nearly three hundred cases obtained from: (1) media reports; (2) federal civil rights investigations by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice; (3) lawsuits by students alleging sexual harassment; and (4) lawsuits by tenure-track faculty fired for sexual harassment. It also situates this review within the available and most relevant social science literature on sexual harassment and violence in education and the workplace, as well as on methodological limitations of litigated case data, which tend to contain a higher concentration of high-severity cases compared to a random sample.
Two key findings emerged from the data. First, contrary to popular assumptions, faculty sexual harassers are not engaged primarily in verbal behavior. Rather, most of the cases reviewed for this study involved faculty alleged to have engaged in unwelcome physical contact ranging from groping to sexual assault to domestic abuse-like behaviors. Second, more than half (53%) of cases involved professors allegedly engaged in serial sexual harassment. Thus, this study adds to our understanding of sexual harassment in the university setting and informs a number of related policy and legal questions including academic freedom, prevention, sanctions, and the so-called “pass the harasser” phenomenon of serial sexual harassers relocating to new university positions.
Keywords: Sexual Harassment, Title IX, Civil Rights, Sexual Assault, Education Law
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