Law's Presence, Law's Absence: Reporting Sexual Harassment and Other Exclusions in the Academy

44 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2017 Last revised: 29 Oct 2017

Date Written: October 21, 2017


Reports of employment problems in universities enacts an information asymmetry that has recently highlighted sexual harassment as a legal wrong while dampening other potential descriptions of reasons for disparities. Sexual harassment as unwanted sexual attention both understates and overstates problems at work, not least because it is not an issue for all women. If it crowds out other reasons for disparities, reports misstate problems in employment. This focus contrasts with books that popularized other barriers at work for women just a few years previously. The stories about sexual harassment contrast with systematic evidence concerning reasons for disadvantage at work. Systematic evidence is often less easy to tell as a story with characters, events and a time line. In this instance, law along with university leaders' willingness to publicly act on claims has produced complaints that women have usually been reluctant to make, The Office of Civil Rights issued a Dear Colleague Letter in 2011 addressing sexual assault in higher education, which contributes to mobilizing complaints. This paper draws upon the Chronicle of Higher Education's reports of discrimination. This paper concludes by arguing for proliferating stories, motivated by lessons from systematic research, even if law is not a remedy.

Keywords: Sexual Harassment, Gender Discrimination, Universities

Suggested Citation

Sterett, Susan M., Law's Presence, Law's Absence: Reporting Sexual Harassment and Other Exclusions in the Academy (October 21, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Susan M. Sterett (Contact Author)

Public Policy ( email )

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Baltimore, MD 21250
United States


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