Non-mandatory sexual harassment training?


I’d like to think I’m not a clueless ignoramus when it comes to navigating university bureaucracy, but sometimes evidence gets in the way. Let me attempt to recreate some dialogue from our Academic Senate meeting from last month, as an illustration.

Wise and Experienced Administrator 1: We’ve had many successes when it comes to the safety of the campus community, but I was wondering if any of you have suggestions about getting more faculty to complete the required online sexual harassment prevention training.

Esteemed and Smart Professor 1: When do the notifications go out? If they are timed for a less inconvenient part of the semester, this might help.

Esteemed and Smart Professor 2: Could someone come visit departmental meetings to conduct trainings, or at least have someone discuss why they matter?

Me: You mean, there are people who aren’t doing it, even though it’s required? Duh, why can’t we, like, you know, actually require trainings? I know lots of folks who get fired if they don’t do what is a required part of their job. Are you telling me that if professors don’t do these trainings, they experience no consequences?


Every administrator in the room looks at one another, whispering to one another one of two Game of Thrones lines, “Oh my sweet summer child,” or “You know nothing, Terry McGlynn.” A pause lasts a few seconds too long, each person waiting for the other to explain what is apparently obvious to most people in the room.

Wise and Experienced Administrator 2: (lightly sighing) The Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents retribution against faculty members.

Wise and Experienced Administrator 3: If a faculty member was censured, had their pay withheld, or was dismissed for not participating in this training, then this would be subject to grievance supported by the faculty union.

Wise and Experienced Administrator 2: Of course, if a faculty member doesn’t do the training, then this could be noted by faculty as a part of the reappointment, tenure, and promotion process, if they happen to be aware of this fact. This could be noted during review at the department, chair, dean, or college levels, potentially affecting merit review.

Wise and Experienced Administrator 3: It is possible, theoretically, that a faculty member could be prevented from receiving a pay raise without conducting the training, though this has not happened to date and there would be a variety of complications involved, and this would probably be grieved as a form of retaliation.

Wise and Experienced Administrator 1: (reclaiming the conversation that I derailed) We definitely are prepared to conduct a training anywhere, we have never said no to a training, regardless of the size. Training are very effective, preferable to the online module, and I encourage departments to schedule one with us. The notices for online trainings go out on a rolling basis every year, based on date of hire or the most recent time the training was completed, and we can time this to be more effective. If you have ideas about positive incentives, let me know.

This is probably a poor facsimile of the actual conversation, but you get the gist.

I’m bringing this up not to vent about my own campus, but because I imagine that this is the opposite of unique — I’m guessing that faculty non-compliance with mandated sexual misconduct training is a widespread phenomenon. Perhaps someone can provide information about how they fixed this at their university, or share some other insights. And also, maybe this will inspire you to discover whether this is an issue at your campus — as I didn’t realize it was at mine.

One tired cliché is that managing professors is like herding cats, because professors just do whatever they want. But I had no idea it was this bad. If I get an email from my administration that I’m actually required to do a training (see the image above), then I actually get around to doing it.

Little did I know that skipping out on the training would result in zero consequences. (Having gone through this online training a number of times, I can breeze through it, but if someone isn’t familiar with these issues, it would take a bit longer. As these modules go, I think it’s pretty good — it would be hard to complete without having a passing awareness of what constitutes harassment, what kinds of conduct are actionable Title IX offenses, and how to support students when they come to you with information. A bystander intervention component would be a nice addition I think, though I’m not an expert on this stuff, so take that with an appropriate amount of seasoning.)

Making sure that every harasser on campus has to go through rote training won’t stop misconduct on campus, but if the campus is going to levy consequences on people who are offenders, then we need to make sure that they can’t proclaim ignorance about what constitutes harassment. More important, we need every other employee trained to recognize misconduct when they see it, so they can say something at the moment it happens, and also report it to our Title IX office, which has my full faith that they will handle as well as possible.

Regardless, if we are going to create a campus climate where sexual misconduct by faculty is not acceptable at any level, then requiring all faculty to be aware of what constitutes misconduct must be a baseline expectation, right?

By mandating training but failing to enforce this requirement, aren’t we signaling that you get can away with not following the rules related to sexual misconduct?

I’m bringing this up with our union reps, but I’m not sure how far that will take us, because this issue is entangled with a variety of other policies associated with “retaliation.” And our Faculty Affairs person is interim in the position, so big policy changes aren’t happening right away, and I’m not an expert on legal stuff related to the CBA. Our union does so much good in so many ways, but in some matters, some of this obstructionism can be destructive.

If universities don’t even have the leverage on their own employees to require them to go through a very minimal sexual harassment training, then how the heck can they implement anything more robust to deal with pervasive sexual misconduct? How can we work for a change in culture when we can’t even have  compliance on the most basic element of such a change?

How many universities truly enforce training requirements? (I’ve searched a bit for numbers on this, but without success). How many have a requirement on paper, but for one reason or another, it doesn’t get implemented for everybody?

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