Update on our response to sexual harassment on campus

Today the university released information in response to open records requests from several news organizations regarding complaints and investigations of sexual harassment over the past decade.

I understand the interest in how our university has responded to this issue. It’s part of a broad national movement that is rightly challenging institutions, public and private, to do better.

Every person on this campus – whether a student, staff member or faculty member – deserves a learning and working environment that is free from harassment. The attention being paid to sexual harassment and misconduct has given us a unique opportunity to raise awareness about our campus policies, resources and reporting options.

We know that sexual harassment can happen in any workplace. Here at UW, complaints arose in units across campus, both academic and non-academic, involving faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students. Of the 20 cases over the past the 10 years, some were resolved at the departmental level while others resulted in formal complaints and investigations or lawsuåits. Outcomes varied – some individuals were found responsible and faced action up to and including termination. In other cases, investigators concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of a violation. In several of the cases the university paid financial settlements. Departments and units took steps such as additional training for faculty, staff and students or forming climate committees to address these concerns more systemically.

In January, I wrote a blog post about how UW–Madison is working to improve our response to these issues – through actions such as mandatory training for all faculty and staff, revising our policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence, and emphasizing centralized reporting to ensure that issues are handled consistently and patterns of problems are identified.

Historically, much of the reporting of and response to sexual harassment happened at the departmental level. We are now requiring that all such complaints have to be reported to the campus Title IX Coordinator, so all complaints are centrally known and appropriately addressed. In response to recent training efforts, we’re seeing departments reaching out earlier and with greater frequency, which is a significant step forward.

This summer, we will provide additional mandatory training to UW–Madison employees who are “Title IX Responsible Employees” and have a duty to inform the Title IX Coordinator about reports of sexual misconduct. I also expect recommendations by summer on how we can strengthen record-keeping. We believe these initiatives will further improve our response.

It’s likely that the number of sexual harassment complaints and investigations will increase as a result of these efforts. If so, that’s not cause for discouragement. We know that most incidents of sexual harassment, like sexual assault, go unreported but that as awareness increases, more people feel able to come forward. We are also in the process of augmenting the investigative staff within the Office of Compliance to assist with response to complaints.

As always, I want to emphasize that help is available, including confidential support, for anyone encountering sexual harassment or misconduct so they can choose a resource that is most comfortable for them.

Here at UW, our efforts to combat sexual harassment began before the issue made headlines and I assure you they will continue. I am encouraged by the momentum we are seeing and deeply appreciate the efforts of the students, staff and faculty who are committed to helping our campus move forward on this issue.