A few years ago, a campus attorney at UC Davis approached Binninger with a question. A UC Davis college where Singer serves as assistant vice provost has selected a new employee. But some at the academy have heard rumors about the candidate’s past behavior. What can they do?
Singh and lawyer Sheila O’Rourke want to avoid perpetuating a common problem in academic recruiting: “by harassers. This happens when a professor or administrator is credibly accused of sexual misconduct on one campus. The first campus—perhaps worried about a defamation lawsuit, or may have signed a settlement with an employee— Silence on allegations allows professors or administrators to continue harassing people at new institutions.
To avoid this chain of events, Singer and O’Rourke asked candidates to sign a statement allowing them to ask about the rumors from the person’s former agency. The candidate agreed, and the previous agency confirmed that there were no disciplinary violations on record.
“We thought, why don’t we make this a routine thing?” Singh said in an interview on Thursday. She posed the question with other administrators in the UC system and eventually with UC Davis faculty. Despite the skepticism, Singer said there were no major objections from teacher leaders. Thus began a pilot project.
That was 2018. Today, UC Davis officials said the policy — the first in higher education to address “passing harassers” — has been a success. The university has not faced major legal issues because of the policy change, which officials say has prevented harassers from applying at all.
No automatic disqualification
University released a report This week, how the policy has worked so far, and suggested that other universities adopt a similar approach. The report is part of a multi-year effort by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to develop better procedures for preventing and responding to sexual harassment.Together with UC-Davis, the University of Wisconsin System also published a work report Stop “passing the harasser”.
Here’s how UC Davis policy works: Candidates applying for job-secured faculty positions, such as tenure, sign a statement saying UC Davis officials can contact their previous universities for reference surveys . Once a candidate is selected for a position and approved by the dean, the university’s Office of Academic Affairs asks the candidate’s previous institution for “the substantiated findings of ongoing and completed investigations regarding misconduct and related discipline.” Candidates are allowed to provide additional information if these questions reveal inappropriate behavior. A panel of senior UC Davis administrators will then meet to determine whether the information should disqualify the candidate.
Once candidates complete the process, they will be asked to sign another document certifying that they are not currently the subject of an active investigation.
This policy is designed to detect other types of misconduct other than sexual harassment, such as discrimination. But a finding of misconduct doesn’t automatically mean a candidate’s rejection. The UC Davis panel considers the severity of the misconduct, when it occurred, how often it occurred and whether the candidate took personal responsibility, the report said.
In more than 50 reference surveys conducted by the university, no one found “any proven record of misconduct” at the candidate’s other institutions. University administrators suspect that requiring candidates to sign a statement allowing UC-Davis to inquire about past misconduct would deter some potential applicants from applying.
Importantly, no faculty member who joined UC Davis after going through this process has been accused of wrongdoing since being hired.
“Lack of Controversy”
The UW system’s new policy also directs administrators who conduct reference surveys to ask previous employers questions about sexual misconduct. The policy allows the campus of the system to decide who will conduct the reference check and at what point in the process they will do it.
The Wisconsin policy also instructs people in the system what to do when someone from another institution calls to conduct a reference check on UW staff. Wisconsin officials directed callers to an office where they could ask for information about a candidate’s disciplinary history, while emphasizing that it was part of agency policy and should not imply that an applicant committed harassment.
“Notably,” said Quinn Williams, the system’s general counsel, “there is no controversy.”
The system decided to develop this policy in 2018, after reporting from Milwaukee Sentinel It appears that employees accused of sexual misconduct on a Wisconsin campus were able to quietly leave after being investigated and were later rehired by other universities. In one case, the Title IX coordinator was accused of sexual misconduct and then went on to work at two other agencies.
So far, the UW system doesn’t know how many reference investigations have uncovered past misconduct, Quinn said. But like UC Davis, he doubts the new policy will deter people with disciplinary records from applying.
The biggest challenge, according to the Wisconsin system’s report, is driving transparency and information-sharing on the subject of sexual harassment, which is legally worrisome.But the university “determined that greater legal responsibility would be no Work to prevent the passing of harassers between agencies and not fail to do so out of fear of defamation, retaliation, or discrimination by the harasser. “
Neither UC Davis nor the University of Wisconsin believe their new policies have significantly slowed the hiring process. When asked about past misconduct, UC Davis officials said contacting the right people at other institutions can be time-consuming. Singer said a colleague suggested creating a shared file listing these people on each UC campus and how to contact them.
“We’re just continuing to fine-tune,” she said.
Many other universities are asking how to develop similar policies, Williams said. He sees it as a sign that the culture is changing — more agencies are willing to share information that can stop harassers from quietly moving on to other victims.