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Faculty and staff across Harvard will be required to complete an online training on the University’s sexual and gender-based harassment policy starting in the fall, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp informed them in an email Wednesday.
The decision follows a series of sexual harassment allegations against Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez that have surfaced in recent months amid the #MeToo movement, which has brought down a slew of prominent men in various industries over similar allegations. Dominguez was placed on "administrative leave" in March and shortly after announced his retirement.
In their email, Garber and Lapp nodded to the societal reckoning #MeToo has provoked and connected it to Harvard.
“As recent events across society have demonstrated, sexual and gender-based harassment remains a deeply ingrained problem. It can impose enormous human costs, personally and professionally,” they wrote. “It undermines our shared aspiration to ensure that all members of this community have the opportunity to thrive.”
University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson wrote in an emailed statement that the new requirement is not in response to the allegations made against Dominguez.
“Yesterday’s announcement is yet another step forward in our endeavor to continually improve our efforts to proactively address concerns of sexual and gender-based harassment,” she wrote.
Garber and Lapp wrote that the purpose of the training is to remind faculty and staff of the University's policies and their “responsibility as members of the community.” They pointed to various training programs the school already requires of its students and in-person training sessions for faculty and staff, but added that the updated and newly mandatory online module is necessary to ensure uniform understanding of Title IX policies and resources.
“The step we will take in the fall will provide a common baseline of training to all faculty and staff,” Garber and Lapp wrote.
The University has worked in over the past two years to implement the 2016 recommendations of a University-wide task force on sexual assault prevention, which called for trainings for students, faculty, and staff across Harvard’s schools.
The task force specifically recommended that schools mandate that all students complete annual online modules around sexual assault prevention. Roll-out of these modules has been uneven across schools, however. The College debuted the first online module for students in 2016, and offered two versions this academic year—one for incoming students and one for returning students—though students are not penalized for failing to complete them. Many graduate and professional schools have since developed similar modules for students, though not all are mandatory.
The training module is also open to faculty and staff, and some schools already encouraged their faculty and staff to complete it, according to Jackson. The new requirement intends to standardize the practice across the University.
In addition to announcing the new training requirement, Garber and Lapp said University President Drew G. Faust has asked a University-wide committee that has worked since 2015 to review the University’s Title IX policy and procedures to consider specific questions regarding how sexual and gender-based harassment occurs, how Harvard can prevent it, and how the University deals with allegations of misconduct. Garber and Lapp invited staff and faculty to share their thoughts with the committee via email.
Donald H. Pfister, the chair of the committee, said in an interview that even though the committee was asked to consider these questions soon after the allegations against Dominguez became public, they were not specifically related to the Dominguez case.
“We were asked by the president to specifically look into these questions of the imbalance of power and authority and that happened soon after all these revelations came out, so we’ve spent time thinking about how it is in this academic community that we can make sure that people who are feeling these and being subjected to these kinds of events can come forward, can feel that there’s some level of resolution and so forth,” Pfister said.
Pfister also said his committee had discussed trainings, but not the specific timeline for this new initiative. The committee generally meets bi-monthly, Pfister said, to review a series of issues related to sexual harassment, including Title IX procedures and reports produced by University investigators following TItle IX investigations. Harvard’s Office for Dispute Resolution is charged with carrying out these investigations.
“In our evaluations we felt that the reports that were being produced were both very, very long, and very, very technical. So, we made suggestions that this should be evaluated—the language and the length of the policy should be looked at,” Pfister said. “[The Office for Dispute Resolution has] been working at that and trying to make these documents much more approachable.”
Though the committee has provided recommendations directly to specific University offices, Pfister said there are no plans currently for the committee to conclude its work or produce a full report on the efficacy of the current policy and procedures, which the University put in place in 2014.
“There is no timeline,” Pfister said. “We have been very consistent in saying that over the years that it’s an ongoing venture.”
Pfister said he sees the new policy mandating faculty and staff trainings as an “educational venture,” but that the University would need to devise some kind of measurement to actually judge its impact.
“I think what the training is aimed at is for people to understand the policy, to understand what is appropriate and what is inappropriate activity and if you’re subjected to this kind of activity, where to get help and where to go,” Pfister said. “The effectiveness—we’ll have to see and determine whether there’s a metric we can use in some way to evaluate the effectiveness.”
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