Statement on "The History, Uses and Abuses of Title IX"

The American Association of University Professors released for comment a draft report on Title IX and academic freedom. More on it--including the full report--can be found at Several organizations have responded, including Faculty Against Rape (FAR). We agree with the concerns that FAR has raised, but also have our own. We sent the following electronic letter to the AAUP on April 15, 2016. 

Dear American Association of University Professors,

At the Sexual Assault Network for Grads (, we represent the interests of graduate and professional students as regards sexual harassment and sexual assault in academia. We have read and appreciate the concerns FAR has raised in their letter on the AAUP's draft report, “The History, Uses and Abuses of Title IX," but would like to add our own voice. As graduate and professional students, we occupy a unique niche in the potential conflict of recent application of Title IX and issues of academic freedom. We are protected by Title IX while also heavily invested in free speech. In many cases we look ahead to future roles as faculty or exercise current roles as instructors in more precarious positions than faculty. 

Given this, we would like to raise a number of concerns about “The History, Uses and Abuses of Title IX.” First, we strongly disagree with the AAUP’s recommendation of the clear and convincing standard of evidence in cases of university-adjudicated sexual harassment and sexual assault. Raising the standard of evidence above a preponderance of the evidence means subjecting these accusations to a higher degree of scrutiny and doubt than most other university procedures and, indeed, many civil cases. Although, of course, “some sexual assault cases are criminal cases” (AAUP 47), universities do not conduct criminal trials in which incarceration is a potential outcome for the accused; equating these separate processes, outcomes, and goals is irresponsibility on the part of professional intellectuals. 

The preponderance of the evidence standard, in which accusations must be proven to be more likely than not, weights the voices of both parties equally, reserving a modicum of benefit of the doubt for the accused. In contrast, a stricter standard of evidence—especially in the service of protecting faculty, as the AAUP seeks to do—implicitly finds any faculty member more credible than any student. This may be the position that the AAUP wishes to take, and as (in cases) instructors ourselves we can sympathize. We do, however, ask that the AAUP explicitly consider the ramifications of and rationale behind discrediting students, including graduate and professional students, and exacerbating systemic disbelief of victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment. 

Although the AAUP cites cases of restricted academic speech, these appear to stem from a misplaced fear of the OCR. (On the AAUP's general misrepresentation of the OCR's role in campus cases, we share the concerns raised by FAR.) In the context of a full and fair hearing, we wonder what pedagogical scenarios the AAUP wishes to protect that could more plausibly than not be deemed sexual harassment.

If one of the AAUP’s main concerns is the damage resulting from an accusation, then altering the standard of evidence to disempower victims does not address this concern. In this era of widespread media attention, accusations can ignite indignation and protest regardless of university procedure; this particular threat to academic freedom should be dealt with through other avenues. Nor does this threat of social and professional repercussion limit itself to the accused, and in our view the free speech of victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment suffers far more restriction in practice than academic freedom does in the classroom.

Victims' academic freedom does not fare any better when applied to cases that do proceed through the formal hearing process. The rare convictions are frequently hushed up. We see among our peers silence, discouragement, and, all too frequently, defeat and disengagement in the face of entrenched harassment. The AAUP should consider each such retreat from academia to be a defeat for its own cause and its own future.

We are deeply troubled by the trend in allegations of Title IX abuse, reflected by the AAUP’s report, in which every case mentioned relates to female professors. We suggest that there is a gendered disparity in the university administrative application of Title IX, in which female professors are fired for speaking about sex while male professors receive minimal to no penalty for sexual violence.

We are also troubled by the approach the AAUP takes to faculty in its discussions of shared governance, in which faculty are portrayed as impartial and inhumanly above the fray of student-on-student violence, taking collateral damage from unconsidered regulations about harassment. As the emerging conversation around sexual violence in higher education has shown, faculty are implicated in these systems of violence, and at their worst can constitute a defensive body which protects serial perpetrators of violence. Their best inspires several of us to imitate and seek to join them, but we ask in the meantime that the AAUP report call for more self-reflection and internal action by faculty in addressing these problems. 

In the AAUP’s proposed language surrounding sexual harassment, that “[i]n order to establish a violation of Title IX, the harassment must be sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the education program,” we ask for a clarification of what participating in and benefiting from an education program mean to the AAUP (47). We agree with the language but fear we may disagree on its application. For example, we argue, any student’s hesitation to interact with a faculty member due to well-founded fear of harassment impedes participation in an education program.

Where the AAUP suggests that efforts to comply with Title IX have elevated “reporting protocols and internal processes...over holistic challenges to prevailing gender and sexual norms,” we observe that clear protocols and processes are, in fact, crucial for both accuser and accused, and not necessarily at odds with (vague and unspecified) holistic change (37). 

We request a change to the language on page 51 in which the report suggests that at times “the criminal justice system must be involved in sexual misconduct allegations.” This is legally false and does a disservice to victims by restricting their options. 

Finally, we are perplexed by the AAUP’s repeated attempts to differentiate sexual harassment from other forms of sexual violence, “particularly where it involves only speech” (46). Not only are sexual harassment and sexual assault on the same spectrum, and similar in the challenges they pose to completing an education, but when so much of our work relies on the power and significance of speech—when this report takes as a premise the importance of defending free academic speech—then we cannot with any logical consistency, and must not for moral reasons, diminish the effects and severity of sexual harassment when it is “only speech.”



The Sexual Assault Network for Grads

UCLA Makes Excuses About Sexual Harassment – Guest Post Part II

Kang believed that three questions lay at the heart of recent concerns: “Did the punishment fit the “crime”? Did confidentiality trump public accountability? How can the community be restored?” I find it interesting that Kang used “scare quotes” around the word “crime.” Really, are we still debating whether Piterberg’s actions were harassment? From the get-go, Kang trivializes the experiences of the victims, delegitimizes their claims, and erases their existence. It’s like they’re silenced over and over again.

Cassia Roth for The Professor Is In

Berkeley law school dean resigns after sexual harassment complaint

Students issued a written statement, decrying that after a four-month investigation that concluded that Choudhry had violated the sexual harassment policy, his “$472,917 salary was lowered by 10% for one year,” he was required to undergo counseling and told to write a letter of apology, but the law school community did not learn of the allegations until this week. “We are outraged and disgusted by the University’s deliberate withholding of information concerning the safety of students, staff and faculty,” wrote Kyneshawau Hurd, the co-chair of the coalition for diversity and Sloan Patrice Whiteside, the 3L class co-president for the Boalt Hall Student Association...

She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’

Recently, reports of sexual harassment and assault within science departments at the University of California, Berkeley, Caltech and the University of Chicago have been in the news. Academia will have to respond. A great chorus of formal condemnation shall be lifted up, and my male colleagues will sputter with gall, appalled by the actions of bad apples so rare they have been encountered by every single woman I know.

Female scientists like me will be solicited for constructive solutions that don’t involve anybody getting fired. Female students will be advised to examine how their own behavior might have contributed, and I will have more than my usual trouble keeping my mouth shut. 

UCLA Allows Sexual Harassment- Guest Post and Call to Action

In 2013, the women went to Pamela Thomason, the Title IX authority at UCLA, who proved dismissive and ineffective in handling the case. Thomason discouraged the women from filing formal complaints. The subsequent University investigation (which never went before any governing board) was conducted in secrecy “to avoid the cost, uncertainty, and inconvenience of an administrative proceeding.” The settlement did not require Piterberg to acknowledge any wrongdoing or misconduct, slapped him on the wrist with a $3,000 fine, and made him take one quarter off without pay. Administration also allowed him to find a cushy sabbatical gig for the quarter before temporarily relieving Piterberg of his duties and pay at UCLA. He is slated to return this summer, and while he has restrictions on when he can meet with students, that’s it.

...while the events of the last few weeks are encouraging, it angers me that it takes federal lawsuits, letter-writing campaigns, and protests to fire a known sexual harasser. I thought we had the legal and administrative framework in place to enforce sanctions. Apparently, those in charge just don’t care.

Cassia Roth for The Professor Is In

NASA Letter against Harassment in Grant Programs

"NASA does not tolerate sexual harassment, nor should any organization seriously committed to workplace equality, diversity and inclusion. Science is for everyone and any behavior that demeans or discourages people from fully participating is unacceptable...
No grantee institution that allows impermissible harassment to go unaddressed can be deemed to be in compliance with civil rights law."

Nature publishes editorial against culture of harassment

...But it is clear that the system is weighted towards protecting powerful faculty members at the expense of students and young researchers. Although institutions proclaim that they have zero tolerance for abuse of the policies that they claim to enforce, too often their primary concern seems to be secrecy and reputation management...
Any principal investigator who thinks, “It cannot happen at my university,” is wrong. These are not one-off cases. They are examples of a systemic underlying rot that is driving many young researchers out of science for good.

Nature, Jan 20 2016

University of Chicago Professor Resigns Amid Sexual Misconduct Investigation

A prominent molecular biologist at the University of Chicago has resigned after a university recommendation that he be fired for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. His resignation comes amid calls for universities to be more transparent about sexual harassment in their science departments, where women account for only one-quarter of senior faculty jobs.

The professor, Jason Lieb, 43, made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students at an off-campus retreat of the molecular biosciences division, according to a university investigation letter obtained by The New York Times, and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.”

Dr. Lieb stepped down last month before any action was taken.

Amy Harmon for The New York Times

Stories of Sleazy Professors

...One 2014 analysis of 51 studies of harassment and discrimination in medical training found that almost 60 percent of trainees had experienced them in one form or another.

A recent Association of American Universities survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct at 27 universities indicated an alarming amount of reported sexual harassment at the graduate level by faculty members. At the graduate level at Yale, for example, 29.5 percent of female students and 18.2 percent of male students reported sexual harassment by faculty members.

Students still hesitate to report bad behavior — to tell their stories — for the same reasons that I did all those years ago, including fear of retribution. The reluctance to come forward lingers even beyond graduation. The world of academic medicine is tight. People talk.

But what’s to be done with the many stories like mine, composting under the surface, the stories of harassment that don’t seem worth reporting because of concern about a backlash? We need a safe way for students to tell those stories without having to wait for years to feel that it’s safe...

Anna Reisman for The Chronicle of Higher Education

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will not tolerate harassment at grantee institutions

"The National Science Foundation (NSF) joins with other leading U.S. scientific organizations to emphasize its strong commitment to preventing harassment and to eradicate gender-based discrimination in science.

In light of recent, multiple reports of sexual harassment in science, NSF reiterates its unwavering dedication to inclusive workplaces. NSF does not tolerate sexual harassment and encourages members of the scientific community who experience such harassment to report such behavior immediately..."

Press release, National Science Foundation

He Fell In Love With His Grad Student — Then Fired Her For It

"Christian Ott, a young astrophysics professor at the California Institute of Technology, fell in love with one of his graduate students and then fired her because of his feelings, according to a recent university investigation. Twenty-one months of intimate online chats, obtained by BuzzFeed News, confirm that he confessed his actions to another female graduate student..."

Azeen Ghorayshi for Buzzfeed

Caltech professor suspended for 'unambiguous gender-based harassment'

"Caltech has suspended a professor for “unambiguous gender-based harassment” after investigating complaints made by two graduate students.

The professor will not be paid for one academic year and will be barred from the Pasadena campus. In addition, his communications with students in his research group will have to be supervised, and he will be required to undergo training, according to a Jan. 4 memo from Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum and Provost Edward M. Stolper..."

Jason Song for the LA Times