Schools without sexual misconduct policies fail their students

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There’s a pervasive culture in higher education that prioritizes university faculty who have committed sexual misconduct over their students.

This culture needs to change.

The Daily Texan and student activists have been calling for the University of Texas (UT) to release a list of faculty members who have violated sexual misconduct policy at the institution. So far, the University has released seventeen names through Freedom of Information requests. 

Transparency is essential in creating an environment where students can feel safe and comfortable. 

Students deserve to know if any of the university staff they’re expected to entrust with their education and their safety—their professors, their TAs, their counselors and advisors—are perpetrators of sexual violence, abuse, harassment, or any other form of sexual misconduct.

Academic freedom shouldn’t protect university faculty from being held to the same standard of professional conduct as everyone else. Schools must ensure mechanisms exist to allow even tenured professors who commit serious and condemnable actions—like sexual assault and violence—to have their university employment terminated upon their proven actions. Once these mechanisms exist, schools must make students aware of them so they know what procedures to follow should a member of faculty make them feel unsafe.

Transparency in protocol and procedure surrounding the breach of sexual misconduct policy is important, but equally as important is transparency regarding the unacceptable and harmful behaviour of the faculty members that students interact with on a regular basis. 

When a university is tight-lipped about the misconduct of its employees, its administration signals to students that it values its reputation over their concerns and their safety. Firing an employee over sexual misconduct isn’t what looks bad to students and the public. Instead, protecting their employment with few to no repercussions is something institutions should be embarrassed about.

If universities and colleges are ashamed to release the names of faculty members still in their employ, they should at the very least question why these educators are still on their payrolls. 

Staying silent about broken sexual misconduct policy isn’t merely passive—it actively protects the perpetrators. Even worse, it invalidates the experiences of those affected by faculty members’ actions and overlooks the rights of students and staff who are entitled to feel safe and respected on campuses.

Universities must adapt to prioritize student safety over their own reputations. 

As demonstrated by the movement at UT, students will no longer settle for the outdated higher-education norms that protect faculty members committing sexual misconduct at the cost of student safety and security.

—Journal Editorial Board

 

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