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More on Harassment and Policy 6.4

Some Definitions

Policy 6.4 deals with sexual harassment (among other things). Here are two key definitions from that policy:

Sexual Coercion

To obtain compliance with sexual acts by using physically or emotionally manipulative actions or statements or expressly or implicitly threatening the person or another person with negative actions. Examples of sexual coercion include statements such as “I will ruin your reputation,” or “I will tell everyone,” or “your career (or education) at Cornell will be over.”

Sexual Harassment

A form of protected-status harassment that constitutes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other oral, written, visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that unreasonably interferes with the individual’s work or academic performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment under any of the following conditions:

Submission to, or rejection of, such conduct either explicitly or implicitly is (1) made a term or condition of an individual’s employment or academic status, or (2) used as a basis for an employment or academic decision affecting that person; or

The conduct is sufficiently (1) persistent, severe, or pervasive, and (2) has the purpose or effect of altering the conditions of an individual’s employment or academic pursuits in a way that a reasonable person would find abusive, hostile, or offensive.

On the Effectiveness of Policy 6.4

The Title IX Office has procedures for dealing with sexual harassment and resources for victims.

This guest column in the Cornell Sun points to the weakness of the current system in defending students against sexual harassment. This response indicates that Policy 6.4 can defend students in principle.

Some Recommendations

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology has these suggested  the following improvements to Policy 6.4.

Eliminate the Statute of Limitations for Reporting

The trauma and potential risks associated with reporting harassment often result in a delay in reporting. In addition, victims from previous incidents may come forward once someone else files a complaint, and those cases should be included in current investigations.

Increase Transparency

The Dean, Department Chair (and Director of Graduate Studies if the case involves a graduate student, or Director of Undergraduate studies if the case involves an undergraduate) should be informed as soon as a complaint is filed.

If a finding results in sanctions being imposed, those sanctions should be made publicly available so that the victims and the greater academic community can fulfill their responsibilities, such as preventing the perpetrator from reviewing a victim’s grant proposals or from working elsewhere where other students may be put at risk. Other institutions where
the perpetrator works, such as field stations or other universities, should be notified of the findings so that they can take appropriate steps to protect their students.

Provide a Timely and Transparent Review Process

The Title IX office should log all complaints into a database that will contain updates on the progress and process of each complaint. Complainants and Respondents, as well as the Chair of the relevant department and the DGS or DUS, should have access to the file on the relevant complaint so that they can track the progress of the case.

All complaints should receive preliminary review within 2 weeks to determine if the case should be investigated and, except in unusual circumstances, a case should be investigated and findings made within 6 months of filing.

Data should be presented annually by the Title IX office to the President, Deans and Board of Trustees reporting the number of complaints of faculty harassment that have been filed in the past one, 5 and 10 years and what the outcomes were.

Clarify the Definition of Harassment

The University’s definition of sexual harassment should include any sexual overture by a faculty member to any undergraduate or any graduate student, post-doc, researcher or employee over whom they have any source of current or prospective power. Current policy requires that such behavior “is sufficiently (1) persistent, severe, or pervasive” to create an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment.” Persistence is itself vague: how many instances constitutes persistence? Are sequential approaches to different individuals “persistent”? Much simpler is a recognition that if a student is approached just one time by their professor, that would undermine trust and would “unreasonably interfere with the individual’s work or academic performance.” (Procedures: 6.4)

Clarify the Reporting Process

The process and online documents are confusing. For example, a student trying to report on faculty misconduct must know to click on Policy 6.4 in the right-hand menu to access the relevant pages in the procedures.

Create a Climate in Which Harassment is not Tolerated

Students and faculty should be encouraged to voice concerns to the Chair and DGS or the DUS (where a graduate or undergraduate student is involved).

For any department in which “everybody knows” that a particular individual behaves inappropriately, the Department Chair should inform the Dean and determine an appropriate course of action, at minimum to bring the situation to a halt, and if warranted to sanction the offending individual.

The Faculty Senate and University committees and administrators should discuss and develop educational and other measures that would help create such a climate, making use of methods shown through research to be most effective.

Last Updated: March 8, 2018 at 10:54 am