A Culture of Denial?
A former colleague in my department has been accused of sexual misconduct at several institutions. I have recently learned that many of my fellow professors were aware of similar behavior when he was here but he moved on to another university without repercussion. When I have asked about it, some have shrugged and said “his research star power made him untouchable”. Others said “we got rid of him, what more do you want?”. Maybe I should just let this go, but it feels like the conditions that allowed him to abuse students could happen again if the department doesn’t value honesty and accountability.
- Can you revisit the topic with the colleagues who have dismissed it and share the underlying concern you raise in the last sentence?
- Ask the department chair to meet with you about your concerns. Perhaps actions were taken that you are not aware of due to HR personnel privacy rules.
- Convene a meeting of faculty, staff, and students who worked with this colleague. It may require an outside facilitator to clear the air, debrief about the experience, and consider what could have been done differently.
- Focus on the future. Encourage conversations about mutual accountability and the importance of creating a safe climate for all members of the department.
- Partner with a trusted colleague interested in investing the time and resources necessary to impact change.
- Contact HR, Title IX, or other offices to learn about university processes for faculty discipline. Are speakers or training available for your department about the actions are peers expected to take when they are aware of misconduct?
- Initiate a department climate survey to understand and track perspectives concerning sexual misconduct and complicity.