In the wake of a campus discussion about Princeton’s procedures in handling sexual-misconduct cases, a University committee has called for a number of changes.
“The campus conversation has in part come about as all of society has been focused on the #MeToo movement, and attention to this issue is what we want,” Vice Provost Michele Minter said. “We have to do everything that we can to prevent [sexual harassment] on this campus, and this is one of the steps that should help us do that.”
Minter is co-chair of the faculty-student advisory committee on sexual misconduct, which released its report May 10. The focus was on sexual-harassment cases between student complainants and faculty respondents, and the committee suggested ways to make Title IX investigation proceedings and penalties more transparent and to provide complainants with more information throughout the process.
“Princeton’s environment resembles national trends regarding sexual harassment, and ... these outcomes are unacceptably undermining the well-being of our community,” the report said.
- Require the dean of the faculty to consult with other senior administrators in determining the penalty in cases involving faculty members.
- Clarify the University’s policy regarding recusal by those investigating Title IX cases when conflicts of interest arise.
- Consider broadening the grounds for student appeal in a case involving a faculty member.
- Consider sharing the full scope of penalties with complainants.
- Add more details to the University’s annual report that provides general descriptions of sexual-misconduct cases and penalties.
- Strengthen the vetting process with regard to issues of sexual misconduct for potential hires.
The committee said it found that a professor’s grant funding and seniority are not taken into account in determining penalties for misconduct. It also said the range of penalties for disciplinary action against faculty members is now accessible online.
The report recommended clarifying Princeton’s policy regarding romantic or sexual relationships between individuals of different University status. Some members of the Princeton community asked that the policy — which prohibits sexual relationships between students and any University employee directly instructing or supervising them — be amended to prohibit any romantic relationship involving a power differential, but the committee decided against it.
“We understand that power differentials can be complicating, but we were not comfortable with the idea of telling individuals in our community that their chosen relationships are unwelcome or not consensual,” Minter said.
Last November, students and faculty members called on Princeton to reassess its sexual-misconduct policies after penalties for an electrical engineering professor found responsible for sexual harassment of a graduate-student advisee were widely deemed insufficient.
Third-year graduate student Abby Novick, who had authored a document with proposed changes to the University’s sex-misconduct policies, said she thought the committee’s report could be more detailed. “As someone who has spent months working on this issue ... I have no idea what would happen if I reported my adviser for sexual misconduct,” she said.
Minter acknowledged that the report would not please everyone.
“We did a lot of thinking about ways to enhance what we believe is a system that already works well, since we always want to get better,” she said. “It’s really important to get [things] right, and we appreciate when community members raise questions. A little healthy pressure is not a bad thing.”
Minter said that the report has been sent to President Eisgruber ’83 and Provost Deborah Prentice, who will decide what actions to take.