At SIUC, Faculty, Graduate Student, and Staff Unions Push Back Against Proposed Sexual Harassment Policy

By on January 21, 2009

Torch readers have heard a lot about Southern Illinois University–Carbondale (SIUC) lately, and with good reason. Although Chancellor Samuel Goldman won’t admit as much, SIUC has been embroiled in a free speech crisis of sorts as of late, as we described in our press release last week.

To recap quickly, there are three free speech concerns at SIUC: (1) SIUC’s unconstitutional speech codes, which remain problematic even after the quiet revision of the school’s free speech zone policy; (2) the prosecution of two long-time SIUC professors on suspect sexual harassment charges, in which the professors were denied basic due process protections; and, finally, (3) a proposed revision to the university’s sexual harassment policy, which has generated fierce resistance from SIUC faculty members. It seems a pretty safe assumption that 2 and 3 are related.

Today’s SIUC news is a development regarding the third issue, the proposed revision to SIUC’s sexual harassment policy. FIRE has learned that SIUC’s four unions of faculty members, staff, and students—the Association of Civil Service Employees, Graduate Students United, the SIUC Faculty Association, and the SIUC Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association—formally demanded in December that Chancellor Goldman and SIUC participate in negotiating changes to the proposed sexual harassment policy. Given SIUC’s treatment of the two professors mentioned above, their suspicion of the changes is amply justified. Goldman responded by agreeing to form a committee composed of university and union representatives to do so. The first committee meeting is this evening.

While securing a constitutional harassment policy at SIUC is obviously still a ways off, the fact that the faculty unions have succeeded in forcing SIUC leadership to negotiate over the deficiencies in the proposed revisions is a positive development. One would imagine that the unions realize that their bargaining power here is incredibly strong, as SIUC cannot lawfully implement a harassment policy that threatens the due process and First Amendment rights of its faculty and student body.

At any rate, this news certainly adds further background to Chancellor Goldman’s bizarre behavior last week, when a university spokesman was forced to walk back Goldman’s harsh comments about FIRE’s criticism of the university just a day later. What changed in twenty-four hours? I suspect that when FIRE reminded SIUC that our complaints about university policy were not limited to the school’s (since dismantled) free speech zone, but also extended to the proposed sexual harassment policy and other speech codes still on the books, Goldman realized that engaging in a public argument with FIRE about the proposed sexual harassment policy at the same time as SIUC negotiates its revision with the faculty unions is not intelligent leadership.

We’ll keep you posted on further developments out of SIUC as events warrant.

Schools: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Cases: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale: Free Speech Crisis Over Unconstitutional Policies