University of Montana Faculty Fight Back Against New Policies

By on October 2, 2013

University of Montana (UM) faculty members continue to voice significant concerns about the university’s new sexual harassment policies and procedures, approved by the Departments of Justice and Education last week. Faculty are concerned about a provision that requires staff training on sexual assault and requires that the university provide the Department of Justice with the names of faculty who do not attend this training. Further, as The Washington Free Beacon reports today, several faculty members were troubled by the new sexual harassment policy’s apparent presumption of guilt and authorization of punishment for protected speech. Stewart Justman, Director of UM’s Liberal Studies Program, noted that according to the language of the policy, “anyone who reports a complaint is a ‘victim.’ It is clearly a presumption of guilt. It’s a pernicious assumption.” Such a presumption is especially dangerous in combination with the Office for Civil Rights’ 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, which requires universities to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof when determining responsibility in sexual misconduct cases. History professor Michael Mayer also brought attention to the policy’s “Sanctions and Corrective Action” section, which states that the school may take “appropriate action” in order to “prevent the creation of a hostile environment” even when one does not yet exist—in other words, where the university has found that a student or faculty member has engaged only in protected speech, not harassment: “What they clearly are anticipating is taking action against someone who hasn’t committed sexual harassment,” Mayer said. “If someone’s innocent, they still could face action,” he said, adding that it is “pretty frightening.” The policy is worrying to faculty not only because of its content but also because of the manner in which it was created. According to Justman, the faculty was unaware that the settlement with the Feds was reached.“The settlement was reached in complete secrecy, I had no idea. The first I knew of it, it was a done deal. Now my university is bound by this agreement,” Justman said. According to the Free Beacon, Peggy Kuhr, vice president for Integrated Communications at UM, said that the university is “well aware of” the faculty’s concerns and is “actively working with the DOJ, the Office of Civil Rights [sic], and the faculty to address their concerns.” But the DOJ responded to requests for comment only with this message: “Due to a lapse in appropriation, messages received at this address will not be read or responded to until funding has been restored.” UM legal counsel Lucy France also declined to comment on the situation. Time will tell whether the university makes an effort to revise its policies so that they fully comport with the Constitution. But with the federal government substantially shut down (including segments of the Departments of Justice and Education) and with the current policy approved and in effect, it’s safe to predict that changes will not be as swift as they might have been if UM had welcomed faculty input while negotiating its settlement with the Departments. Read the Free Beacon’s report on the situation for more comments from faculty and administrators, and stay tuned to The Torch for updates.Image: University of Montana University Hall Clock Tower - Photo Camel

Schools: University of Montana Cases: Departments of Education and Justice: National Requirement for Unconstitutional Speech Codes