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November 11, 2004

University Senate Matters

From time to time, questions and concerns arise about what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate types of sexual contact between faculty and students. We do have a number of policies at Pitt that pertain to this, but faculty may not be aware of these policies. A committee of the Senate called the ad hoc Committee for the Support and Advancement of Women at Pitt is investigating policies about sexual harassment and how these are communicated to our faculty and staff. Some of the things that we have learned:

* All staff at Pitt are required to take a web-based training course called “Preventing Sexual Harassment.” This course can be found at . Those who have previously taken it have been encouraged by Associate Vice Chancellor, Ron Frisch to review this material again as a refresher. Yet, regular faculty have not been required to take this course, although they are strongly encouraged in written communication from the Provost and the Office of Human Resources. [Faculty who supervise others have recently been requested to take the course by the Provost]. I am happy to report that over 500 faculty have taken the course. But, many have not.

* Last summer, Provost Jim Maher reminded Deans and Department Chairs that “Sexual harassment is a concern for all institutions” and that if they hear even indirectly of a problem or complaint that might be a case of sexual harassment, they are “required to take timely action.” Guidelines for administrators are posted on the Provost’s website at . Most faculty I have talked to are not aware of these guidelines. Further, there is some question about whether faculty should themselves take action, but it is clear that anyone in an administrative position should do so.

* Consensual sexual involvements between faculty and students, or between administrators and students or faculty continue to occur, raising questions about the possible need for clearer guidelines related to this topic. There is a University policy prohibiting “intimate (romantic and/or sexual) relationships between a faculty member and a student whose academic work, teaching, or research is being supervised or evaluated by the faculty member. [See ]. My personal conversations with faculty and students suggest that many are not aware of this policy. It has been suggested that we should do more to informally discourage such liaisons, even if there is no direct supervisory or power relationship involved. We also need clearer guidelines that would clarify responsibilities when consensual relationships do develop.

* The Provost recommended in his summer memo that deans and department chairs “bring this faculty-student relationship policy to the attention of their faculty and students annually.” Based on my casual conversations with faculty, it appears that few unit heads have done this.

The Senate ad hoc Committee on Women is concerned about this apparent lack of faculty awareness on issues related to sexual harassment. I suspect we will be making some recommendations to the University Community about this. I personally believe that it would be in the best interest of our University community to have all faculty and staff take the web-based course on sexual harassment on a periodic basis, as well as to clarify and communicate uniform sexual harassment policies and reporting requirements for all. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this issue.


Irene Hanson Frieze is the chair of the Senate ad hoc Committee for the Support and Advancement of Women at Pitt. This Committee was established by a vote of Faculty Assembly last spring. For more information about the Committee, see

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 6

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