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November 24, 2004

Dean Cooper’s Nov. 8 Statement Regarding Communication Dept.

The Department of Communication in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh plays an important role in both our undergraduate and graduate programs, offering one of our most popular undergraduate majors and a doctoral program that has an outstanding record of placing its graduates in faculty positions in major universities and colleges throughout the country.

The School routinely reviews each of its departments to ensure that our goals for the educational, research, and scholarly programs of that department are met. Reviews blend internal and external review processes, and the external component of a review of our Department of Communication last spring generated a report that contained allegations of a culture of routine and repeated sexual relations between faculty and graduate students that gave rise to an unsafe environment for female graduate students. The seriousness of these allegations, and their incompatibility with our commitment to the maintenance of an appropriate academic environment that functions in a manner consistent with the policies and procedures of the University, led me to request that the Office of General Counsel investigate the allegations. I received that report in early summer.

The investigation by University Counsel was both extensive and thorough, and involved interviews with, or communication with, virtually all of the current graduate students, a number of former graduate students, all of the Department’s tenure stream faculty, some non-tenure stream faculty, the external reviewers, and others.

The broad generalizations by the external review committee regarding the atmosphere within the Department were not supported by the findings of the investigators. Most critically, the overwhelming bulk of male and female graduate students within the Department do not agree with the characterization of the current climate provided by the external reviewers. The investigators uncovered no evidence of any current faculty/student sexual relationships, and the investigation determined that the past sexual relations between faculty and graduate students within the Department that allegedly determined the climate of the Department could not be characterized as either routine or repeated. No current student has indicated that any faculty member has approached the student in a manner that was inappropriate or made him or her feel uncomfortable, and the language in the report implying that female graduate students feel unsafe was based on a hypothetical concern posed to one external reviewer. The reviewers’ statement that there was a “resistance to diversity generally” also was not supported by the findings of the investigation.

The investigation did uncover evidence of past faculty/student relationships and determined that there were residual effects from these relationships and from allegations of harassment from several years ago (allegations that investigators concluded had been appropriately investigated and addressed). Investigators recommended a number of actions to help the Department move on from its past and avoid future conflict, and these confidential recommendations have been accepted by me and are being implemented on an appropriate time scale.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 7

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