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While Lauding New DOE Guidance on Sexual Harassment, the AAUP Raises Academic Freedom Concerns

On August 18, the AAUP wrote to the Department of Education to laud the department’s efforts to address systemic gender inequalities in the US educational system. The letter also raised two concerns about guidance issued in April by the department. First is the department’s suggestion that a “preponderance of the evidence” be the standard for determining whether sexual harassment has occurred. Given the seriousness of accusations of harassment and sexual violence and the potential for accusations, even false ones, to ruin a faculty member’s career, we believe that the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence is more appropriate.

Second is the potential violation of academic freedom for those who teach courses that directly address sex and sexuality, which can make some students uncomfortable but which may also be necessary for their education. Any training for faculty, staff, and students should explain the differences between educational content, harassment, and “hostile environments,” and a faculty member’s professional judgment must be protected. 

Read the letter to Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights from Ann Green, chair of the AAUP Committee on Women in the Academic Profession, and Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP.

Publication Date: 
Thursday, August 18, 2011