Three More Reasons Why Faculty Training Should Be Mandatory (Plus One Theory)


I think we can all acknowledge that faculty are, in fact, human beings. And, as human beings, they will commit acts of generosity, compassion, and care at about the same rate as those of us without three letters behind our name. And, because they're human beings, there is also an equal likelihood that faculty will engage in behavior that is ill-advised, unethical, or even illegal.

So why, then, do so many colleges and universities exempt faculty from completing mandatory training on sexual assault prevention and response?

The answer isn't easy, of course. Strong traditions of shared governance, often supported by institutional policies and by-laws, are part of the reason. Even though principles of shared governance still require a final authority, many college provosts, presidents, or governing boards are reluctant to impose training requirements on an unwilling faculty. And faculty at many schools and colleges have always made the connection between being trained to appropriately support students or colleagues who have experienced sexual or intimate partner violence-related harm or to intervene in situations of possible harm, and their roles as instructors. As one administrator once shared with me: "the only thing we require faculty to do is sign up for their parking pass."

Additionally, some faculty are part of bargained-for units and their collective bargaining agreements include language that prohibits the imposition of mandatory training. Still, other colleges and universities that support required training on subjects (such as research ethics) do not enforce the same expectation when it comes to sexual assault prevention.

When I speak to campus-based prevention and education professionals across the country, the story is the same: we have achieved success at reaching our students, and our non-faculty staff, but our faculty are receiving training unevenly, or sporadically, if at all. New research and data is emerging, however, that provides even more compelling reasons for colleges and universities to reconsider whether they require faculty to complete training on preventing and intervening in situations of harm.

Reason #1: Faculty Harassment (Especially of Graduate Students) Is Wide-Spread

As a recent article by legal scholars Nancy Cantalupo and William Kidder reveals, at least one in ten graduate and professional students enrolled at major public universities experience harassment from their faculty mentor. And, graduate students are particularly vulnerable to faculty victimization. Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) 2015-2016 climate survey data revealed that 7% of undergraduate sexual assaults are committed by faculty. For graduate students, this number goes up to 16% committed by faculty. Requiring training on sexual violence prevention of all faculty helps set clear behavioral expectations for faculty as it relates to their professional treatment of undergraduate and graduate students, other faculty, and staff.

Reason #2: Faculty Harassment Is More Likely Physical Than Verbal

In Cantalupo and Kidder's analysis of data from a variety of sources (including social science research, media reports, litigated cases of sexual harassment, and federal investigations), faculty are committing a significant level of unwanted sexual contact against students - undergraduate and (especially) graduate students - as well as other faculty and staff. This finding flips on its head the genteel assumption that the harassing behavior of faculty is most often verbal, not physical, in nature. As Cantalupo and Kidder point out, the concern that some faculty groups have raised regarding the "abuses" of Title IX implicitly posit that most faculty harassment involves issues of speech, while their research reveals that reported instances of harassment are, in fact, more likely related to conduct. Nearly every institution of higher education provides undergraduate students with bystander intervention training to teach them the skills to recognize and successfully intervene in situations of potential harm--such as verbal harassment and unwanted sexual contact. This data reinforces the need for faculty to also receive training that would prepare them to intervene in inappropriate behavior from colleagues.

Reason #3 Faculty Are Not Adequately Prepared For Their Reporting Roles

In a recent analysis of pre-test data from Vector's online prevention course for faculty and staff, only 13% of faculty reported that they understood their reporting responsibilities prior to training, and only 38% indicated that they were confident in their ability to address requests for confidentiality. This figure dramatically improved post-training, but is still far below the universal understanding of these core concepts that is needed for institutions to be assured that These figures are especially troubling given the significant number of campuses that have adopted responsible employee policies that require all faculty to report disclosures of sexual assault to the campus administrators.

Faculty and Staff Need Training

A Theory: Faculty Harassment May Be Associated with Other Forms of Misconduct

Okay, this final reason is not research so much as a well-developed, compelling theory by bloggers Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell. The "Al Capone Theory of Sexual Harassment" makes the case that individuals who engage in sexual misconduct are also likely to engage in other forms of misconduct, such as financial fraud, research misconduct, bullying behavior in the workplace, etc. Aurora and Honeywell examine the tech world in their analysis, but their theory can be applied to higher education as well. Consider the recent revelation of administrator misconduct that has made headlines: in this instance, misconduct related to drugs and alcohol accompanied other inappropriate behavior in the workplace that, according to one report, led to colleagues actively pursuing this person's removal from the position. Providing bystander intervention training to faculty and sharing information on confidential or anonymous reporting options for ethical violations of all kinds may help bring to light a nexus of behaviors that violate university policies (and possibly state laws) and that increase institutional exposure to liability.

There's no doubt that faculty wield profound power when it comes to shaping the cultures of their departments and their colleges and universities more broadly. Institutions often, in fact, pin their reputations on the strength of their faculty. Their institutional capital is too great to remain untapped. In order to achieve success in reducing sexual violence on campus, institutions must commit to ensuring that faculty: are prepared to fulfill their required reporting responsibilities; understand clear institutional expectations related to appropriate professional behavior; have the skills to notice and take action to intervene when they see colleagues engaging in inappropriate behavior; and know resources on campus to safely report violations of campus policy. Anything less leaves the job of sexual violence prevention ABD--all but done.

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