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Gray warns MIT faculty of sexual harassment problems

By Diana ben-Aaron

President Paul E. Gray '54 warned that the Institute would not tolerate sexual harassment or the harassment of other minority groups at MIT at a faculty meeting Wednesday.

In a demonstration of what he called "the power of specifics," Gray gave the following examples of "sexualizing education ... and abusing authority" at MIT:

O+ A professor tells women in a class, "Women belong in the kitchen ... and in bed."

O+ A woman's progress on her thesis is blocked by the insistence of her advisor on sexual favors.

O+ A faculty member has an affair with one student in a research group. "This special relationship makes it impossible for him to treat the other members of the group fairly," Gray said.

O+ A post-doctorate feels she must leave because her unwillingness to comply with her principal investigator's sexual demands is poisoning the atmosphere for everyone else. The investigator then writes letters to her potential employers claiming she is unstable.

"These are all real -- and very recent -- examples," Gray said. He omitted identifying details to protect the privacy of those involved.

Disciplinary action has been taken in some of the cases described, Gray said. The names of the harassers were not publicized because of the victims' fears of reprisals, he added.

In a typical case of harassment, Gray said, the victim reluctantly tells a resource person, "I have to tell you this, but you can't tell a soul." The resource person then advises the victim to write a letter to the harasser describing the harassing behavior and pointing out that it is a problem.

"The [harasser] may fly into a rage, deny it, exacerbate it," Gray said.

The people who deal with instances of harassment show "extraordinary consideration" for the privacy of the victim, the harasser, and MIT, Special Assistant to the President Mary P. Rowe observed. "We consider the civil rights of everyone at the Institute very valuable," she added.

MIT has fired professors for sexual harassment, Rowe said, but a more common reaction is "a profoundly fierce department head reams someone out in a way that really matters." She believed that the second method is more effective.

A formal complaint of sexual harassment from an MIT student led to the resignation of Harvard professor Douglas A. Hibbs Jr. earlier this month. Hibbs, formerly of MIT, had been teaching a joint Harvard-MIT course in the spring of 1983. This is the first time a tenured Harvard professor has resigned over a claim of sexual harassment and the first time Harvard has publicly acknowledged a specific case of harassment.

Gray emphasized that MIT will adhere to its affirmative action policy as published in Tech Talk Feb. 6. He said, "We have resource people to deal with problems of harassment" -- the Personnel Office, Mary Rowe, Special Assistant to the President Clarence G. Williams, and Vice President Constantine B. Simonides.

"MIT rewards people for intellectual achievement. We must continue to put that value properly at the front of the list and not make distinctions based on class, race, ethnic origin, or gender," he continued.

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Math/Computer Degree Approved

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The faculty also moved to recommend to the Corporation the establishment of the degree of Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with Computer Science.

The degree program has already been approved by the Committee on Curricula and the Committee on Educational Policy, according to Chairman of the Faculty Arthur C. Smith.

The degree would fill the needs of students interested in theoretical or abstract computer science and those of current math majors with an interest in computer science, mathematics professor James R. Munkres said.

Munkres estimated that twenty students a year would take advantage of the program. The program might also help relieve overcrowding in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, although Munkres said half of the students "would major in math anyway".

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Retirement policy discussed

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A new Massachusetts law makes forced retirement on the basis of age illegal except in the cases of full faculty members in independent institutions with tenure programs and executives in policy-making positions, Gray announced.

While faculty retirement policies will not change, Gray noted that the law applies to all non-teaching research and support staff. This is likely to result in "more conscious and more frequent" evaluation of their performance, he said.

These staff members will become more susceptible to "termination on the basis of performance or institutional need," Gray explained, because it will be unlawful to terminate their employment on the basis of age.

Gray plans to appoint three to five faculty members to a committee to look into "longer term questions" of faculty retirement and try to anticipate changes in the law that might affect MIT policy.

In other business, Gray announced a fund-raising drive aimed at increasing endowment and maintaining programs. Exact duration, scale, and starting date are still indefinite, although he estimated it would last three to seven years. Faculty will be involved to a greater degree than in previous drives, Gray added.

Approximately 50 professors and administrators attended the meeting, which was the first time the faculty had met in over four months.