Faculty examines harassment report
By Andrea Lamberti
Members of the faculty responded to the Report of the MIT Committee on Sexual Harassment at the faculty meeting Wednesday. The report, completed Oct. 1, has received a positive response, according to the committee chair, Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser, but has drawn some criticism as well.
The faculty also modified the definition of a "P" grade to reflect performance done at any of the levels of an A, B, or C grade, according to the approved amendment, whenever the use of a "P" is authorized.
Also at the meeting, Provost Mark S. Wrighton led a discussion of a future MIT policy regarding National Science Foundation fellows, which will be completed early next year.
Keyser explained the process which led to the final report on sexual harassment. In the report, the committee proposes a revised Institute policy on harassment, and makes recommendations for related policies, the education and prevention of harassment, and procedures for dealing with instances of sexual harassment.
The committee was appointed by former Provost John M. Deutch '61 about one year ago, according to Professor of Economics Ann F. Friedlaender PhD '64, a committee member. The committee was formed in part due to "the widely held view . . . [that] the number and severity of incidents [of sexual harassment] were increasing," she said.
The committee was charged with strengthening the Institute's policy on harassment, establishing outlines for prevention and awareness within the community, and proposing steps to reduce the occurrence of sexual harassment on campus.
One week after the report came out, Deutch suggested that the proposal for a revised harassment policy be incorporated into the Institute's policies and procedures, and that the definition of sexual harassment be included in the basic rules and regulations of MIT-approved living groups.
Some of the report's recommendations, Keyser said, have already been assigned to various administrators.
Concerns about freedom
of speech, due process
At the meeting, Keyser and Friedlaender provided background information not explicitly included in the report, including statistics and some of the obstacles they encountered while working on the report.
For example, the committee found that prior to last year, serious statistics on sexual harassment were not kept -- except by the ombudspersons on campus. They had recorded "very careful" statistics, Keyser said, but those could not be made public. The result was a "statistics gap," because the information available to the public was misleading.
A random sample of harassment complaints was collected over a 42-day period, and that number was extrapolated out over one year. Of those complaints, about half were related to sex, gender harassment or harassment based on sexual orientation, Keyser said.
But in a survey Keyser conducted of 285 adjudicated or quasi-adjudicated cases of harassment -- cases with relatively lower levels of confidentiality -- and only one-fourth of those were sexual harassment.
"The committee came to believe that the bulk of sexual harassment is not the kind that leads to formal action," Keyser said.
Keyser also discussed the concern that has been raised about due process for faculty members and the implications for freedom of speech.
Judith J. Thomson, professor of linguistics and philosophy, said the report's treatment of free speech and due process "proved worrisome."
One definition of sexual harassment in the recommended policy for approved MIT living groups includes "sexist remarks." Under the section describing possible sanctions, the report also states, "There is a range of severity of appropriate sanctions extending to termination of employment or of student status."
Based on these two statements, any comment that might be interpreted as sexist, "whatever the intention [or] context" of the statement, the potential outcome is sanctions of some kind, Thomson said.
The implication is that "harassment may therefore lead to sanctions up to termination of employment or student status," she said, and this represents a severity probably not intended in the report. "I didn't know it was present." "We really have to think more carefully about what type of constraint on speech we need, [if indeed we need one]," she said. She also felt the procedures structuring due process and the procedures for a grievance complaint for faculty and staff need revision.
"P" grade revised
The faculty regulations were amended at the meeting. Starting with the 1992-93 academic year, junior-senior pass/fail courses will adopt a "P/D/F" system.
Because "most of the discussion in 1989 was on the freshman year," Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver '75 said the junior-senior pass/fail option was not thoroughly evaluated.
The amendment, which passed unanimously, changed the "P" grade for the junior-senior pass/fail option to a C or better, which is the same system freshmen are graded on now. The difference is that a D is still a credit-earning grade for juniors and seniors and will, like an F, appear on their official transcripts. Neither appears for freshman grades. However, freshmen do not earn credit for a D grade.
These changes are in step with the new definition of a passing grade. Professor of Literature Travis R. Merritt, associate dean for student affairs, explained, "Wherever P is used, [it] is used in context of a `P/D/F' grading scale. After the freshman year, the D and F grades will appear on transcripts as well as internal records."
He also said that after the freshman year, a D grade will be a credit-earning grade; it is not for first-year students.
In addition, the language of the faculty regulations regarding the definition of a P grade was changed.
put in motion
Vest also announced that the first steps have been taken toward implementing the resolution on the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, which was approved at the October meeting of the faculty.
Vandiver and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Alvin W. Drake '57, chair of the MIT Committee on ROTC, have met with the Executive Committee of the Corporation to discuss the resolution, and conveyed the essence of the discussion at the last faculty meeting, Vest said.
Vest said he has spoken with the presidents of a few other universities, describing MIT's stance on the issue.
Wrighton led a discussion of a future policy for NSF fellows. MIT is developing a policy on NSF fellows, Wrighton said, for several reasons. The Institute must meet some of the cost of supporting NSF pre-doctoral fellows, because the NSF does not provide all the funds, he explained.
Currently, if a department does not cover the costs of an NSF fellow, the shortfall is met with general funds, Wrighton noted. MIT is exploring the possibility of using other grants to cover the shortfall, he said.
Wrighton added that the NSF is likely to increase the number of pre-doctoral fellows, thus increasing MIT's cost burden.
"Early in 1991 we will have a policy" regarding NSF fellows, Wrighton said. He emphasized that the Institute would continue to recruit outstanding NSF candidates, despite the cost.