Deans call for changes to faculty sexual harassment policies

By The Daily Illini staff report

Following the case of sexual misconduct and investigation of tenured law professor, Jay Kesan, deans at the University are calling for stricter disciplinary actions against faculty members with sexual misconduct allegations.

On Monday, 17 deans sent a letter to Chancellor Robert Jones and Provost Andreas Cangellaris, stating all the deans will join the executive members of Illinois Student Government in condemning sexual misconduct and recognizing the lack of disciplinary actions taken.

“I am extremely heartened by their responses. I have no question but that they sincerely and deeply want to accomplish helpful reforms in these areas. No significant change happens overnight, but I can sense they want to facilitate meaningful if thoughtfully considered improvements sooner rather than later,” said Vikram Amar, dean of Law, in an email.

The letter states students and faculty in the College of Law called for an examination and revision of the policies of sexual misconduct investigations; the deans stand with this call.

“While I think I understand some of the historical reasons why the current rules exist as they do, I feel the University needs to have its own standards and updated procedures that are not tied to federal law, to give us the additional flexibility we need to deter sexual misconduct, and to send the right messages when faculty members do bad things, even as we must also always afford due process to people who are accused,” Amar said.

He said sexual misconduct directly implicates larger issues of social justice and gender equity, which he cares about both personally and professionally.

The letter listed two specific ways the campus should review its policies, including ways to shorten the amount of time it should take for an investigation to be looked at. Kesan’s investigation started in 2015 and ended in 2017.

The letter also stated the scope of sanctions available for dealing with sexual misconduct should be expanded.

As the dean of Law, Amar said the issue is important to him because he cares about his faculty and students.

“I want them never to feel unsafe or unfairly treated,” Amar said. “The Law School exists so that students can learn and faculty can teach and do research in a nurturing environment.”

Feng Sheng Hu, dean of LAS, said in an email the issue is important to him because LAS is the largest college on the campus, with more than 14,000 students.

“We must provide a safe environment to enable our students to pursue their education and for our faculty and staff to achieve their professional goals,” he said. “As dean of LAS, I’m eager to partner with folks across campus to identify and implement improvements to policies and procedures. We need quicker investigations, more stringent policies, and more options for dealing with sexual misconduct.”

Sexaul misconduct of any kind is unacceptable, Hu said.

“Professors are in a position of trust and authority and are role models for students. We expect them to behave appropriately and take seriously the trust that our students and their families have placed in them in their roles as educators and mentors. When professors are involved in sexual misconduct, definitive disciplinary actions should be taken,” Hu said.

He said the definition of sexual harassment currently includes behavior that is severe or pervasive enough, which could be difficult to prove since it is vague.

“We need to have more tools for administrators to address sexual misconduct of various degrees of severity or pervasiveness,” Hu said.  

In order for that to happen, the scope of sanctions would need to be expanded as well as the range of circumstances in which sanctions can be issued, he said.

“I know that Chancellor Jones and Provost Cangellaris are firmly committed to ensuring that our students, faculty and staff can learn and work in a safe, harassment-free environment,” Hu said. “They are working hard with the Council of Deans, others in University administration, the Student Government, and the Academic Senate to improve policies and procedures for handling sexual misconduct.”

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