The number of students accusing faculty and staff of sexual harassment jumped more than 100 percent in the last two years, from 100 complaints in 2014 to 205 in 2016, at the University of California’s 10 campuses. The UC says this is a step in the right direction and is a result of the increased training for students and employees to recognize and report sexual harassment.
However, a state audit of the UC’s response to students’ sexual harassment complaints against faculty and staff found inconsistencies in discipline and time frames within and throughout the campuses. The report, released last week, focused on three schools — Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Davis — but included data on all UC campuses from 2007 through 2016.
UC Santa Barbara revealed a total of 84 complaints processed from 2007 to 2016. Of those, 19 were investigated, five were processed informally, and 60 (71 percent) were administratively closed. The campus offices closed the cases because “they did not suggest sexual harassment, there was a lack of information or complainant/witness cooperation, or the campus did not have jurisdiction,” clarified the report. Of the 10 campuses, Santa Barbara had the largest percentage of administratively closed cases. Next in line was UC Santa Cruz, with 34 percent of its cases closed for insufficient information. In the audit report, a UCSB campus coordinator attributed the school’s high percentage to the large number of complaints received from the campus police department. Those complaints provided limited information and did not allow the university to move forward, the coordinator reported.
Expanding UCSB’s definition of informal process “to include providing a list of support resources” would result in a reduction of cases being closed administratively and increase the percentage of informal processes, said Andrea Estrada, director of news and media relations at UCSB. “Most campuses consider providing complainants with a list of support resources part of their ‘informal process,’” said Estrada. “At UCSB, we attempt to provide this kind of information to all complainants and therefore do not consider it part of an informal process, but rather our standard practice.”
However, neither the informal or formal process may be enough to curb the increasing reports of sexual harassment. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a report titled Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The findings suggest that the legal system alone is not enough to prevent sexual harassment.
Dr. Nicholas Arnold, an engineering professor at Santa Barbara City College, sits on the committee that compiled the report. “We need to move beyond the legal component to the culture and climate of the organization,” he said about combating sexual harassment.
Stress, depression, and withdrawal from work can result from sexual harassment, said Arnold. “It’s a very powerful and negative effect,” and it tends to be more prevalent in male-dominated fields or when males dominate positions of higher power, such as in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields. “It’s worse in the medical field,” said Arnold. “And the only place worse than STEM is in the military.”
The report suggests placing women in positions of leadership that are traditionally held by men to help change the culture of an organization. Additional solutions and guidance are provided in the report, which will be presented to Congress as well as other colleges and universities. “It’s being well received,” said Arnold. “I think it will make a large impact.”