With the release of an independent report on Friday that found an environment of sexual harassment, bullying and other inappropriate behaviors within the University of Colorado philosophy department, Boulder campus officials again emphasized the need for better training and education for faculty about the Office of Discrimination and Harassment.

Two of the eight findings in the external review of the philosophy department centered around distrust and misunderstanding of that office, the body that investigates all complaints of discrimination and harassment when the accused party is a university employee.

Authors of the review, which was conducted by the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women, wrote that department members expressed concerns over a lack of transparency regarding disciplinary processes, procedures and outcomes, as well as a lack of trust in university judicial institutions.

Faculty members also spoke of fear and confusion about the Office of Discrimination and Harassment during the controversy surrounding tenured sociology professor Patti Adler, who alleged that one of her classes was investigated by that office though no formal complaint had been filed. Because of that investigation, Adler said she was pushed toward early retirement.

Faculty concern during the Adler case led the Boulder Faculty Assembly to create this month an ad hoc committee to review established Office of Discrimination and Harassment procedure and create materials to help faculty better understand that office.

Paul Chinowsky, chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, said the philosophy department review highlighted the need to clarify the role of the Office of Discrimination and Harassment among all university employees, especially among faculty members.

"This just emphasizes the real need that we have as a campus community that we do educate everyone," he said. "Everyone needs to really have a strong, clear understanding of what (the Office of Discrimination and Harassment) does and does not do, how the processes work.

"People have to understand how to report and what that means and why it is important to feel comfortable making a report to (the office). This to me just reaffirms this need and why it's so important for putting this effort forward."

Concerns about 'a slap on the wrist'

Within the report on the philosophy department, the investigators wrote about a "high level of distrust of ODH" and a lack of transparency from that office that contributes to an "extremely harmful rumor mill."

The report said that many faculty within the department did not think adequate sanctions were given in response to bad behavior, and that the perpetrators in the most well-known cases of inappropriate behavior were given "a slap on the wrist."

"Most of the groups we interviewed reported that they think that some faculty members ought to be fired," the report said. "These attitudes contribute to the lack of trust and problems with leadership."

The report recommended that members of the Office of Discrimination and Harassment speak to the entire department about its practices to clear up any confusion. Katherine Erwin, Office of Discrimination and Harassment director, said she agrees there's a need for more understanding on the campus about her office, the laws and rules it must follow and its purposes.

Erwin described her office as a neutral, fact-finding, investigatory office that does not offer recommendations for sanctions or implement disciplinary measures.

She added that her office only acts once a complaint is filed. If a complaint is considered "on its face" to violate the school's policies, then the office begins a formal investigation.

Once an investigation is finished, only the complainant, respondent and decision-making authority — often the department chair or dean — are given a copy of the office's findings.

After the decision-making authority receives the findings, it's up to that person to decide on possible sanctions, Erwin said. Only the authorities — which can include the chair, dean, provost and chancellor — and the accused party are made aware of any sanctions.

Process protected by confidentiality

Sanctions or disciplinary actions are personnel matters and thus kept confidential, Erwin said. While that can be frustrating to outsiders, Erwin said confidentiality is required by law and protects the complainant, witnesses and accused party throughout the process.

"While I understand why that makes sense from the perspective of the one who is having the action taken against them, it does I think contribute to maybe a perception sometimes that nothing is done or that the process is not as transparent as some would like it to be," she said. "It's a difficult balancing act I would say."

If even some information is made public, members of the department might be able to guess or determine who the complainants or witnesses are, which could mean negative experiences for those people, she said.

"The information that gets out there and is shared, the more potential there is for retaliation," she said. "And that can serve as a deterrent in the future to people wanting to come forward (and file a complaint.)

Erwin said there are typically between 10 and 15 formal investigations through her office per year. The majority, 85 to 90 percent, of complaints are resolved through an informal process, she said, in which the office speaks to both the complainant and respondent, but does not launch a formal investigation.

The purpose of the informal resolution process is to ensure the accused party is aware of the concerns raised and that any inappropriate behavior or miscommunication between the two parties can be addressed, Erwin said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at kutas@dailycamera.com.