Committee recommendations for the Office of Discrimination and Harassment
1. Clarify steps in the ODH investigative process.
2. Explain when and why ODH may visit a class.
3. Create a neutral body to oversee ODH, ensure consistency and improve transparency.
4. Improve training for department leadership.
5. Release a more detailed annual report about ODH cases and their outcomes.
6. Create a committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.
A group of faculty members and graduate students is calling on the University of Colorado to create a neutral oversight body for the campus office that investigates sexual harassment and discrimination claims involving employees.
University officials, however, quickly shot down that recommendation, saying an oversight committee would be "inconsistent" with guidance from the federal government.
A Boulder Faculty Assembly committee tasked with evaluating the Office of Discrimination and Harassment's policies and procedures presented its recommendations in a meeting on the Boulder campus Thursday.
But the committee's nine-page report was accompanied by a statement from Provost Russ Moore and Valerie Simons, a new Title IX coordinator hired this summer.
The joint statement made clear that Simons, not the faculty, will oversee ODH.
A faculty oversight committee would be "inconsistent with Valerie Simons' new role, and would infringe upon the privacy and confidentiality rights" of the parties, according to the statement. "However, Valerie and her office can and will provide the oversight sought by the ad hoc committee."
Paul Chinowsky, who chairs the faculty assembly and sat on the committee that made the recommendation, said "the door is open" still for discussions with the administration about oversight.
The committee, made up of two graduate students and nine faculty members from various academic departments, was convened by the faculty assembly in February after concerns surfaced about ODH during last fall's controversy involving now-retired tenured sociology professor Patti Adler.
Adler claims she was asked to retire over a lecture on prostitution.
In its report, the group called on ODH to clarify and label all the steps in an investigation and to increase transparency.
ODH, which is a neutral, fact-finding body, investigates complaints of discrimination and harassment involving university employees. The office is not involved in sanctioning.
"There are many positive aspects of ODH's work at the University of Colorado Boulder, but we are disturbed by the lack of clarity in ODH's procedures and processes and in the lack of transparency in its explanations for those processes and procedures," the committee wrote.
Though seemingly not an option, the committee's proposed neutral oversight body would have monitored ODH cases to ensure uniformity across departments and offices on campus.
"We find the lack of consistency in the way that cases across the university are handled to be troubling," the report's authors wrote.
The proposed oversight body would also review disciplinary recommendations, which are made by department chairs, deans and the chancellor, and provide a system of checks and balances for ODH.
Now, no office is equipped to handle grievances about ODH, the report's authors wrote.
"We feel strongly that ODH needs to be accountable to these grievances — to ensure the trust of the university community," according to the report.
Last fall, during Adler's "Deviance in U.S. Society Class," the professor said two ODH investigators sat in on a lecture, during which undergraduate teaching assistants portrayed various sex workers.
Many faculty members became concerned that they could be investigated for what goes on in their classrooms, which they said violates their academic freedom. Campus officials have said repeatedly that the subject matter of Adler's class was not in question, but rather its presentation.
In its report, the committee recommended that ODH explain when and why investigators would visit a classroom.
Also necessary is better training for departmental leaders, the committee wrote, and more transparency about the number and outcome of ODH cases.
"The effective implementation of these recommendations will prove critical to restoring a climate of trust and respect on ODH-related matters across campus," the report's authors wrote.
'Unreviewable, secret process'
In their joint statement, Moore and Simons wrote that they are committed to working with the faculty to build trust and understanding in ODH.
They wrote that in addition to the online training faculty members undergo on discrimination and harassment, ODH can facilitate in-person trainings.
"We recognize that personal contact is important and that this approach creates the opportunity for dialogue and questioning which would help to reinforce the fair and measured approach taken by the ODH in managing cases," according to the statement.
They also wrote that ODH can provide more transparency in its processes, and that ODH can provide additional annual statistical data, barring rules about confidentiality.
Chinowsky said during Thursday's meeting that much of the distrust of ODH results from a lack of understanding among faculty members about how the office works.
At least one faculty member disagreed.
Aya Gruber, a professor in the law school, said she feels knowledgeable about ODH policies and procedures, and yet the office is still intimidating.
"I have an intimate understanding of how ODH operates, and it makes me afraid," she said. "You can educate me until the day is long, but the fact of the matter is anybody can make a complaint about anybody to ODH, and it is an unreviewable, secret process."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.