Two-year anniversary of harassment cases brings on investigation (w/documents)

Sexual harassment is on the minds and lips of the University community once again.

Two years after The Red & Black revealed several ongoing cases of professors sexually harassing students on campus, a University Council committee is calling for an independent evaluation of how allegations are now being addressed.

The Student Affairs Committee proposed the creation of a new panel — composed of one faculty, one staff, one undergraduate student, one graduate student and two outside professionals who have dealt with such cases — to evaluate how allegations were handled by the ombudspersons and Equal Opportunity Office since October 2008.

“Remember the campus was rocked by a series of sexual harassment allegations two years ago,” Susan Thomas, Student Affairs Committee chair, said to the executive committee when presenting the proposal on March 4. “We want this committee to look at the new procedures, do an independent evaluation and make sure concerns are being addressed.”

The proposal passed the executive committee on March 4 and the University Council on March 18. Questions still remain, however, about how the committee will operate, how it will collect data and how the two outside members will be contacted to be a part of the group.

NDAH cases since 2008

After several cases of sexual harassment came to light during the 2008 spring semester, University president Michael Adams announced the creation of an ombudspersons office and a change in how harassment cases are addressed at the University.

Since October 2008, eight University employees were found in violation of the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy, according to documents obtained by The Red & Black. All employees were addressed with similar form letters and asked to acknowledge receipt of the letter by signing and returning a copy to the EOO.

Harassment documents

In one case, professor Marco Pacioni of the UGA Cortona Program was accused of sexual harassment by a student.

“Your conduct involving the Complainant when viewed in its entirety was very inappropriate and reflected extremely poor judgment. Behavior of this kind is antithetical to the collegial and professional learning environment that UGA expects for all members of the UGA community,” wrote Steve Shi, director of the EOO. “Furthermore, it is the clear policy and expectation that incidents like this of sexual harassment, especially where, as here, it involves a member of the faculty and a student, are considered very serious violations of the NDAH Policy, warranting commensurate sanctions or other corrective measures.”

Pacioni was suspended for three days without pay, had to obtain sexual harassment training within three months, refrain from further contact with the student and refrain from similar harassment contact with any other member of the University community.

In a second case, Philipus Pangloli, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, was found in violation after making sexual and racial comments toward one of his student laboratory assistants. His sanctions were similar to Pacioni’s but included a five-day suspension without pay.

In another case, WNEG-TV employee Jeff Massey was found in violation for harassing a co-worker. Massey also received a five-day suspension without pay.

In yet another case, Food Services worker James Nichols was suspended for five days without pay after harassing two female co-workers.

“The type of conduct that was determined to have violated the NDAH Policy in these two cases will not be tolerated. Such conduct includes actions that you apparently regard as flirtatious or otherwise acceptable such as communications (both verbal and non-verbal) that have ‘double meanings’ or otherwise can be interpreted as sexual, whether directly or indirectly,” Shi wrote with underlined font as an additional paragraph not seen in any of the other form letters.

“You are hereby directed to limit your communications while working at UGA, especially when involving female employees or other members of the UGA community, to those required for your duties.”

In the fifth case, six building service workers were entangled in one situation involving “discriminating comments relating to race,” and Shi recommended that some of them should be fired after falsely accusing fellow employees of harassment and using the NDAH policy as retaliation.

One worker was accused of expressing “her dislike for African-Americans to several of her co-workers on several occasions,” and Shi imposed a “sanction of a formal caution that Respondent should exercise care and good judgment in all future interactions with her co-workers.” He indicated that further “disruptive behavior” could involve more disciplinary action and even termination of employment.

Shi later found she encouraged other employees to falsely accuse a co-worker of violating the NDAH policy. For one employee, Shi wrote, “Due primarily to her wrongful and premeditated actions and those of her co-conspirators, a substantial injustice occurred that seriously impacted [the co-worker] and also wasted a significant amount of UGA resources.”

He recommended termination of employment, but suspended her firing for one year if she fulfilled certain guidelines, which included a suspension without pay for five days, an apology to the co-worker and an effort to improve “her ability to speak and write English” within the next year.

Shi recommended another worker “should be terminated from her employment at UGA as soon as possible.”

Steven Marcotte, custodial services superintendent for residence halls, declined to comment about whether the employees were fired or how he followed the EOO recommendations to punish the six employees.

“I follow the mandates of the University as an employee,” he said. “It sounds simplistic, but I’m mandated to pass the recommendations along. But I don’t prefer to talk about personnel issues or the details.”

Ombudspersons keep no records

The new evaluation committee will first look at the ombudspersons office and how it handles complaints. The office was created with three ombudspersons — one for staff, one for faculty and one for students — who act as a neutral party between the University and complainants and direct them where to go to formally resolve concerns.

Shay Little, ombudsperson for students and a director of administrative operations for Housing, said most students call or e-mail her, but a few come to her office with concerns.

“First off, I explain who I am, what I do and what my role is,” she said. “I don’t want any confused expectations. I listen long enough to get them to the next step. It’s not my role to take formal University action, and I don’t want them to feel like they have to share their whole story with me and then tell someone else, too.”

If Little recognizes issues may involve the NDAH policy, she immediately refers the student to EOO, which investigates the allegation and finds a resolution.

“I facilitate the process to get them to the next step. I try to follow up and touch base and make sure they got where they need to go,” she said. “Sometimes I hear back.”

Once Little addresses the case at hand, she destroys her notes and doesn’t keep any in her office.

Anne Dupre, ombudsperson for faculty, and Kathryn Chetney, ombudsperson for staff, both declined to comment about their job responsibilities for this article.

Only two documents have been sent from the ombudspersons office to EOO — one in which a student complained about a professor’s teaching style and another in which a staff member complained about how a job was posted by Human Resources.

“I don’t have any legal protection, and I want to keep what they tell me confident,” Little said. “There aren’t any records detailing any situation so I can protect that confidentiality. But if I know of an NDAH violation, I have to report it.”

When Little first started the ombudsperson process, she thought the largest number of complaints would be related to the NDAH policy but has addressed few cases.

“I’ve experienced a broad range of questions,” she said. “Many students are unhappy with the bureaucratic processes — advising, the judicial process, the academic honesty policy.”

The ombudspersons produced a report in September that tallied what types of cases they had seen during the past year but didn’t give any details.

According to the ombudspersons report, 13 students made complaints, including five concerning academic issues and three involving the conduct of faculty or staff.

The report stated there were 57 reports made by faculty and staff, with 34 as workplace/employment-related issues. Fifteen staff complaints cited faculty/staff conduct.

“The idea of the report is to present trends that would warrant University attention,” Shi said. “We don’t identify cases there because confidentiality is a big part of the ombudsperson program. We have to be able to assure people they can come forward, so the ombuds may not keep names and destroy paperwork after there’s a resolution.”

In October, the President’s Office will formally review the first two years of the ombudspersons program to determine any changes that should be made. Adams hasn’t indicated what he will look for during his evaluation, but Shi told the University Council on March 18 that plans are in place to review the entire NDAH policy, not just for sexual harassment.

“Most things that go to the ombudspersons don’t involve discrimination but more a frustration with the system generically,” Shi said. “There’s a bureaucracy, and this office tries to humanize and provide a person rather than a Web site to direct them to resources … especially for students who at first don’t know where to go.”

Shi said he would recommend for the ombudspersons office to be continued, but doesn’t know what changes may occur.

“It’s not my call, but at some point President Adams may decide to consolidate the office or do something different,” he said. “There are lots of different ways these programs are done, and I think that will be part of the ongoing process.”

Shi also would make “appropriate recommendations” to further publicize the office.

“For students, we refer to it in orientation, but publicity is budget-driven and very much an issue,” he said. “If not, we’d have billboards all over Athens. Also, students are so bombarded with information, it’s hard to know exactly how — Web or otherwise — to get the word out.”

Moving forward

Now that the University Council approved the proposal, the executive committee will appoint and create the sexual harassment review group this summer.

Thomas said she hopes the group will begin evaluation in fall and produce results by spring. Although many questions remain, members of the executive committee were eager to pitch in ideas.

“You can create a Web site and ask the UGA community how the ombuds are helping them,” said Irwin Bernstein, a psychology professor and executive committee member. “Give an open period for comment.”

Adrian Childs, executive committee chair who will likely help create the group, reminded everyone they should seek external advice as well.

“Make sure to get outside eyes,” he said. “Ombudsperson programs at some campuses are very independently powerful and helpful for advice.”

The executive committee plans to stick as close to the ideas of the Student Affairs Committee as possible, which originated from a few student complaints.

“[Thomas] received a couple of different complaints about the problems throughout the past few years,” said Troy Smith, Graduate Student Association representative for the committee. “We don’t necessarily believe there is a problem by any means, but want to make sure it’s working efficiently and effectively.”

The committee found it important to do a policy review from the University Council perspective.

“We didn’t decide a lot of details but wanted a group that wasn’t all internal staff and faculty. We like the idea of including professionals to make sure the assessment is objective and comprehensive,” Smith said. “After what happened two years ago, we want to make sure that it doesn’t have the ability to happen again.”

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