The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 6, 1984 - Page 5
Harassment reports increase
By DAVID VANKER
S In October 1982, the University's
tenure committee began a series of
hearings to determine whether or not
a tenured psychology professor who
had been at the University since 1954 was
guilty of sexually harassing his female
In October 1983, the professor resigned
just a few weeks before University
,prsident Shapiro was to recommend
S~the regents that he be fired.
TH4E DETAILS of what happened
d ing that year - the hours of
testimony the professor's former
tdents gave before the tenure com-
'Pittee, the anguish of young women
,mho revealed secrets they had con-
46red too disquieting to tell - are
osely guarded in most official cir-
lthough Virginia Nordby, the
U'niversity's affirmative action direc-
ftor said she is concerned about this
case, she added that sexual harassment
is not a problem here.
"My feeling is that we do not have a
major faculty-student sexual
harassment problem on campus," she
said. "I think the number of (student-
reported incidents of sexual
harassment) is not ever going to get
THAT PREDICTION, if correct, will
signal the end of a steady increase in
the number of complaints of. sexual.
harassment made since President,
Shapiro issued an official policy:
statement in Sept. 1980, outlawing
The statement designated the affir-
mative action office as a counseling and.
advice for people who suspect
they are victims of sexual harassment.
* In the last four months of 1980, the
office received five complaints;
e In 1981 nine complaints of sexual
harassment were reported;
" In 1982 15 complaints were made;
" And in 1983, a total of 30 sexual
harassment complaints were reported
to the office.
Figures for 1984 are not available;
THOUGH FOR most people, the
notion of sexual harassment on a
college campus brings to mind images
of an older, male professor pressuring a
naive female student for sexual favors.
the affirmative action office's figures
indicate that the problem exists in
many forms at the University:
According to Nordby, the problem is
not limited to the faculty-student
"When you get down to it, there are a
lot of people, young and old, who don't
deal with interpersonal problems," she
said. "We actually get a lot of com-
plaints from students ... some students
are not dealing with their peers well."
STUDENTS BROUGHT 35 complain-
ts between 1980 and 1983 - over half the
total number recieved by the affir-
mative action office in that period. But
another 21 complaints came from staff
members who said they had been
harassed, and the remaining three
came from faculty members.
The University's personnel offices
took disciplinary action on 14 complain-
ts from staff members, and the office of
the vice-president for Academic Affairs
handled at least three unspecified
The subject of the complaints also
varies from case to case. 25 of the 59
complaints received by the affirmative
action office concerned the behavior of
faculty members; students were
named in at least nine complaints, two
'U' program helps
students and faculty
or more of which were filed by faculty;
other classes centered on inappropriate
sexual behavior by staff members,
supervisors, and persons outside the
Harassing behavior can be as serious
as overt sexual assaults and rape or as
subtle as unsolicited contact or offen-
ACCORDING TO Ken Parsigian, a
former University student and friend of
one of the women who reported being
harassed by the psychology professor,
most people neglect reporting incidents
of harassment because they just aren't
sure if they're being harassed.
"If you're going to doubt anyone, you
doubt yourself," he said. "You say,
'Maybe this isn't happening.'"
Moreover, according to Nordby,
misgivings about the ramifications of a
complaint haunt many persons who
report incidents of sexual harassment.
"I THINK uncertainty as to whether
they should have done anything dif-
ferently plagues most people (who
make complaints)," she said. "There's
sort of an internalized guilt."
Parsigian said the seeming innocence
of the former psychology professor's
advances toward his female students
should serve as a warning to anyone
who is unsure about the sexual behavior
of a colleague, teacher, or companion.
"I hope people don't look at it and
say, 'We're talking about one weird
professor,"' Parsigian said. "I think it
happens a lot, and I think people should
"THE FACT that (the former
professor) never threatened her should
tell people that it's subtle," he
stressed. "It's not always a professor
saying, 'Sleep with me or I'll give you a
In an attempt to make it easier to
report incidents of sexual harassment,
the affirmative action office
inaugurated the "Tell Someone",
education campaign in 1982. Blue
posters and brochures emblazoned with
red lettering urge persons who suspect
they have been harassed to "tell
someone" about their experiences, and
counselors working within the program
are trained to evaluate complaints and
to suggest a course of action suitable to
University officials say they believe
the program fulfills its purpose.
"OFTEN THE problem has been that
people didn't know where to go, or
whether anyone would listen," said
Robert Holbrook, associate vice-
president for academic affairs. "I think
that -having an open door, open arms
policy is about the best thing you can
While Holbrook said faculty "have a
special obligation to avoid putting the
student in an ambiguous position," he
placed a limit on the University's
obligation to police the community for
violators of the official harassment
"In the end, the individual (who has
been harassed) has to act," he said.
"The University's responsibility ends
with making people aware . . ."
JEAN KING, legal advisor to several
of the woman whose harrassment com-
plaints ultimately forced the
psychology professor to resign, argues
that the University cannot render an
unbiased opinion in a case involving
students and faculty.I
. "The basic flaw is that the University
'is in a conflict of interest," King said.
"It has an obligation to protect its
students but it also has to protect its
Public Act 202, signed into effect in
July 1980, defines sexual harassment as
a form of discrimination based on sex.
It allows victims to register their com-
plaints with the Michigan Civil Rights
Commission and receive free legal
BUT KING said that today, four
years after the law was enacted, the
commission is still unequipped to deal
with the problem.
"The Michigan Civil Rights Com-
mission is understaffed and can't han-
dle all the cases it gets now," she said.
At the University, King adds, all of
the procedures are cumbersome.
"WE WERE LUCKY to find a set of
people (in the administration) who
were concerned about the problem,"
King said she and her clients "located"
witnesses (to the psychology
professor's misconduct) and flew them
in (to Ann Arbor).
"I got paid $25 for 1,000 hours work,"
King added. "Where are you going to
find that when you're having this
problem? Students don't come to school
with a bankroll of $10,000 to fend off
everyone who comes after them. That's
the University's job."
KING CITED inconsistency as a
major shortcoming of the University's
treatment of harassment policy
"There are 13 different procedures at
the University, all designed by non-
lawyers," she explained. "Every group
recreates due process.. . It's Alice in
Wonderland for a lawyer. You just have
to be patient."
Behind the criticism, King is guar-
"I think the situation is improving,"
she said, "but particularly at Michigan,
which is such an enormous university,
with a lot of unsophisticated people
coming from rural areas, there's just a
tremendous opportunity for (sexual
Nordby notes that sexual harassment
is not limited to universities.
"I think that individuals interact in-
tensely on college campus at an impor-
tant point in their lives," Nordby said,
"but there's also a problem in industry,
so I don't think it's just a campus
And while University officials are
unwilling at this point to call sexual
harassment on campus a crisis, they
admit that even one incident represents
a serious problem.
"I have no evidence that it's-getting
any worse or better," Holbrook
remarked. "However, any
(harassment) is too much."
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