The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.
We write in response to the Editorial Board’s Feb. 16, 2021, editorial, “To protect students in cases of faculty misconduct, campus culture must change.” In our capacities as Dean of the Faculty and University Sexual Misconduct/Title IX Coordinator, our offices oversee the Consensual Relationship with Students policy and the Title IX Sexual Harassment/University Sexual Misconduct policies, respectively. A number of leaders and offices on campus work on these important issues as our commitments extend across our community.
The editorial raises several concerns and proposes several ways that Princeton can “work to create a campus where students are safe from sexual and other misconduct by professors and feel empowered to seek support if misconduct occurs.” We wholeheartedly agree with these goals. In fact, over the last decade, the University has invested a great deal of effort and has paid significant attention to our procedures and policies in these areas.
Strengthening our campus culture depends on members of our community working together. We are grateful to the students, faculty, staff, and others who have been partners in these efforts. With their help, we have enhanced policies, processes, penalties, communications, training, and resources designed to increase our community’s confidence that the University will appropriately address any misconduct we learn about.
Below we describe just some of these efforts and improvements:
We take very seriously every report we receive, and all reports are carefully reviewed, regardless of when the alleged conduct occurred. We encourage anyone who has concerns related to sexual misconduct, consensual relations, or retaliation to consult with our offices. People often consult with us without initially providing the name(s) of the other people involved, so that they can learn about their options without triggering the University’s need to take action. Anyone who reaches out to or is referred to one of our offices receives a response and information about the resources and options available. Supportive measures are always available, even if the person who contacted us does not want to pursue further action. Each situation is unique. The University must balance an individual’s particular concerns with our need to protect the larger University community. As a result, in some cases, we proceed with an investigation even without the participation of the individual affected. Prior to taking action, however, we always attempt to consult with the affected individual to ensure that we understand their concerns and that they are comfortable with their level of participation in the process.
Even when a review establishes that the alleged conduct is not a policy violation, the University often can and does take action. Such action may include addressing the issue directly with the person about whom the concern was raised, issuing formal warnings, or providing training.
The University tries to deter misconduct through appropriate penalties — which may include dismissal, expulsion, suspension, and/or probation, among others — depending on the circumstances of the case. For people who continue as members of our community, the University imposes additional requirements intended to educate those who have engaged in harm so as to minimize the chances of future misconduct. For example, it requires those found responsible for violations of the consensual relationship policy and/or sexual misconduct policies to participate in the Community Integrity Program (CIP), an individualized psychoeducational curriculum administered by a clinical psychologist that assists people in better understanding harmful attitudes and behaviors.
We continue to educate our community about our policies for both sexual misconduct and consensual relationships, including how to access resources and how to understand their reporting options (such as anonymous reporting, available through the University’s EthicsPoint hotline). Faculty and staff are trained on their mandatory obligation to report their knowledge of sexual misconduct. Their training covers how to respond in a sensitive and supportive manner when someone discloses that they have been harmed. We provide this education via live trainings as part of our online sexual harassment training — which is required for all employees when they’re hired and every three years after, and for second-year graduate students — and via written materials, such as the posters in all campus restroom stalls.
Recognizing that interpersonal relationship boundary violations can, on their own, be harmful and can lead to misconduct that violates our policies, we also offer a workshop on maintaining healthy boundaries in faculty/student relationships. Over the past two years, the workshop has been offered to approximately 25 different groups — with 15 more currently scheduled for this spring — including faculty, staff, and graduate students. The workshop prepares faculty members and others in positions of power to intervene and stop concerning behavior before it escalates. (If your department or group is interested in scheduling a boundaries workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In 2014, the University established the Office of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration, which oversees issues related to sexual misconduct for faculty, students, and staff. The sexual misconduct website and sexual misconduct investigation website provide updates on recent initiatives, as well as information regarding policies, informal resolutions, retaliation, resources, prevention efforts, and data/reports.
With the support and approval of the faculty, the Consensual Relations with Students policy has been strengthened significantly. While the prohibition was initially limited to consensual relationships between faculty members and undergraduates under their supervision, it was expanded in the fall of 2015 to prohibit relationships between faculty members and undergraduates (regardless of supervision) and graduate students under their supervision. Ultimately, in the spring of 2019, the faculty approved a policy establishing a blanket prohibition against all sexual and romantic relationships between faculty members and undergraduate or graduate students.
In the fall of 2018, President Eisgruber and Dean Kulkarni established a presumptive minimum penalty of one-year of unpaid suspension for any faculty member found responsible for sexual harassment (i.e., unwelcome conduct that interferes with a student’s educational experience).
In response to community concern about Princeton’s sexual misconduct processes and support systems that were raised during protests in the spring of 2019, the University requested an external review and created an internal committee to evaluate and make recommendations for improvements. Their reports are available online. As a result, a number of changes and initiatives were implemented. We created the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Committee on Sexual Climate, Culture, and Conduct, which consists of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni; developed the sexual misconduct investigations website; established a Working Group on Restorative Practices; developed the Emergency Funding Resource webpage; issued the SHARE Office’s annual Community Reports; and created a new Global Safety and Security unit to provide additional support for travelers and to develop an online educational module for those studying or researching abroad.
In summer 2020, in response to new federal regulations, the University implemented two new policies: the Title IX Sexual Harassment policy and the University Sexual Misconduct policy. We developed these policies with community input, including members of the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy (faculty and administrators) and members of the CPUC Rights and Rules Committee (undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff). The full faculty and the full CPUC (undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni) approved these policies. Information regarding the new policies — including the new informal resolution process and the provision of funding for students, faculty, and staff to engage attorneys to serve as advisers — has been widely shared with the community via written materials and live trainings (30 so far this academic year).
We are in the process of considering how to clarify our policies related to how we share information about the outcomes of disciplinary procedures for faculty members found responsible for violating the Consensual Relations with Students policy or the Title IX Sexual Harassment/University Sexual Misconduct policies. This issue is complicated by privacy concerns that implicate both those with complaints and those who are accused, but we know that how we communicate outcomes is very important to our community.
While we have made significant progress over the last several years, we welcome your suggestions about how the University can continue to improve its policies and practices to foster a respectful environment that offers everyone on our campus an equal opportunity to thrive. We partner with the CPUC Committee on Sexual Climate, Culture, and Conduct to gather feedback and develop programming. We welcome comments and ideas, which can be shared at email@example.com.
Sanjeev Kulkarni, Dean of the Faculty
Michele Minter, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity
Editor’s Note: The original version of this piece stated that the University implemented two new policies in response to federal regulations in the summer of 2019, rather than summer of 2020. The piece has been updated accordingly.