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Release: July 1, 2002

UI Revises Policies on Sexual Harassment, Consensual Relationships

photo: Charlotte Westerhaus

In an effort to strengthen, clarify and update its policies, the University of Iowa Office of Affirmative Action has announced major revisions to policies on sexual harassment and consensual relationships.

"The problem addressed by the policies hasn't gone away, at this institution or any other," says Charlotte Westerhaus, director of the UI Office of Affirmative Action. "Administrators must understand their responsibilities and duties regarding preventing and eradicating sexual harassment.

"Some of the larger concerns come at the outset, in the handling of the original problem. For example, what happens if an administrator is approached with a problem and they are unsure of what to do about it? To be successful, they must have a thorough understanding of their responsibilities under the new policies, a respect for confidentiality, and the objectivity to screen out any unperceived bias," she says.

The UI revisions, designed to help administrators, begin by dividing the existing policy into two distinct policies, one on sexual harassment and the other on consensual relationships.

In the case of consensual relationships, the new policy focuses on avoiding conflicts of interest inherent in such relationships. References to "amorous" relationships have been amended to read "romantic and/or sexual" relationships. Also clarified is the distinction between prohibited relationships -- where faculty and their students are involved -- and those that are discouraged. The policy revision also contains a list of examples of discouraged relationships, as well as a procedure for managing them.

Regarding sexual harassment, the new policy adopts the definition used in the Code of Iowa for its precise language. The revised definition includes conduct occurring in on-campus living environments, as well as during all UI-sponsored activities regardless of their location. Also, the policy includes a statement on the First Amendment in order to point out that protected speech doesn't violate the policy.

In addition, the revised policy on sexual harassment provides for complaints to be brought by third parties, or by the university itself, so that situations may be reported and addressed even when the alleged victim is reluctant or unwilling to bring a complaint, as long as the allegation is "specific and credible." Similarly, an alleged victim's consent is no longer required to initiate an investigation, thereby protecting the interests of the university, the alleged victim and others. Academic and administrative officers who become aware of sexual harassment are required to report it to the Office of Affirmative Action.

A new provision of the sexual harassment policy addresses concerns about the potential existence of records in the Office of Affirmative Action naming an individual who is unaware that such a record exists. Under this provision, the names of individuals involved in an informal complaint will be disclosed to the office if the person charged in the complaint has been informed of the complaint. The names will not be disclosed to the office if the person charged has not been informed. The policy also now lists a number of offices where a victim may request confidential consultation without triggering a report.

Also, the policy contains a new section on confidentiality describing what parties may expect of the university and what the university expects of the parties regarding confidentiality of a complaint, investigation and finding.

Summarizing the policy revision effort, Westerhaus says, "I'm very proud of it. It clarifies the University of Iowa's policies." The revised policies on sexual harassment and consensual relationships are available for viewing at the UI Office of Affirmative Action web site at: http://www.uiowa.edu/~oaa/policies.htm.