The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Thursday approved two new policies, one that prohibits certain workplace-related intimate relationships among faculty, staff and students, and one requiring that job-candidate finalists disclose past findings of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment.
The new policies follow a board vote in November to accept the recommendations of a system-wide task force created by President Tim Killeen to examine efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, sexual assault and other categories of sexual misconduct. The holistic recommendations and the policies that grew out of them are intended to promote healthy and supportive cultures at all three system universities, Killeen said.
“These new policies are aligned with our core mission to foster an environment in which bright minds can safely thrive in an atmosphere conducive to both life-changing education and world-changing research and innovation,” Killeen said. “I’m grateful to the task force members for their hard work in developing these safeguards and to our trustees for endorsing these new policies.”
Providing a safe environment for students and employees is among the board’s primary goals, Chairman Don Edwards said.
“These new policies will help ensure that our universities are places where our students can learn and prosper, and where faculty and staff can thrive, as well," Edwards said. “The board is thankful to the task force for its work in this critical area.”
Trustees were scheduled to meet Thursday in Springfield but instead met and voted virtually.
The new Policy on Workplace-Related Intimate Personal Relationships prohibits intimate personal relationships between employees where one has supervisory or evaluative authority over another; between faculty or staff and any undergraduate student; and between faculty or staff and graduate or professional students over whom they have direct or indirect supervisory or evaluative authority.
Under the new Policy on Consideration of Sexual Misconduct in Prior Employment, potential applicants will be notified that finalists are required to disclose any past findings of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment and required to authorize inquiries with current and former employers about those findings. The policy stipulates that the U of I System may withdraw a contingent employment offer based on documented findings of prior sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. Candidates will have the opportunity to provide an explanation regarding any findings prior to a final decision.
“Developing better institutional responses to sexual misconduct is one of the most important challenges of our time,” said Robin B. Kar, a professor of law and philosophy at Urbana and chair of the Committee on Faculty Sexual Misconduct. “These two policies play a role in a broader, multi-year process which I hope will place the University of Illinois at the vanguard of such developments.”
The new policies align with the U of I System’s Guiding Principles, one of which pledges: “We will respond expeditiously to discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct and bullying with policies that are legally appropriate, fair, and widely understood.”
Killeen created the 16-member task force in October 2018. It was chaired by Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara J. Wilson and consisted of faculty, staff and students from all three universities in the U of I System.
Task force members spent a year reviewing research on education and training related to sexual misconduct, examined current policies and practices at the universities and in system offices, worked with an outside law firm to evaluate those policies and practices and consulted with stakeholders across the system, including faculty and staff from the three universities.
“These new policies were crafted in a process that included input from the Senates of all three universities and from the University Senates Conference (USC),” said Sandy DeGroote, a professor and scholarly communications librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago and current chair of USC. “The feedback was extensive and will continue over the summer as implementation procedures are developed and finalized.”
In addition to authorizing the new policies, the board’s November vote accepted task force recommendations that included expanding education and training for employees and students, with a focus on prevention, awareness and building a culture free of misconduct. The board also endorsed the development of new follow-up programs to evaluate the system’s collective efforts, gauge their impact and chart new approaches.