House

Dem plans bill to combat college sexual harassment

A House Democrat says she will introduce legislation to keep track of university professors who sexually harass students.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) took to the House floor on Tuesday to express shock over a previously sealed University of Arizona report about an astrophysics professor who serially harassed his female students, saying it reflected a pattern of sexism in science fields.

Speier compared the report, which was completed in 2005 and kept confidential, to the Catholic Church trying to hide child abuse allegations against priests.

{mosads}“This example shows why so few women continue careers in science and engineering. Some universities protect predatory professors with slaps on the wrist and secrecy, just like the Catholic Church sheltered child-molesting priests for many decades,” Speier said.

Speier said she plans to file a bill that would require universities to inform new professors’ employers of the final results of disciplinary proceedings. Earlier this week, Speier sent a letter to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights calling for clarification on universities informing each other of disciplinary proceeding results about transferring students, faculty and staff.

Universities are allowed, but not required, to share information about students found to have violated rules through the disciplinary process who transfer to other institutions.

“However, no similar guidance exists for faculty or staff,” Speier wrote, calling the existing policy “vastly insufficient.”

Allegations in the University of Arizona report concerning a tenured professor include “stopping in his tracks” upon seeing a woman in a short skirt to “take in the scene,” as well as suggesting to a graduate student that she would “teach better” if she didn’t wear underwear. However, none of the witnesses interviewed for the internal report chose to formally file complaints, citing a fear of retribution.

The professor in question admitted to giving a female graduate student a cucumber-shaped vibrator at a party and described himself as a “flirtatious” person. 

In concluding her floor speech, Speier invoked a “Star Wars” reference.

“Students enter astronomy to study the stars, not the professor’s sex life,” she said. “It’s time to stop pretending sexual harassment in science happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

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