Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud, who early in his career served as a Supreme Court law clerk, offers thoughts on the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Justice Ginsburg was among the most impactful lawyers and judges of our time….
Chancellor Syverud Addresses University Senate at Feb. 21 Meeting
At the University Senate’s Feb. 21 meeting, Chancellor Kent Syverud discussed the University community’s work to address sexual abuse and harassment and further steps to consider in actively combatting the issue.
Chancellor Syverud also noted an upcoming panel on shared university governance, a substantial gift to the University, growth in applications and important recent appointments.
Below are the Chancellor’s remarks as delivered at the University Senate meeting:
Shared University Governance Panel
Good afternoon, I’m going to be brief. I have updates on a few matters. And then I want to focus on our collective work addressing sexual harassment and abuse. Provost Wheatly is out of town today and will address several important issues at the next Senate meeting in March.
The first update is to emphasize that next Thursday, March 1, from 2:30-4 p.m. in Slocum 214, Senator Crystal Bartolovich will moderate a panel and discussion on shared university governance, featuring Chris Newfield, who is a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and me. Professor Newfield has recently written an important and quite sobering book on this subject, so I encourage you to attend. We will have ample time for discussion.
We announced recently that Syracuse University has received one of the largest gifts in its history from University Trustee Dan D’Aniello and his wife, Gayle. It’s a $20 million gift to support the construction of the National Veterans Resource Center, which is scheduled to open in 2020.
I’m also pleased to emphasize again that interest in attending Syracuse has been growing. The University received a record-setting 34,614 undergraduate applications—a 5.7 percent increase from last year. Undergraduate early decision applications also reached a record level. The applicants are increasingly impressive and diverse. Thirty-seven percent of the applications come from students of color.
In her absence, Provost Wheatly asked me to highlight a couple of developments. First, the University has now opened an office of University Ombuds, as of Monday. It’s headed by Professor Emeritus Samuel Clemence on an interim basis until a search committee identifies a permanent ombuds. That should get going this semester.
Sheila Johnson-Willis was appointed chief equal opportunity and Title IX officer. She served in that position in an interim basis for a long time. The University has also appointed an interim Americans with Disabilities coordinator, William Myhill, who has been the director of legal research and writing at the Burton Blatt Institute. He has accepted that appointment.
The Ad Hoc Committee on DACA and Undocumented Students continues its important work, which Provost Wheatly is going to report on at the next meeting.
Focus on Addressing Sexual Assault, Harassment and Relationship Violence
Those are my updates, so let me talk about the topic of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
So, there has been a lot of national attention this year, appropriately, to sexual assault, harassment and relationship violence, with a lot of reported incidences getting universal attention in almost every field, including entertainment and politics and medicine and academics. In December, I was working with the Agenda Committee and Senate to start a review and strengthening of current policies at this university regarding these issues. The University has made progress on these issues in recent years, including new support services, new training for our students, revamping websites, initialing large scale awareness campaigns and new staffing in the Title IX office. But I think we have a lot more work to do, including work that includes shared governance and broad consultation. As we each do our work on this, I think it’s time that I be more clear about where I believe some future changes could be made.
These potential changes grow out of my careful study of events outside of Syracuse and inside Syracuse in recent years, and what I have learned from that study. And I just want to say, what I have learned more than anything is that we need to pay closer attention to unequal power dynamics that can give rise to serious abuses.
So here are four things I think we should consider and discuss, and the first I think we should discuss at our last meeting this academic year.
So, the first, is that members of the Academic Freedom, Tenure and Professional Ethics Committee working with the Women’s Concerns Committee are considering the prohibition of intimate relationships—including consensual sexual or romantic relationships—between faculty and undergraduate students. Based on what I have heard and learned so far, I am strongly inclined to support this step. Further, I believe we should also seriously consider whether to prohibit the same behavior between faculty and graduate students, largely because of the unequal power dynamic that exists between faculty and students at all levels and programs. I urge us, through careful shared governance, to carefully evaluate these possible changes. I know AFTPE is working on this. I urge us to discuss this in our April Senate meeting.
Second, I ask that the Senate and the administration consider mandatory training for all faculty and staff in these areas—to raise awareness, to educate and to ensure that all members of our campus community are updated on issues and regulations regarding sexual harassment. Currently, training on the University’s sexual assault and harassment policies and procedures is optional for staff and faculty. I believe mandatory training for all faculty and staff can be an effective tool to ensure every member of the campus community understands the rules and their obligations under those rules.
Third, our university currently conducts background checks on new staff hires, but not on faculty hires. I hasten to add that a criminal record does not bar a staff hire at Syracuse. It does sometimes call attention to a risk and the need to appropriately manage it, including risks involving past sexual harassment or abuse. I think the Senate is the right place to consider whether and how new faculty should undergo background checks in order to best protect our campus community.
I just want to say that again. I think the Senate is where we should consider whether and how new faculty should undergo background checks in order to best protect our campus community.
And finally, I believe we must together find a way to speed up our processes for dealing with complaints of sexual assault and harassment against faculty. It can take multiple semesters, even years, to address complaints against faculty under the current process. Right now, under Section 4.11 of the Faculty Manual, the AFTPE Committee assists terrifically in the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault and harassment complaints against faculty. Given the faculty members’ teaching and research commitments, it has been extremely challenging to assure that complaints can be addressed as quickly as the law requires under Title IX or under New York’s “Enough is Enough” legislation. I ask that the Senate work with the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services and the Office of University Counsel to determine whether there are better, more efficient processes, or changes, that we could make to deal with complaints against faculty in a more expeditious fashion.
This is a lot to address. I think the committee chair who is going to speak after me, will immediately say, “Wait a minute, we didn’t say we would get all that done by April!”
There are many complicated aspects and landmines with respect to each of the four things I have said. And I really recognize and appreciate the work and that we are asking a lot of the AFTPE and the Women’s Concerns Committee for the April meeting. I do think though that the Senate needs to devote much of its last meeting to discussing these issues and particularly any reports and findings that the AFTPE is ready to make at the April meeting. We may not get through everything, but I believe collective discussion and guidance from this body as a whole would be helpful at this point on these issues.
I do think that everyone I’ve talked to wants a climate at Syracuse University that is free of abuse of power dynamics and that is free of sexual harassment, abuse or violence. And I do think this is a key moment where we can work collectively together on this—acknowledging that we won’t all agree on every aspect of it. But that seems to be the kind of thing we are here for, and so we should try to start on it in April.
So, that’s my report, and I can take questions on that or any other subject.