Paul L. Caron

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Eyes Wide Shut: Using Accreditation Regulation To Address The 'Pass-the-Harasser' Problem In Higher Education

Susan Saab Fortney (Texas A&M; Google Scholar) & Theresa Morris (Texas A&M; Google Scholar), Eyes Wide Shut: Using Accreditation Regulation to Address the 'Pass-the-Harasser' Problem in Higher Education, 109 Cal. L. Rev. Online ___ (2021):

The #MeToo Movement cast a spotlight on sexual harassment in various sectors, including higher education. Studies reveal alarming percentages of students reporting that they have been sexually harassed by faculty and administrators. Despite annually devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to addressing sexual harassment and misconduct, nationwide university officials largely take an ostrich approach when hiring faculty and administrators with little or no scrutiny related to their past misconduct. Critics use the term “pass the harasser” or more pejoratively, “pass the trash” to capture the role that institutions play in allowing individuals to change institutions without the new employer learning about the employee’s prior sexual misconduct. This essay examines how and why the pass-the-harasser phenomenon arises and persists in postsecondary institutions, as well as recent changes two university systems and one state have made to deal with the problem. Although these efforts are commendable, experts recognize that the “pass-the-harasser” problem requires concerted action by institutions across the country. 

To push universities and colleges to become part of the collective solution, the essay proposes that accrediting agencies, as regulators, adopt an accreditation standard requiring that schools implement policies and procedures related to screening faculty candidates to determine if they have been subject to misconduct findings. Such an accreditation standard helps institutions fulfill their mission of providing a safe and healthy environment where students, faculty, and staff can learn, work, and thrive.

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