As sexual assualt cases loom, higher ed leaders on the hook for campus culture
- Two female graduate students have filed a lawsuit against Ohio University and the current faculty senate president, alleging that when he was a department chair, he covered up allegations of sexual harassment against a professor in the department. A university investigation revealed the accused professor has harassed students since 2003.
- In Pennsylvania, jury selection has begun in the case of former Penn State University President Graham Spanier, who will go on trial to determine his lack of knowledge of chronic sexual assault committed by former football coach Jerry Sandusky.
- According to reporting by Inside Higher Education, the prosecutor for the Ohio University case has said the institution “has for many years maintained a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ attitude towards sexual misconduct,” a narrative that surfaces time and again with sexual assault cases, particularly around collegiate athletics programs.
Many in higher education expect to see scaled back regulation of the industry under the current administration, which could mean less stringent enforcement of policies like Title IX. Regardless of the direction guidance around such policies take, institutions should be mindful of the potential effects of scandals on recruitment, retention and alumni giving. At the University of Missouri, controversy over the handling of racial tensions on campus cost the flagship campus 8% enrollment — or more than 2,100 students — the following year. And estimates put the rolling total of damages to Penn State at "at least $237 million," and counting.
Higher education leaders must take direct responsibility for shaping the culture on campus. In an age of social media and heightened publicity for each individual incident, administrators can no longer take a position of ignorance on reports of sexual assault, racism, sexism or any other major problem on campus. Further, with an increasingly dwindling population of students from which to recruit, due both to the decline in international enrollment and a decline of graduating high school seniors entering the pool along with increasing competition from other institutions for enrollment, no college can afford to be seen as unwelcoming to any subset of students. An institution that is perceived to promote a climate which is hostile against women or minorities on campus will see hits to the bottom line, as these populations increasingly make up the majority on campus.
- Inside Higher Ed Charges of ignoring harassment, year after year
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Spanier trial could unlock final mysteries in Penn State case
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