Recent articles in the media have shed light on sexual harassment and abuse within academia, and Rutgers is no exception. Typically, abuse and harassment are the product of unequal power dynamics. As Rutgers faculty, we have an obligation to provide supportive spaces—both physical and emotional—for our undergraduate and graduate students as well as our junior colleagues.
Faculty telling off-color “jokes”, making comments about people’s bodies, invading students’ personal space, making sexual advances, disparaging women’s perspectives and their contributions to learning and knowledge—these are just a few examples of faculty behavior reported at Rutgers. Such behaviors are prohibited by University policy, violate academic freedom, and create an unsafe learning space.
The AAUP academic freedom statement of 1970 states:
“As teachers, professors encourage the free pursuit of learning in their students. They hold before them the best scholarly and ethical standards of their discipline. Professors demonstrate respect for students as individuals and adhere to their proper roles as intellectual guides and counselors. Professors make every reasonable effort to foster honest academic conduct and to ensure that their evaluations of students reflect each student’s true merit. They respect the confidential nature of the relationship between professor and student. They avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students. They acknowledge significant academic or scholarly assistance from them. They protect their academic freedom.”
As an institution devoted to teaching and learning, we must address the unconscionable treatment of our community members, both faculty and students, with seriousness and urgency. Too often, those at the lower end of the power spectrum recognize they will not receive justice if they come forward, and instead will likely be met with disheartening feelings of disbelief, and/or pay a professional and personal cost for speaking out. Abuse and harassment is a product of power dynamics and the union is prepared to fight for stronger rights and protections for all of our members and our community.
At the Bargaining Table
We are currently negotiating for race and gender equity that includes faculty and graduate student employees. Recruiting, compensating, and promoting women equally can allow us to build a culture where women are seen as equals and respect can flourish. We are also advocating for implicit bias and sexual harassment/abuse trainings and workshops. In addition, we are fighting for a more level playing field for grads, including particular provisions for our graduate student employee members that relieve the insecurity and disparities that accompany limited funding in terms of pay and benefits. RCM is a pernicious model that has the effect of weakening and dividing us. We can’t let that happen.
Additionally, the union has fought for over a decade to equalize doctoral tuition rates to the much lower in-state rate, saving millions each year for graduate programs and principal investigators. We are pleased that management has finally agreed. The purpose is not just fairness, but to also free up resources to be reinvested in graduate programs and research efforts. Along those lines, we continue to work to better resources available to PIs through the lowering of fringe rates and overhead costs imposed by the state and the university. We welcome your support in these efforts.
Within the Union
We are currently assessing our own biases within the union leadership and staff. Our Union has an elected Executive Council that consists of faculty and grads from all three campuses. We also have leaderships on each campus. We have been successful in involving more women and people of color on the elected leadership and will continue to work to address unconscious biases and to create safe spaces for our members. We will also continue the important role of protecting due process for those accused while providing support and representation for members who have been victimized.
Where You Come In
These efforts are not enough, however, if we don’t come together to collectively ensure a safe and secure working and learning environment for all the members of our academic community. We must hold each other accountable and foster zero tolerance for behaviors that threaten the well-being of any member of our community. We would like to form a committee that works on both short-term and long-term solutions to this problem. If you are a faculty member or a grad and you would like to participate on this committee please reply to this email.
Creating a culture of respect requires that each and every one of us remain alert to what is happening around us and that we speak up whenever and wherever we observe inappropriate and/or abusive behaviors. Rutgers’ Office of Violence Prevention and Victims Assistance Program (VPVA) offers Upstander Training, a 3-hour workshop designed to help people identify signs of harassment or abuse and determine safe strategies to intervene. This workshop is available through the My Rutgers portal.
An injury to one is an injury to all. We must act intentionally with a view to making Rutgers a safe and respectful environment