Washington Update

"Passing the Harasser" Policies Shared at NASEM Public Summit

By: Nabila Riaz
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
On October 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) hosted their fifth annual public summit of the Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. One of the panel discussions centered around the crucial issue of policies aimed at preventing “passing the harasser,” which enables faculty members found responsible for sexual or gender harassment to transition from one institution to another without notifying the new employer or ongoing disciplinary action investigations. During the panel, experts delved into the challenges posed by confidentiality, including nondisclosure agreements and legal concerns, which hinder the sharing of information between the previous and prospective institutions, ultimately perpetuating the issue of harassers evading accountability.

The session also featured innovative practice papers from the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and the University of Wisconsin (UW) System, which highlighted the current considerations and strategies for implementing policies and practices to prevent harassment. These initial policies from the UW System and UC Davis provided two distinct models for addressing the lack of transparency identified by NASEM’s Sexual Harassment of Women report. The UW System policy mandates that UW institutions inquire about, share, and disclose findings of sexual misconduct concerning their employees, specifically full-time faculty and academic staff, as well as prospective hires. UC Davis has introduced a reference check policy that gathers and considers information on all forms of misconduct, not limited to sexual harassment, in faculty hiring decisions. Their policy acknowledges that individuals with multiple marginalized identities often experience sexual harassment in conjunction with other forms of harassment and discrimination.

The presenters underscored the significance of contextual research, empowering institutional stakeholders, and gaining support from leadership when implementing these policies. Given that these policies are relatively new and are still undergoing evaluation, there are several areas for future research to enhance their effectiveness. These avenues include identifying and evaluating appropriate metrics, exploring how these policies can extend beyond the hiring process, and assessing potential inequitable effects, such as whether these policies may disproportionately impact candidates of color.

The session also featured a presentation by Boston University about their work with the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM’s Ethical Transparency Tool (ETT), which provides access to findings of sexual, gender, and racial misconduct. Piloting this year, ETT will help promote transparency within the higher education ecosystem and support institutional autonomy. For more information about ETT, a briefing packet is available here.