President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct: Dean John Finnegan's presentation to Board of Regents, February 9, 2018
President Kaler's introduction to Dean Finnegan's presentation ...
From the studios of Hollywood to the corridors of the nation’s Capitol, we have a sexual misconduct crisis in our nation. According to a recent Minnesota Poll, 63 percent of all women in our state say they’ve been victims of sexual harassment. We live in a culture of sexual misconduct and it’s now at the center of a serious national conversation. We here at the University are not immune from this crisis, from this epidemic. Whether it be in the classroom, the residence hall, the department meeting or at the tailgate party, we at the University have our own sexual misconduct crisis.
It must be aggressively addressed and our culture must change. That’s why I — launched last year the President’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct.
Dean of our School of Public Health John Finnegan and CEHD Associate Professor Karen Miksch will offer details of all that we’ve put in place to combat this public health crisis, and what success will look like as we in this community of nearly 100,000 people on five campuses work on a long-term solution. Total elimination of sexual assault, harassment, relationship violence, and stalking can’t be expected.
But we can, we must and we will do better. It’s imperative, and that’s why we’re working hard on this Initiative and this culture change.
Before John and Karen report on our progress, I want to focus on the connections between the Initiative and our University’s overall mission. I want to focus on my hope — and, I believe, your hope — for this University and all of its campuses.
Let’s remember, we’re here because we want our students, our faculty and our staff to rise to an exceptional level of achievement in all that they do. We’re here to develop leaders who can set standards, provide examples and promote core values in the years and decades to come. We’re here to conduct research and inquiry that creates new knowledge and that finds cures, treatments and solutions to grand challenges. And if there is any grand challenge on our campuses and our nation today, it is sexual misconduct.
We’re here to create a culture of respect and safety, and one in which all members of our community are provided with opportunities to fulfill their dreams to make this a better state, nation and world.
That’s our mission, our vision, our goal. Sometimes we stumble and fail. We fail, especially, when there are victims of sexual misconduct, and the trauma of their assault or harassment derails their studies or their careers. We fail when we don’t work as hard as possible to provide continuous and required training to all of our students, faculty and staff. And we fail as leaders if we don’t face this challenge – nationally and locally – and take this opportunity to change the course of history for our University and our community.
That’s what we’re trying to do here with our Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct — shape the arc of history on our campuses — and that’s how seriously I take this. We must change the way we behave or we will continue to victimize students and colleagues – most of whom are women, and many of whom are members of our GLBTQ community. That’s got to stop.
In leading our Initiative, John and Karen have taken on this monumental task to lay the foundation for a long-term culture change here at the U. In my view, a public health approach offers one of the best frameworks to address this crisis. Dean Finnegan’s public health approach is to go upstream and diagnose the root causes of sexual misconduct and seek ways to prevent it. But there are hurdles as we do our work.
First, we are remarkably big and, so, fragmented with a diversity of personalities, places of origin, ages and norms that come to us. And, secondly, we have scholars, counselors and health care experts doing excellent work across our system on this issue that is, unfortunately, rarely coordinated. We need to bring all of this together to create pathways to the preventative measures we all seek, and to root out the causes of sexual misconduct and be rid of them. Of course, that’s far easier said than done, and that’s why the longer view is important and vigilance is necessary.
To briefly review, in late 2016, I convened an ad hoc working group that assessed our current efforts to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct - including harassment and assault. Last March, I pledged in my State of the University address to advance the group's recommendations. I asked Dean John Finnegan to oversee this work and report back to me by October 1, 2017.
After his fine work, last November, I charged Twin Cities campus leaders with key responsibilities based on the working group's recommendations as we launched the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct. These recommendations formed the core of this initiative. They were:
- Required training for all faculty and staff system-wide – piggybacking on the University and Student Senates’ "Resolution on Equal Opportunity and Title IX Training," which passed in May 2017 and called for faculty and staff training.
- Launching a new and comprehensive public health campaign
- Developing new student educational programming for each of the four years of the typical undergraduate experience but also for graduate, transfer, and professional students, and
- Evaluating our work to know what works best so that we keep doing it, and what doesn't work so that we stop doing it.
An important part of evaluating our work, so far, has been studying the recommendations included in “The Joint Report and Recommendations on Title IX and Athletic Discipline” - a report requested by the Special Oversight Committee to look into the processes surrounding the football boycott in December 2016. The administrative response to that report, as requested by a Board resolution, is included with your docket materials.
I also have asked our Chancellors in Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester to identify similar programs or recommendations that are appropriate to the needs of their campuses. They are each advancing similar Initiatives, and will be part of a system-wide conference here on the Twin Cities campus March 6. That’s when and where everyone working on this issue system-wide can meet and discuss best practices and innovations. So, our process is now in place.
Next month, in the first phase of this Initiative to go operational, we are requiring training for faculty and staff members across our system. As you know, members of our Board of Regents and the University’s senior leadership team are the first to take the online training. I took the training myself Monday afternoon, and the early results are in from the training. Four days after the roll out, we’re seeing a 40 percent completion rate for 709 employees and a 37 percent completion rate for 326 supervisors. We’re off to a good start and I’m grateful for the attention our supervisors and employees have given this important issue. Of course, the goal is 100 percent participation. I know the training is not perfect and some people think it’s insufficient, but it’s a very important first step that we all must take.
A second phase, now under development, will consist of department-level training, and it will provide opportunities for more in-depth discussion. Work around the public awareness campaign is underway and that campaign will be launched soon. Dean Finnegan and Associate Professor Miksch will explain more. But one aspect of what we are trying to do needs to be highlighted: Training, both online and peer-to-peer, will help us learn how to intervene and support victims when, as bystanders, we witness sexual misconduct. We all can and must be active participants in stopping sexual harassment and misconduct.
In the end, the goals of the Initiative are clear and, with hard work and a long-term commitment and vigilance, achievable. They are to create a University environment that’s healthy, respectful and safe for all, and an understanding that preventing sexual misconduct — assault, harassment, stalking and relationship violence — is everyone’s shared responsibility.
We know there is a problem in society. We also know there is a problem on our campuses. It’s got to stop, and we here at the U can be an example to the rest of Minnesota and the nation on how to create a welcoming and respectful culture. Let me be clear: perpetrators of assault, harassment and stalking may be few in number. But, to use Dean Finnegan's words, they and their behavior “toxify” our community.
They damage our community and they poison our culture. Most importantly, they hurt people.
So, as a community, we need to change and take action. That’s what the Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct is all about, and that’s why I can't emphasize enough how important this work is to me, to our entire senior leadership team, and to the health, safety, and wellbeing of our University of Minnesota community. With that, let me turn this over to John and Karen and thank them and their staffs for their excellent work.
Dean John Finnegan's presentation to the Board of Regents, February 9, 2018
Thank you President Kaler. Mr. Chairman, members of the Board…
As the President indicated Professopr. Miksch and I are here today to give you further details of progress to date in moving the President’s initiative forward. I will provide some overview and context, Professor Miksch will give you additional specifics, and we want to leave time for discussion and questions.
The President teed up this discussion very well. Our University is a learning community dedicated to supporting each other in the achievement of our dreams and aspirations. To paraphrase the American psychologist Carl Rogers, we are driven to express and activate ALL of our capacities as human beings. Everyone who works, plays and learns in our University community has a right to a climate and culture that drives and sustains the conditions that make this possible.
Violence of any kind in our community undermines this right. It belies our core values.
There is a spectrum of behavior we are concerned about here. Rape and sexual assault reflect the criminal side of the spectrum. The physical and psychic violence survivors experience is horrific. Also concerning is the bullying, berating, and less obvious forms of sexual harassment and misconduct that not only do psychic violence to the individual but also poison the culture and mental health of our community.
No, we are not alone in these challenges as President Kaler made clear. But as a special kind of learning community, we choose to change. The goal is to build a University community culture as free of sexual violence and related misconduct as humanly achievable. We recognize that this is a journey that requires long-term institutional and personal commitment of all members of the University community: faculty, staff, students, alums and friends.
When we say we are taking a “public health approach,” that includes some specific mind-sets and characteristics. For example, public health is what we do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. In that context, public health is also the continuous re-definition of the unacceptable. I believe that our University community has reached a point where the spectrum of behavior the President described as well as the conditions that give rise to it are no longer acceptable.
Let me be clear that many on this campus have been addressing these issues for a long time. But what is different today, perhaps, is an even deeper developing community commitment to take our prevention and health promotion activities to the next level. The voices of those who have been dealing with these challenges for so long are being heard at last. Engagement and empowerment across University communities is a powerful force.
The public health approach is also driven by evidence about root causes. It is about incorporating evidentiary “best practices” wherever possible into design thinking about strategies. It accounts for outcomes and seeks continuous quality improvement in strategic applications as knowledge and experience accumulate.
We use the terms upstream-downstream to characterize the public health approach. Upstream is understanding the root causes of sexual violence, harassment and other misconduct. We ask the question: what can we do as a community to reduce causes or change conditions before it occurs? That’s primary prevention.
Downstream of that, there is secondary prevention. In this case, we ask, what can we do to reduce the risk of this behavior and its impact? In the case of sexual violence, for example, we know that excessive alcohol consumption can amplify risk.
Finally, farther downstream we enter the realm of providing support and recovery services to those who have experienced sexual violence, harassment or other misconduct.
In the public health framework of a challenge such as this, success requires the proactive intervention of a fully engaged community that uses a broad set of strategies in a variety of settings to drive the outcomes we seek.
Engagement with this issue is certainly building in our University community and the community at large as the President reported. Both the Student and Faculty Senates passed important resolutions recommending required training for all. Faculty, staff, students, alums and leadership have stepped forward to collaborate in the initiative. Every week, more of our faculty with expertise in these arenas step forward to engage. We are grateful to all who have contributed so far. We also want to remind everyone that this effort is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint so there will be many opportunities to contribute now and in months and years to come.
I want to share a few thoughts on the nature of the overall strategy drawn from the research literature and in discussion with outside as well as University of Minnesota faculty experts.
First, a single intervention or disconnected interventions will not change conditions sufficiently to reduce violence and harassment against women and others. “Scattershot” doesn’t work. They key insight is to develop mutually reinforcing, synergistic intervention elements that integrate comprehensively to address the challenge at multiple levels. Yet we also must recognize that different groups in our community are at different levels of risk for different forms of sexual violence, harassment or other sexual misconduct based on social conditions that affect them.
A second insight has to do with specific conditions that we know shape behavior: the perception of reigning social norms, -- what we think are the acceptable unspoken rules governing behavior. In the case of sexual violence as in other areas, research shows that people underestimate healthy attitudes and behaviors within their social groups and overestimate unhealthy ones.
Why this is important is that misperceived norms are often used by perpetrators of sexual violence to self-justify their behavior. But it also affects non-perpetrating men who may choose NOT to intervene because of their misperception of what is “normal” or acceptable for their group. Misperceived norms lead to a conspiracy of silence that needs to be broken. This applies not only to perpetrators of sexual violence where the goal is dominance and oppression using sex as a physical weapon – it is also an issue in harassment, bullying, and denigration of others where the goal is dominance and oppression through psychic violence.
Addressing social norms (especially their misperception) is an important component of intervention.
And so are bystander intervention skills. Whether we are talking rape or other sexual assault, or harassment, bullying or other sexual misconduct, bystanders empowered to intervene assertively but appropriately is a major mark of important culture change and breaks that silence conspiracy.
So, to summarize: this initiative is about long-term, committed, sustained action. It requires us to think in terms of a spectrum of behavior that shapes our community and its culture. It requires us to examine how our University community and aspects of its culture have themselves built and sustained a culture of sexual violence and other misconduct.
It will require training and skills-building with a focus on social norms and bystander action. It requires us to think carefully about the conditions and risks that affect groups in our community differently. It requires us to consider policy and institutional accountability and responsibility to support the change we want and need.
Finally, as paradoxical as this may seem, a successful initiative will likely increase reporting of sexual misconduct – not necessarily because it is genuinely increasing, but because it has been so under-reported heretofore. There is evidence that is happening already in this community.
UPDATE: JANUARY 2018: Key links
Here is a Conceptual Framework Using A Social Ecological Model for the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct, and other key links to assist members of the University community as all faculty and staff on the Twin Cities campus begin required training as part of the Initiative.
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 2017: Key elements of the implementation of the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct
Today, at the University Senate, President Eric Kaler announced key elements of the implementation of his President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct.
School of Public Health Dean John Finnegan's report to President Kaler was released, along with the President's response. President Kaler also announced a 30-day comment period for the community to react to the report and response. He encouraged community input.
After the Senate met, President Kaler sent the following message to the Twin Cities campus community and to leaders across the entire system.
Minutes ago I met with the University Senate and engaged in a thoughtful and extensive conversation about sexual misconduct and the measures we are taking to combat this systemwide.
Sexual misconduct-assault, harassment, and stalking-is everyone's issue. It causes harm to everyone, but disproportionately affects females and also members of our GLBTQIA community.
It's a growing part of the national conversation because it's prevalent across industries and communities. History shows we must confront it every day here at the University of Minnesota.
Earlier this year I launched the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct. Because a public health approach offers one of the best frameworks to address this crisis, I asked John Finnegan, dean of our School of Public Health, to lead the initiative. Dean Finnegan delivered his report to me last month with key recommendations to build a community that confronts the reality of sexual misconduct and that drives the long-term change we need.
Today I'm announcing key elements of the implementation of the initiative. Among other things, it:
- Requires training for all faculty and staff system-wide
- Launches a new and comprehensive public health campaign
- Develops new student educational programming for each of the four years of the typical undergraduate experience but also for graduate, transfer, and professional students
- Will evaluate our work to know what works best so that we keep doing it, and what doesn't work so that we stop doing it
We are all, necessarily, concerned about sexual assault, but I am equally concerned about sexual harassment, which is the quieter but just as damaging behavior that is prevalent in the academy.
We know that perpetrators may be few in number, but, to use Dean Finnegan's words, they and their behavior toxify our community. They must and will be stopped.
As a community we need to change and take action. We also need to learn how to intervene and support victims when, as bystanders, we witness sexual misconduct. With required training for all senior leaders, faculty, staff, and students, we all will become active participants in this critically important initiative.
Executive Vice President and Provost Hanson and I have asked that Dean Finnegan's report undergo a 30-day comment period. We encourage you to read the report and comment. We want to hear from as many of you as possible.
I can't emphasize enough how important this is to me, to our entire senior leadership team, and to the health, safety, and wellbeing of our University of Minnesota community.
UPDATE: October 2017
School of Public Health Dean John Finnnegan, who is leading President Kaler's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct, delivered a report to the President on October 2. The 42-page report included recommendations from each of the Initiative's four working groups, and recommended required faculty and staff training, a public health awareness campaign, strong student engagement, and methods to measure progress. The President is currently reviewing the report and preparing a response. The report and response will be released and posted soon.
UPDATE: September 2017
In addition to his presentation, Dr. Berkowitz met with President Kaler and his senior leadership team, chancellors of our four other campuses, Twin Cities deans, student and faculty leaders, the coordinating committee of the President's Initiative, and student health advocates.
In a campus-wide email on May 16, 2017, President Kaler announced his President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct
Our determined efforts to combat sexual misconduct continue. We must take next steps to ensure safety, respect, and a culture that reflects our deeply held institutional values.
As you may remember, late last year I convened an ad hoc working group that assessed our current efforts to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct - including harassment and assault. In March, I pledged in my State of the University address to advance the group's recommendations.
Today, our attention to this challenging issue is no less important than it was when the working group first met.
Last week, I charged Twin Cities campus leaders with key responsibilities based on the working group's recommendations as we launch the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct. Those charge letters and a diagram of the initiative's leadership are here.
Finnegan charge letter
Kramer-Golden charge letter
Kallsen-Golden charge letter
Hanson-Burnett-Albert charge letter
Brown-Young charge letter
(Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown-Young has left the University. Interim Vice Provost and Dean Maggie Towle will now carry out the President's charge)
Initiative's Leadership Diagram
Five recommendations form the core of this initiative.
- To establish a President's Committee to Prevent Sexual Misconduct;
- To enhance student education and engagement, especially beyond students' first year when Twin Cities students receive significant education about this issue;
- To create a sustainable public health/public awareness campaign;
- To develop metrics for evaluating our sexual assault and misconduct prevention, education, and advocacy and awareness activities on campus; and
- To develop and require training around sexual misconduct issues for all faculty and staff.
Earlier this month, the University and Student Senates passed a "Resolution on Equal Opportunity and Title IX Training," which requires training for all employees. I sense the University community is increasingly unified in our desire for long-term culture change, and we are ready to do the hard work necessary to create that change.
I have asked School of Public Health Dean John Finnegan to oversee this work and report back to me by October 1. This work will be focused on the accountability, awareness and education that we, as a campus community, must continue to enhance together. But it also must recognize that sexual misconduct of all types is a difficult and critical public health issue that affects all institutions - higher ed and otherwise - across the country.
To that end, collaboration with all faculty, staff, and student groups is essential as we work together toward lasting change. I have asked Dean Finnegan and other leaders to engage in full consultation with all stakeholders. I also have asked our Chancellors in Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester to identify similar programs or recommendations that are appropriate to the needs of their campuses.
I firmly believe the work of the President's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct will put us on an important and necessary path to tackle this unacceptable epidemic.