by Mohamad G. Alkadry, Ph.D:
Women and men in academia are entitled to a decent learning environment and a safe workplace where they can learn and work. Women and men are also entitled to equality in professional development and growth opportunities. The recent #MeToo movement has made many of us wonder when the movement will fully reach academia.
Sexual harassment and assault are mostly about power, and academia is generally not known for power-free departments and faculties. I was disappointed with the extent to which academia has been spared much of the #MeToo attention. I am also disappointed by the lack of substantial proactive action on the part of academic departments and units.
The bravery of the movement earns my unreserved respect and I am glad to see this issue forced to the forefront of public attention. There is no surprise that some women face these terrible atrocities in what is supposed to safe workplaces. Women who have exposed such practices are brave and assume risks to their careers as well as within their own lives.
The Anita Hill testimony during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did not end the accused nominee’s court prospects. However, the testimony left an unmistakable impact on organizations in terms of dealing with sexual harassment complaints. Organizations then scrambled to add sexual harassment to their human resources policy manuals. Things appear quite different with the organizational response to the #MeToo movement. Organizations tend to wait for an allegation, and respond by firing the offender and/or they financially settle with the victims. We have reduced ourselves to the role of spectators waiting for the next spectacle of sexual harassment or assault story to break out. That is a reactionary approach.
We, as a society, might be failing victims of sexual behavior and assault if we continue to rely exclusively on them to expose perpetrators of sexual offenders and harassers among us. In fact, in many cases, non-victims know who these people are and what they are doing. However, we don’t start paying attention until a victim comes forward. There may be a reasonable respect for victims’ privacy that discourages many of us from outing victims as we expose perpetrators. Nonetheless, allowing a known perpetrator to continue to survive in organizations is a bad outcome and there should be ways to reconcile protecting victims and exposing perpetrators.
How can academic units be proactive about sexual harassment questions? There are many ways for us to do. Climate assessments are just a small example. They may be used to take the pulse of an organization. We can ask if someone was ever subjected to sexual harassment or bullying or assault in a workplace; we should also ask people in these climate studies if they heard of or know about such instances. If a climate assessment raises a red flag, we can investigate further and move to expose these perpetrators. Waiting for victims to come forward is an indicator of a sick organizational culture. Exposing perpetrators before a victim comes forward is the true sign of organizational health.
It is good that the #MeToo movement is getting perpetrators of sexual harassment and sexual assault busted. However, a better measure of our decency as employers, as colleagues, and as a society is when we bust perpetrators before victims are ready to come out. Let us all look around and do our part to ensure that our organizations are safe workplaces. That is what an #UsToo movement would look like.
About the author:
Mohamad G. Alkadry, Ph.D
Professor and Head of the Public Policy Department
at the University of Connecticut
Mohamad G. Alkadry serves as a Professor and Head of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut. He previously held academic and administrative appointments, and was tenured at, Florida International University in Miami, FL, West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
He received his Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University (2000) and his Masters of Public Policy and Public Administration from Concordia University in Quebec (1996). His undergraduate work was done at Carleton University in Canada (2002, 2004) and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.
Dr. Alkadry has over 50 peer-reviewed articles, peer-reviewed book chapters, journal symposia. He is also co-editor and co-author of three books: Women and Public Service: Barriers, Challenges and Opportunities (2013, 2014),These Things Happen: Stories from the Public Sector (2002), andScaling Up Microenterprise Services(1998). His work appears in Review of Public Personnel Administration, International Journal of Organizational Theory and Behavior, Public Administration Review, Administration and Society, Public Integrity, Journal of Education Finance, Social Work in Health Care,Public Productivity and Management Review,Public Administration and Management,Administrative Theory and Praxis, among other journals.
Dr. Alkadry’s practitioner experience includes service as a senior research associate at the Center for Urban Redevelopment and Empowerment (Florida Atlantic University) and as a Value-for-Money (performance) Auditor with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (Ottawa). Dr. Alkadry has authored in excess of fifty community and professional studies in areas of governance and public management.