This academic affairs case involves a college student who was enrolled in a British poetry class. The student received a grade of “F” on a paper she wrote for the class. The student made an appointment with her professor to discuss the paper she had written. When the student arrived to meet with the professor in his office, the professor closed the door, turned the radio on, and started using sexually explicit language to discuss his personal sexual history and his sexual fantasies. The professor gave the student sexually explicit poetry to read and asked her to read some of it aloud during the appointment. Towards the end of the meeting, the professor took out his grade book, but never reviewed the student’s paper or discussed her final examination. The professor asked the student if she would be happy with a final grade of “A” for the course. The professor stated that he felt that a grade of “A” was fair for the course. The student reported the incident to school authorities and later sued the University for sexual harassment.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Can a university be haled liable for sexual harassment if a professor makes sexually explicit comments to a student?
Expert Witness Response
When a college student reports a case of sexual harassment by a professor, the school must follow certain administrative procedures such as having the Dean convene an ad hoc committee to conduct a formal investigation of the charges. Often, the professor involved will be formally suspended from teaching. When the committee is done with its investigation, the school may consider bringing formal charges against the professor. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688), sexual harassment is prohibited in any educational program that receives federal funding. It is usually held that when a university professor has “supervisory authority” over a student and capitalizes on that authority to sexually harass a student, the college or university involved may be held liable for the sexual harassment. In this case, since the professor had authority to review and grade the student’s work, he was in a position to have a significant effect on her academic success at the school. Because the professor approached the student as her professor while acting on behalf of the college, the school was subject to strict liability for the sexual harassment in this case. Most universities are held liable for the conduct of a professor that constitutes sexual harassment because this liability encourages students to report sexually harassing behavior from professors.