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Monday, December 11, 2023

UW System begins to finalize new hiring process to stop ‘passing the harasser’

As its December deadline nears, the UW System is putting the final touches on a new process that would make it more difficult for known harassers to get hired.

The plan will require faculty to disclose employees’ sexual misconduct histories to future employers during reference checks, share information across campuses and make sexual misconduct investigations part of their own hiring process, in an effort to end the phenomenon that some have called “passing the harasser.”

The Board of Regents called for changes to be made in the System’s hiring process in an effort to prevent uninformed hiring decisions — and in response to ones that had already been made.

Earlier this summer, news broke at UW-Eau Claire that a student was sexually harassed by an administrator who, it was later discovered, had resigned from the same job at UW-Stevens Point after being accused of similar misconduct.

Around the same time, reports surfaced that a former UW-Oshkosh professor who engaged a student in an abusive relationship had found a tenured professorship in Colorado. His record, the Oshkosh Northwestern reported, hadn’t followed him there.

“Ensuring the safety of our students and our employees at every institution is one of the most vital responsibilities of the Board of Regents,” said Regent Vice President Drew Petersen in an August statement. “As we develop and implement these policies, we must be clear that employee misconduct at one UW System institution will not be hidden if they seek to work somewhere else within UW System. We are proactively taking steps to prevent such occurrences.”

According to a schedule outlined by the policy planning committee in October, implementation plans will be finalized by Dec. 3, and the System hopes to begin enforcing the policy come January 2019.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank explained that questions regarding sexual misconduct history are generally not asked during interviews, but uncomfortable as they may seem, they are nevertheless critical to making good hiring decisions.

“It’s a difficult area and I think the right answer is you just want to ask everyone,” Blank said. “I now have to ask whenever I do a reference check under system policy. I think more and more, institutions are likely to adopt those sorts of policies to stay on the front end.”

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