Note: The following is a memo written by Professor Janet Halley to the Harvard community. ACS is posting this memo as a follow up to the recent Town Hall event ACS co-sponsored on Harvard’s new Sexual Harassment policy, at which Professor Halley shared many of these views. ACS neither endorses nor rejects the views in this memo, but is posting it in an effort to further the discussion on this important topic and to increase communication and transparency between Harvard Law School faculty and students on this issue.
By Janet Halley, Royall Professor, Harvard Law School
Today colleges and universities around the country enjoy a moment of special opportunity: a chance to change slipshod, dismissive and actively malign handling of sexual harassment claims, and to offer genuine remedies for victims. But it is also a moment of danger: because one such remedy involves discipline for wrongdoers, the rules must define misconduct to include the conduct we want to sanction and deter (and not socially valuable or unharmful behavior), and to process complaints in a way that is fair to all parties. The new University Policy and Procedures realize these dangers: they provide an overly broad definition of sexual harassment, far beyond anything that federal courts recognize; they trench directly on academic freedom and freedom of speech; they threaten stigmatized minorities with unjustifiable findings of responsibility; they will rush low-income students who cannot afford counsel to unfair judgment; and they are defective on every known scale of equal procedural treatment of the parties and due process.
This memo is written in the spirit of improving Harvard‘s approach to sexual harassment discipline. It is premised on my firm belief that we can provide a full and robust response to complaints while also guarding vigilantly against ratifying frivolous claims, damaging academic freedom, harming stigmatized minorities, depriving accused students of the support they need, and violating the due process and equality rights of the parties to these disputes.