A Statement from the Committee on Bias and Harassment
New York University School of Law is committed to maintaining a community free of bias in which all members feel safe and respected. The last few decades have seen enormous changes in the ways that we talk about race, gender, sexual orientation and disability, and the ways in which people relate to one another in relation to these sensitive issues. While we have made great changes, we have come to recognize that bias, prejudice, stereotype and insensitivity are insidious and often unconscious.
In 1988, and again in 1989, the Law School faculty grappled with these questions and adopted policies to promote a learning environment that welcomes all people and protects everyone from harassment.
Harassment is a serious offense that can lead to formal disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal. The 1989 faculty resolution on bias and harassment states that Law School may take disciplinary action against persons who commit:
Physically threatening or intimidating, or other-wise harassing behavior which is overtly and intentionally directed towards a person or group of persons on grounds of ethnicity, gender, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.
The 1989 faculty policy also provides formal disciplinary sanctions for sexual harassment, which is defined as:
conduct, including sexual assault, that constitutes (a) an attempt, physically or verbally, through threats to coerce a person into a sexual relationship, or that subjects a person to sexual acts, reasonable fear of sexual acts, or sexually charged communications when the actor knows that the acts or communications are unwanted, or (b) encouragement of a person to participate in a sexual relationship through the promise of rewards or threats of penalties which the actor is able to promise or threaten by virtue of an authority conferred by the Law School.
Disciplinary sanctions are enforced by the Executive Committee. This process is discussed in the Student Handbook. The Committee on Bias and Harassment has no power to impose sanctions, but is available to counsel and assist members of the Law School community who believe they are the victim of harassment.
Bias is often unintentional and may result from long-standing, unconscious habits of speech and thought. The Law School defines "bias" as "verbal or physical conduct which denigrates any person or group of persons on the grounds of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation, and is likely to interfere with the ability of students to participate equally in the pursuit of an education and to enjoy the full freedom of the academic environment." The Law School does not punish bias. The Committee on Bias and Harassment is eager to work with members of the law school community on programs that can help us to be more sensitive to issues of bias.
Consensual Sexual Relations
Recognizing the complexity and potential for abuse in sexual relations between people of different professional status, the 1988 faculty report advised that:
No person with professional responsibility for a law student by virtue of an authority conferred by the law school should enter into even a consensual relationship with the student during the time that the professional relationship is in existence. This prohibition applies to faculty in their relationships with students in their classes or who are their research assistant or who are doing independent study with them. It also applies to teaching assistants with regard to students in the classes they have been retained to tutor and to law journal editors with regard to students under their supervision or subject to their editorial discretion.
The faculty recognized that this standard is more restraining than legal standards of sexual harassment. Sometimes, happily, people in a professional relation in which one exercises responsibility over the other will develop a reciprocally romantic interest in one another. The Faculty found that "the remedy is simple." Put romance on hold until the professional relationship is ended. Other times people with a pre-existing personal relation seek to enter into a professional relation. That is not discouraged by the policy. "However, whenever a student and faculty member have a pre-existing personal relationship—whether parent/child, close friend, sexual or marital—both parties should exercise care and discretion to avoid favoritism or the appearance of favoritism."
The Committee on Bias and Harassment was established in 1988 as an informal mechanism providing information, education, counseling, and voluntary mediation services related to harassment and bias issues in the law school community. Committee members include faculty, administrators and students.
While formal charges may be brought before the Law School's Executive Committee and may result in disciplinary action, the Committee on Bias and Harassment does not serve a disciplinary function. The Bias Committee can provide information and assistance regarding formal disciplinary procedures and other options which may be invoked. A complainant may contact any of the members of the committee to discuss a problem. A complainant may discuss an incident with a committee member and go no further. Or s/he may ask the committee to consider contacting the person about whom s/he has complained to mediate a resolution. Participation in mediation is voluntary.
The committee also serves educational and informational functions. Part of its mission is to promote dialogue within the Law School community encouraging sensitivity to biased patterns of language and behavior. Committee members welcome information regarding structural, institutional, and individual concerns related to bias or harassment, as well as suggestions regarding the role the committee may play in facilitating a productive, respectful environment at the Law School.