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University of Colorado Reports Sexual Harassment of Female Faculty, Students

BOULDER, Colo. ― The University of Colorado removed the philosophy department chair and suspended all graduate student admissions after an independent investigation that found pervasive sexual harassment and bullying by employees in the department, university officials said Friday.

A report from the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women cited 15 complaints made to CU’s Office of Discrimination Harassment since 2007. The committee also found that female members of the department are leaving or trying to leave at disproportionate rates after reportedly feeling anxious, depressed and demoralized.

The investigation requested by the university found many instances of sexual harassment occurred while faculty and graduate students were socializing after hours, which often included heavy drinking. Some female students reported that they avoided working with faculty members because they directly witnessed or were subjected to harassment and inappropriate sexualized behavior.

“It is our strong conclusion that the department maintains an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior and divisive uncivil behavior,” the report’s authors wrote.

Aside from announcing the removal of department chair Graeme Forbes, CU officials said they could not discuss any disciplinary action taken against members of the department.

“I can assure you that anyone who has violated university rules has been held accountable under university policies,” CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said.

The committee’s report does not identify any offending parties or complainants by name, or how many members of the department are involved in the allegations.

CU-Boulder officials named Andrew Cowell, the current chair of CU’s linguistics department, as chair of the philosophy department at the university.

Forbes had been chair since the fall of 2010 and will remain a professor within the department, even though the report cited “a widespread perception that the current chair has not effectively responded to issues of sexual harassment and lack of civility.”

Forbes declined to comment on the report, the Boulder Daily Camera reported Friday. The recommendations include more training on discrimination and harassment policies, and intervention options.

The report also recommended a strict no-alcohol policy for all department events and called for the department to hold all events during normal business hours.

Hilliard said that even though all of CU’s policies and procedures around sexual harassment and discrimination follow the law, that doesn’t mean the university is free of any wrongdoing.

“You can actually have great mechanisms in place, and you can have good reporting structures and enough investigators,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’re problem-free, and, in this case, we have a cultural problem in the department.”

The fact that 15 complaints were filed with the Office of Discrimination and Harassment from the philosophy department proves that members of the campus understood how and when to report instances of discrimination and harassment, Hilliard said.

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