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Free speech vs, sexual harassment on campuses

Sexual harassment is prohibited in the workplace under the Minnesota Human Rights Act as well as the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws describe sexual harassment as falling under an umbrella of behaviors, including requests for sexual favors, undesired sexual advances and sexually-based speech. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are required to immediately address the issue to maintain a safe, non-hostile work environment for all workers.

When sexual harassment is found on a U.S. college campus, it is the university’s responsibility to ensure that the harassment is properly handled. According to a recently completed study by the American Association of University Professors, many institutions of higher education are doing a very thorough job of addressing sexual harassment, and as a result, are impeding the free speech rights of professors and their ability to properly do their jobs.

In its report, the AAUP reiterated the importance of academic freedom and called for there to be a clearer distinction between how the speech and behavioral elements of sexual harassment are handled. Researchers claim that speech that discusses difficult, emotional or controversial topics should not be grouped in with sexual harassment that leads to a hostile environment for students.

The report was issued in response to tightening regulations the government has made on sexual speech in its efforts to reduce sexual harassment. Researchers found that under the increased rules, some professors are being investigated and pushed into early retirement for speech that they think should have been considered protected. Researchers acknowledge the need for continuing, swift responses to claims for sexual harassment but maintain that speech must remain unimpeded on campuses.

No type of sexual harassment should ever be tolerated. Victims may find it helpful to speak with an attorney about what they have endured and any legal options they may have.

Source: The New York Times, “Professors’ Group Says Efforts to Halt Sexual Harassment Have Stifled Speech,” Anemona Hartocollis, Mar. 24, 2016.

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