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Sexual Harassment Report Rocks University Of Colorado Boulder Philosophy Department

Feb 04, 2014 | Updated Feb 05, 2014

The University of Colorado Boulder released a damning report Friday revealing rampant sexual harassment and bullying in the university's department of philosophy. The scandal has already led to the removal of the department chairman and a suspension within the department of all graduate student admissions until 2015.

The review, conducted at the request of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women, was designed to take a close look at the "climate for women in the department." Based on the allegations outlined in the report, the climate did not appear to be healthy.

Although the report notes that faculty and graduate students were "pleased with the academic quality" of the philosophy department, the investigation found an environment “with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior" which has resulted in female faculty "avoiding the workplace and opportunities to socialize with colleagues and in their leaving or 'trying to leave' in disproportionate numbers."

One of multiple findings detailed a general "lack of boundaries/professionalism" that existed between some faculty and graduate students in the department explaining that "many of the incidents of alleged sexual harassment and and assault" occurred after hours in bars and involved "excessive drinking" when students and faculty would socialize. There was also an "inappropriate expectation" that graduate students and faculty must socialize together in the evenings.

Another finding from the investigation -- the alleged bullying in the department -- could not be described in the report because the committee believed that any detail about the bullying instances would reveal who the perpetrators were, but did state that those who were allegedly engaged in bullying behavior "are largely unaware that they are perceived as bullies."

The report described a philosophy department so unprofessional that it was harmful not only to women, but "every stakeholder group" -- and one that was also teaching "graduate students inappropriate methods for handling harmful or unprofessional behavior among students."

Department chairman Graeme Forbes was removed from his position; however further disciplinary action, if any, against other faculty members was not revealed by CU officials, The Boulder Daily Camera first reported.

Forbes had been chairman since 2010 and will remain a professor in the department.

On Friday, CU officials informed faculty and graduate students in the philosophy department that Professor Andrew Cowell, chair of CU's department of linguistics, was replacing Forbes as the philosophy department chair.

"The findings in the report are deeply disturbing to the faculty in the department, and there is a clear recognition that problems exist," Cowell said in an email to The Huffington Post. "A large majority of the faculty are highly professional individuals very devoted to quality teaching, research and service. As External Chair, I have already talked one-on-one to many of the faculty in detail, and I am convinced that they are fully committed to addressing the issues raised in the report in order to create a more positive environment for all students and members of the department."

Beyond the removal of Forbes and suspension of graduate admissions, the report made many recommendations for changes in culture and practice and added that the “recovery processes be both rigorous and guided." The committee outlined several next steps that must be taken, including a review of all procedures related to the management of graduate students to ensure the department is safe and "family friendly" for all, as well as the enacting of new processes to "transform [the department] to one of openness, mutual support and collegiality."

"I want to make it clear that we cannot allow patterns of misconduct and breaches of integrity to go unchecked," CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano said in a statement following the report's findings. "We have made these changes based upon the recommendations of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women Site Visit Program, as well as on evidence gathered from faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students in the department. That evidence points directly to the need to create a stronger, more inclusive environment in the department for women as scholars and students, that prevents acts of sexual harassment and discrimination, and that allows faculty to work together in a collegial environment of mutual respect."

UPDATE: This story has been updated with a comment from Andrew Cowell and Philip DiStefano.

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