Unfortunately, after years of ‘creating awareness’ and what not, it’s pretty clear that university administrators, when faced with sexual assault or sexual harassment, will respond to only one thing: money. It has to be more costly for them to ignore or hide sexual assault and harassment than it does to punish these behaviors. And a good way to hit universities in the pocketbook is through federal funding.
Which brings us to a letter (pdf) written by Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Democratic Congresswoman Rosie DeLauro, both of whom are ranking members of committees that oversee NIH funding–and if the Democrats take back the House or Senate, would be the leaders of those committees. In a letter to NIH Francis Collins sent Aug. 3, they argue that NIH should “take proactive steps to hold its grantees accountable for fostering inclusive environments.” They also note NSF is doing so. The request, by August 17, that NIH provide answers to a serious of questions, including (numbering original, boldface mine):
5. The total number of harassment settlements regarding NIH (including instances in facilities that receive NIH funding) made during in [sic?] FY2013, FY2014, FY2015, FY2016, and FY2017 and the individual and aggregate amounts of those settlements…
7. What is the process by which NIH ensures an applicant for NIH funding has an Assurance of Compliance on file with HHS OCR? Is this process completed for all applicants or only those awarded grants? [unclear if they are referring to institutions or individual PIs]
8. In what instances does NIH query HHS OCR to determine whether a grantee has an Assurance of Compliance on file? How often does this query occur?
9. How often has NIH queried HHS OCR to determine whether a Principle [sic] Investigator or Co-Investigator for an NIH award has been found to be in violation of the civil rights laws cited in the Assurance of Compliance?
10. How often has NIH queried HHS OCR to determine whether the applicant institution for an NIH award has been found to be out of compliance with the civil rights laws cited in the Assurance of Compliance?
11. How many instances has NIH determined a grantee to be out of compliance with policy NOT-OD-15-152? For each instance, please include a description of the violation, and the remedy undertaken by agency.
12. Does NIH have plans to implement recommendations included in the recent NASEM report regarding the sexual harassment of women in the academic sciences, including the recommendation to require institutions to report when individuals on grants have been found to have violated sexual harassment policies or been put on administrative leave related to sexual harassment, as NSF has proposed?
I’m not sure how NIH could gather data to respond to #5 in two weeks, but I’m guessing that’s kind of the point. Some of the other questions will be relatively easy to answer, such as #11, which could also be quite damning. #12, which requires institutions to report when grant personnel, including PIs, have violated sexual harassment policies is also a good policy.
Of course, all of this will require more reporting by institutions.
Unfortunately, by digging in their heels and not aggressively going after sexual harassers, those who want a better workplace have been forced to escalate. NIH is now caught in the crossfire (though there could have been more planning for this), thanks to university administrators.