Staff Council calls for anti-bullying policy

Current harassment policy not broad enough, governance group says

A resolution calling for the university to create a policy that addresses bullying and other disturbing behaviors that affect everyone – not just those who fall under the category of protected class – was unanimously passed by the University of Colorado Staff Council.

The vote followed discussion and a presentation by a CU-Boulder ombuds during the council’s May 13 meeting at the Leeds School of Business on the CU-Boulder campus.

The resolution contends that the university’s current policy on discrimination and harassment  addresses only those in a “protected class,” defined as race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. Because “bullying creates hostile work and learning environments and can result in difficulty retaining faculty, staff and students,” the resolution asks the university to develop a policy so that faculty, staff and students would be “free to engage in work and academic pursuits without the fear of verbal abuse, malicious criticism, micro-aggressions, cyberbullying, humiliation, intimidation, retaliation or isolation.”

Before the discussion and vote, council members heard a presentation on bullying by Tom Sebok, director of the Office of Ombuds. Sebok said bullying is more pervasive than sexual harassment and its negative effects can last longer.

One of the biggest issues to drafting a policy, he said, is that everyone has a different understanding of what bullying entails. Also, supervisor responses to identical behaviors can widely vary, and no formal mechanism exists to investigate complaints.

He said bullying affects more than the targeted individual: The behavior also affects the organization; increases the use of vacation, sick leave or disability claims; increases turnover; and increases the chance of retaliation and even violence.

Only one university policy – a CU Denver anti-violence policy – mentions the word bullying, but does not define the term, Sebok said. He also said that only three institutions of higher education that he is aware of have specific policies on bullying: Oregon State University, the University of South Carolina and the University of New Mexico.

The Oregon State policy defines bullying as “conduct of any sort directed at another that is severe, pervasive or persistent, and is of a nature that would cause a reasonable person in the victim’s position substantial emotional distress and undermine his or her ability to work, study or participate in his or her regular life activities or participate in the activities of the University, and actually does cause the victim substantial emotional distress and undermines the victim’s ability to work, study, or participate in the victim’s regular life activities or participate in the activities of the University.”

Sue Theiss, an omsbud at OSU, told Sebok the policy has shown results: “We rolled out an education plan over the last two years that primarily targeted all those in leadership positions in all major units. If we had shared what bullying looks like and how to intervene informally, but didn’t give everyone a policy with teeth that could be used when more formal processes were needed, I think it would’ve just generated more frustration and hopelessness.”

Sebok said the challenges facing a potential policy include: defining workplace bullying, outlining clear procedures, balancing free speech rights with the right to a safe work environment and developing resources needed to investigate complaints.

“Because workplace bullying is not illegal in the United States,” said Sebok, “the question becomes what will be done about it?”

In other business, the council:

* Formed a committee to research the potential of a university-wide process or policy that would standardize professional development. Council members are concerned that staff development is inconsistent, often depending upon department funding and supervisor whim. In addition, staff may not want to pursue another degree but instead earn a certificate that would augment their education. The council already has compared policies at other universities to see what is offered. At the urging of Kathy Nesbitt, vice president of employee and information services, council members will study positions on campus that require personal certifications, what the cost of those certifications would be, and whether there might be funding available from the university to pay for or help defray costs of development. Once the research is completed, if results are favorable, council will work with Nesbitt to develop a process or draft a policy on personal development for the university.

Council member Joanna Iturbe gave a presentation on an online personal development tool that recently was provided to CU-Boulder campus members free. uses short videos to educate about a wide variety of topics. Generally, the cost to use is $25 per person per year, but the university negotiated a three-year deal with the entity, which recently was purchased by LinkedIn.

Iturbe said since the feature was introduced earlier this year, nearly 3,200 users have spent more than 4,600 hours watching more than 65,600 videos, which are available in many modes and are closed captioned.

* Tabled a vote on Faculty Council’s proposal to create a central “call line” for university community members to access “information about the most appropriate resource(s) at the respective campus when discrimination, harassment and/or unethical behavior occurs. This call line would assure confidentiality, be unaffiliated with any one campus (e.g., third-party agency), adequately inform the person about available resources at the respective campus based on the specific situation, and transfer them to the appropriate campus representatives.” Council members said they wanted more information about costs and procedures, for instance, before they could determine whether to support the proposal.

* Also tabled a vote on whether to support/participate in Faculty Council’s “White Paper: Recognizing and Rewarding Faculty for Participating in Diversity Activities.” Members of the Staff Council want to determine if language concerning staff should be added to the suggested white paper or if it would benefit staff members more if a separate proposal were developed that addressed their unique needs.

* Unanimously approved by vote two university policies, 5014- Sexual Misconduct  (formerly Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures) see Draft here, and 5015-Conflict of Interest in Cases of Amorous Relationships and the Draft here, which are scheduled for approval in the near future.

Two other policies that the council has been reviewing — 5019-Parental Leave for Faculty and University Staff (Draft) and 2006-Retention of University Records (Draft) – are on hold for further review.

* Began the process of nominating officers for the upcoming year. Voting for council chair, vice chair, treasurer and secretary will be conducted at the council’s June meeting.