ASK THE UTIMES: How long has sexual harassment been a concern at Pitt?

Although sexual harassment doubtless began sometime around the end of asexual reproduction among single-celled creatures 1.2 billion years ago, it took a while for the University — and the world — to notice it.

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, on Dec. 1, 1937, noted with amusement that the new Pitt faculty directory had placed asterisks next to the names of all unmarried faculty members. University officials explained that this was merely “to simplify sending of formal invitations,” but admitted, “It can serve as a dating bureau.” Since all faculty members were officially straight dudes, and all their secretaries probably women, the implications were clear.

It took a long time for Pitt to notice sexual harassment. For that matter, it took a long time for Pitt to notice women’s capabilities.

The University’s Women’s Association, founded in 1912, was made up of faculty wives. In September 1934, the Pittsburgh Press reassured the city with this headline about the group: “Pitt Club Genuinely Domestic, Wives of Teachers Avoid Highbrow Social Topics.”

“That wives of university professors are but mildly interested in trends in education, high-brow literature and chaperoning college dances, is proved conclusively in the new program outline of the Women’s Association of the University of Pittsburgh,” the article said. “Household, rather than world problems, feature in the year’s programs. To assure newcomers into the membership of their club … that they are not too much concerned with international affairs, politics or Communism, a fashion show directed by Mrs. Chester B. Storey will launch the official club year, Oct. 10.”

Other club programs that year concerned “Adolescence and the Crisis in Family Life,” “Child Welfare and Child Health,” “Modern Interiors’” and “Simplifying Party Meals,” although they also heard from the county district attorney on “whether or not law is fossilizing,” and Pitt Chancellor John G. Bowman on the topic of “A Teacher’s Wife.”

In 1957, the club’s president, a Mrs. Walter Stryker, was still moved to tame the public’s worries, telling the Press: “We feel a responsibility in making wives of new faculty members feel at home in Pittsburgh.

“Faculty women cannot be remote from their husband’s connections,” said another member. “Wives whose husbands are in industry often have no emotional connection with his job. But faculty wives can’t be unconcerned. It’s a different way of life.”

In subsequent decades, apparently, Pitt added some women faculty. Then, on Sept. 10, 1981, the University Times printed Pitt’s sexual harassment policy for the first time, without comment, in a box at the bottom of a news page, and repeated it in several subsequent issues, as if it were an official public notice or even a paid advertisement — just like those notices about sheriff’s sales and city contracts in the daily press that no one reads.

Under the new rules, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature” were prohibited as an explicit or implicit condition of employment, or when it created a hostile work environment.

The University had already been subject to a class action federal lawsuit in 1971 — the planning year for the women’s studies program at Pitt — by a female dental school professor alleging discrimination in hiring and promotion (and, later, harassment of women for bringing such issues to administrators’ attention). Pitt was sued by other women faculty members for job discrimination based on gender in 1973 and 1976.

Yet by 1983, Pitt was still studying the issue, surveying campus administrators about whether they thought the problem of sexual harassment was prevalent and relevant. The next year, a Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns was ready to act. Committee leader Bob Franklin (just kidding — the chair and all 18 members were actually women!) said they would “tackle a problem that it defined as serious and widespread: sexual harassment.”

Their top concern was still the lack of women in Pitt leadership: “Not one of Pitt’s 12 top administrators is a woman; two women hold academic dean positions; few women hold senior level faculty posts.” Among their other concerns: maternity leave and “new knowledge of gender issues in the classroom.”

A decade later, the hard work of telling people to stop being jerks or criminals continued: the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that “Pitt is developing a written policy that would forbid faculty from dating or having a sexual relationship with a student they teach or supervise. The policy would discourage, but would not specifically ban, such relationships between teachers and students who have no office or classroom contact. A draft of the policy was developed this fall by a task force on sexual harassment.”

Pitt spokesman Ken Service told the paper — as they paraphrased — that “Pitt’s sexual harassment policy covers unwanted sexual advances on students by faculty, but Pitt has never had a policy that applies to consensual relationships that develop on campus. … Service said he was aware of no incidents that would have prompted creation of such a policy now.”

Nearly a quarter century later, thank goodness this whole problem has been fixed.    

— Marty Levine


Can’t figure out how some unusual feature of campus got here? Wondering why things work the way they do at Pitt? See something unusual and think: When was the last time that happened? When was the first time? And how come it keeps happening?

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