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ISU faculty senate delays action on sexual harassment statement

March 15, 2017
David Delehanty

POCATELLO — Idaho State University’s faculty senate on Monday postponed endorsing a statement issued by faculty rights advocacy groups that denounced retaliation against those who report sexual harassment cases.

On the heels of the university’s recent handling of a sexual harassment lawsuit, local chapters of the American Federation of Teachers and the American Idaho State Association of University Professors jointly developed and delivered the following statement to the faculty senate for endorsement:

“Sexual harassment is a serious violation of civil rights that threatens the safety and well-being of students and employees of the university. While it is incumbent upon the university to ensure due process for those accused of such harassment, it is also imperative that there be no retaliation against those who report incidents of sexual harassment. Such retaliation has a chilling effect on the educational environment at the university. We stand for fair and just treatment of all members of the Idaho State University community.”

During the senate meeting hosted Monday afternoon on the third floor of the Rendezvous Complex, faculty senate co-chair, Paul Watkins, referred endorsing the statement to the body’s next executive session, according to Mikle Ellis, vice president for the local Association of University Professors chapter.

“So, it’s like a double-secret meeting that they have to have on this,” Ellis said.

Also an ISU engineering professor, Ellis compared the statement proposed to the faculty senate for endorsement to similar public comments from the university following concerns regarding the safety of Middle Eastern students at ISU.

“We wanted to make a public statement to combat some of the really bad press we’ve been getting on this issue,” Ellis said. “And to let people know that faculty members at ISU in particular do not endorse retaliation of victims of sexual harassment.”

In January, former Idaho State University Museum of Natural History employee Kelly Pokorny settled her sexual harassment lawsuit against ISU for $170,000.

Pokorny claimed that she was sexually harassed by former museum director Herb Maschner and then punished by the university for reporting the harassment.

Dave Delehanty is the president for the local American Federation of Teachers chapter and an ISU biology professor. He said the members from both faculty rights group cooperatively drafted several versions of the statement before proposing it to the faculty senate.

“We were saddened and frustrated to see ISU implicated in retaliating against a young woman who appropriately reported sexual harassment,” Delehanty said. “We want the community to know that the faculty and university community that we’re familiar with do not endorse that kind of treatment.”

A reporter from the Journal attempted to cover Monday’s faculty senate meeting, but leadership turned him away stating the meeting was closed to the public.

ISU’s faculty senate can organize and proceed through meetings as they choose, according to the body’s operating bylaws. However, different legal interpretations could be made as to whether the act is in violation of Idaho’s Open Meetings Law.

The Idaho Office of the Attorney General determined in 2010 that an ISU Parking Board was not subject to the Idaho Open Meeting Law because it failed to meet the definition of a “governing body of a public agency.”

However, that group did not assist with the initiation, consideration or implementation of policy as ISU’s faculty senate does. And unlike the Parking Board, the faculty senate reports directly to executive vice president and provost Laura Woodworth-Ney, or ISU President Arthur Vailas.

Regardless of the law, however, it is ISU’s intention to allow most faculty senate meetings, depending on the nature of discussion items, to be open to the public, according to school officials.

Watkins could not be reached for comment Tuesday. David Blakeman, faculty senate co-chair and respiratory therapy professor, declined comment before hanging up.

“I was shocked and dismayed that a faculty senate meeting at a public institution was closed to the public,” Ellis said.