Some Thoughts on Campus Sexual Assault and Campus Leadership

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About Martin D. Robbins

Martin Robbins has spent much of his career working with higher education and nonprofit organizations, including service as a vice president at the University of Toledo and the Colorado School of Mines. He has worked in both the public and private sectors, including stints as an engineer, business journalist, research manager, federal government official and higher education administrator. He served in the Johnson administration where his efforts focused on technology and economic development. He holds degrees from Tufts University and MIT.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    Part of the problem is the enormous focus that administrations place on “branding” their colleges’ reputations. Push the press releases on all the great things the school is doing, the feathers in your cap, and all the great reasons as an alum to add to the endowment. When something is necessary but not very marketable, like creating a more effective anti-harassment policy, that just naturally doesn’t draw as much energy. You won’t get more applicants or more donors by celebrating a new policy against sexual harassment, so that’s not a high priority. In fact, it may draw more negative attention, because a) why didn’t you have a policy before this? or b) why are you having a problem with sexual harassment?

    On the list of things that applicants, students, students’ parents, and alumni are obsessed with, this is generally low on the list. That doesn’t make it right to ignore it, but it’s a function of the larger institutional culture. Things that are in “more demand” or “advance the mission” tend to get a higher priority than things that are just basic human decency. That’s a huge problem all across higher ed, and sexual harassment is just one of the more heinous examples.

    Another issue that cannot be ignored is the possibility that any new policy can be exploited for personal and political gain. Such a policy will always give more power to some people relative to others, and academic institutions tend to be very conservative about changing the power dynamics. Never underestimate how petty academic politics can be. Any administration has to face the possibility of false accusations or other kinds of legal liability. If the college is only thinking about the bottom line, people can sue over unfairness in either direction. There’s a risk of damaging lawsuits either way.

    In any event, it can take a lot of courage for a President or board of directors to take a more active step. At my undergrad institution, the governing board brought in a President who was essentially a drop-in hatchet man. His job was to create a clear, strict, anti-sexual harassment policy and a clear anti-drug policy, take all the flak and backlash because of it, and then leave. Everyone knew his term was meant to be temporary and he was there to push something through. It’s absurd looking back on it that the college actually had NO explicit policy against sexual harassment, and no stated policy against the use of illegal drugs. Just getting the administration and faculty to write down something really vague was like pulling teeth.

  2. Not buying it says:

    Mistake typing the year 2012, actually it should be ( 2011)for the stat but it did come out about couple of months ago in September 2012.


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