Can SDSU's Elliot Hirshman (right) and a couple campus organizations help eliminate sexual harassment?
Last summer, the scandal surrounding San Diego's then–mayor Bob Filner made sexual harassment a heated topic of discussion on local and national news media, including KPBS, the public broadcast operation owned and operated by San Diego State University.
The state-funded radio and TV stations ran virtually nonstop coverage and broke several major stories, including an on-air interview the station billed as an exclusive with four women, including ex–rear admiral Ronne Froman, who accused Filner of "unwanted advances, inappropriate touching, and comments."
In addition, KPBS set up a webpage called the “Filner Files,” in which it gathered its mayoral coverage and presented a video roundup of the case.
Now, almost a year later, the university itself stands accused of harboring a long-festering sexual harassment and violence problem, and insiders are waiting to see whether SDSU president Elliot Hirshman will allow the broadcast operation he oversees to air the allegations against his administration.
The latest findings come in a report by California state auditor Elaine Howle about four public universities. The audit, announced last November, was conducted at the request of a bipartisan group of legislators after UC Berkeley became the target of a federal complaint.
The news, especially for San Diego State, is not good.
According to the just-released document, "The universities we reviewed — UC Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; California State University, Chico; and San Diego State University — do not ensure that all faculty and staff are sufficiently trained on responding to and reporting student incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence to appropriate officials."
As a result of reporting failures and lack of disciplinary action, repeat offenders can remain on campus, according to the audit.
"We reviewed one case from San Diego State in which a faculty advisor failed to report an incident of sexual harassment of a student to the appropriate university officials.”
Under state law, according to the audit, "any person who receives information about a sexual harassment incident must contact the campus employee responsible for implementing and complying with the sexual harassment policy and provide that individual with the student’s contact information in order to quickly resolve the concern.
“However, we found that in this case, after a complainant informed a university lecturer of an incident of sexual harassment that occurred while participating as a member of a university club, the lecturer referred the matter to the club’s faculty advisor.”
SDSU's handling of the complaint, ultimately brought against the school under so-called Title IX of the federal education act of 1972, then went from bad to worse, according to the audit.
"The faculty advisor met with the complainant to discuss the incident, and according to the university’s Title IX investigation report, the faculty advisor felt no further action or follow-up was necessary because the complainant had left the club and would not have further contact with the respondent.
“As a result, no Title IX officials at the university were informed of the alleged incident at that time.
"Approximately one year later, the accused individual sexually harassed the complainant again. The complainant and the complainant’s parent visited the faculty advisor and submitted a formal complaint.
“The information was then forwarded to the appropriate university official, who proceeded with a full investigation of the incidents.
"However, had the complaint been initially forwarded to the Title IX coordinator, the matter could have been resolved earlier and the complainant may not have been subjected to additional harassment.”
SDSU was also called out for laxity in educating its students about dealing with the festering problems of harassment and sexual violence on campus.
"Although various educational programs are available at all four universities, two universities — UC Berkeley and San Diego State — do not have processes to ensure that all incoming students receive the education," auditors found.
"Further, although San Diego State provides some information regarding sexual violence during new student orientations, orientation is not mandatory and the university does not ensure that students who do not attend the orientation receive education on sexual violence," the document says.
“By not imposing consequences, such as registration holds, on those who have not received the required education, UC Berkeley and San Diego State risk that their students will not be informed of how to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence, thus putting the safety of their students at risk."
According to another of the audit’s findings, “the educational content provided to students at San Diego State is particularly lacking.
“San Diego State does not provide comprehensive educational content on sexual violence to incoming students and instead provides only limited information regarding sexual violence during a short verbal discussion as part of its new student orientation.
“The content of this discussion is insufficient.
"In addition, this discussion states that all complaints will be investigated by the university police. This could intimidate some students, and as a result San Diego State risks discouraging students who have experienced an incident of sexual violence from filing a complaint with the university."
The sexually charged atmosphere along SDSU’s fraternity row, and the university administration’s failure to deal with the chronic issues there, also came in for criticism.
"San Diego State has three programs — bystander intervention, Fraternity Men Against Negative Environments and Rape Situations, and Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol — that include topics such as how to prevent sexual assault and how to encourage students who have experienced a sexual assault to report, but these programs are not mandated for fraternity and sorority members.
“Because it does not provide mandated yearly sexual harassment and sexual violence training, including rape awareness, to student members of fraternities and sororities, the university falls short in protecting students."
To deal with the multiple problems it discovered, the audit suggests that SDSU establish a so-called confidential advocate for students who experience campus harassment and violence.
"When UC Berkeley establishes its new position, all of the four universities we reviewed except San Diego State will have a confidential resource advocate in place."
Though it hasn't been widely reported here, SDSU has set up a task force to deal with the cascade of harassment and sexual violence allegations that plague the school, the audit says.
"As of May 2014 San Diego State was in the process of implementing a Sexual Violence Task Force.
“This task force plans to review current policies and programs, augment outreach efforts to increase awareness of sexual harassment and violence, and identify new initiatives to strengthen support services and resources available to students who have experienced an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”