NSF announces new university requirements for reporting sexual harassment

Lauren Ingram
September 20, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced plans to combat sexual harassment and other forms of harassment within the agency and organizations and field sites where NSF-funded research is conducted. The new policy, released on Friday, Sept. 21, requires the 2,000 U.S. institutions of higher education and other organizations that receive NSF funds to report findings of sexual harassment, other forms of harassment, or sexual assault by principal and co-principal investigators to the foundation beginning Oct. 21.

The NSF policy will require universities such as Penn State to notify the agency if any NSF-funded scientists have been investigated for sexual or other forms of harassment and found in violation of relevant institutional policies. Universities also will be required to notify the agency if the individual was placed on administrative leave or other administrative action was taken during or as a result of an investigation.

“Penn State supports the National Science Foundation’s efforts to develop new protocols to help reduce and eliminate harassment within the scientific and engineering research communities at institutions across the United States,” said Suzanne Adair, associate vice president for affirmative action. “The prevention of sexual assault and misconduct, and all harassment, on Penn State campuses and within higher education is a shared pursuit that the University is addressing through various processes and educational initiatives, and which we take very seriously.”

Penn State has proactively engaged in NSF’s efforts to develop these new requirements, providing questions and comments during a May 2018 public comment period and by developing a process that Penn State will follow to comply with the NSF policy once it’s implemented on Oct. 21.

“As part of Penn State’s commitment to research excellence within a safe and harassment-free learning and working environment, we will certainly comply with the NSF’s new steps for notification as we work together to end harassment and misconduct of any type,” said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State.

Over the last several months, following the release of the NSF’s initial notice of these changes in February 2018, Penn State created an advisory group chaired by Adair and comprised of individuals from various units across the University to develop the University’s process for responding to the new requirements. Advisory group members include:

  • Suzanne Adair (chair), associate vice president for affirmative action
  • Sarah Ades, associate dean for graduate student affairs in the Graduate School
  • Katherine Allen, associate general counsel in the Office of General Counsel
  • Kathy Bieschke, vice provost for faculty affairs
  • David Giannantonio, assistant general counsel in the Office of General Counsel
  • John Hanold, associate vice president for research and director of the Office of Sponsored Programs
  • Allison Newhart, associate general counsel in the Office of General Counsel
  • Susan Rutan, senior director for labor and employee relations in Penn State Human Resources

The group is close to finalizing Penn State’s process and will share guidance and additional information about the process more broadly with Penn State’s research community.

The NSF notification process will follow the University’s existing policy to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and other forms of harassment, while building in confidential mechanisms for identifying whether an individual is an NSF-funded researcher and alerting the appropriate offices, according to Adair.

“Penn State takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and moves swiftly to investigate when they are received. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is a priority, and we are working to create an environment where sexual and gender-based harassment and other forms of misconduct are eliminated,” Adair said.

Penn State has a comprehensive policy that outlines resources and requirements for reporting sexual misconduct and spells out a range of possible sanctions for those who violate the policy. Along with ongoing education for community members, a few of Penn State’s recent efforts have included instituting employee training; establishing a bystander intervention program, called Stand for State; and providing additional resources for Title IX and affirmative action efforts, among others.

To create a culture of reporting, safety and accountability, Penn State students, faculty and staff are encouraged to report instances of misconduct to the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response or the Penn State Hotline.

Last Updated September 21, 2018