Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sexual Assault Prevention Month and the UA President Search

Tuesday HCR 20 came before the State Affairs Committee and Wednesday it was already approved on the floor of the House of Representatives. There were a number of speeches in support of the bill, a lot of statistics (Sponsor Rep. Fairclough said Alaskans are two and a half times more likely to be the victims of rape than residents of any other state), and wringing of hands about how horrific this situation is. And a few people, I remember Rep. Joule specifically, called on their colleagues to do more than make proclamations, that they should fund the programs that fight sexual assault. HCR 20 discussion begins at 48:48 on the audio.

Meanwhile, the Board of Regents is scheduled to select a new university president from among three finalists. Among the three is General Patrick Gamble who was the Commandant of the Air Force Academy in 1993 and 1994.

As I reported in a previous post, a 1991 study reported alarming rates of sexual harassment and assault at all three military academies and a 1995 study found (from a  New York Times article on April 5, 1995:)
The report said the percentage of female students indicating they had experienced at least 1 of 10 forms of sexual harassment on a recurring basis was 78 percent at the Air Force Academy, an increase from 59 percent of the female students who responded to the same survey in 1990-91. The questionnaires were sent to randomly selected students at each academy.

Gen. Gamble arrived at the Academy after the first study had been made public with a fair amount of publicity.  As the incoming Commandant, he had to be aware of it.   At the community reception in Juneau a week ago, Gen. Gamble said management was about people, about "giving them a clear expectations of what the outcome you want is, and not getting in the way of them getting there"

So, he knew, or certainly should have known, that sexual harassment and assault were a serious problem at the institution he was about to lead.  We have to assume that he either did establish reducing sexual harassment as one of his expected outcomes or he didn't.  If he did, then his management style, on this issue anyway, was ineffective. Things got worse over the time period when he was there. If he didn't make this an expected outcome, it raises questions about his values and priorities, given the extremely high rates.

Because of the limited access to the search process - the final three were announced Sunday afternoon, Feb. 28, and then showed up the next day in Fairbanks, the next in Anchorage, and the next in Juneau, I (and apparently others) didn't get a chance to search the backgrounds of the candidates before they saw them.  So I didn't ask Gen. Gamble any of these questions.

I was able to raise this issue with two of the regents Monday when they met with the University Booster caucus.  They said it was not an issue they had been aware of and had not questioned the candidate about it. [Photo: Regents Carl Marrs and Mary Hughes in front, Regent Robert Martin behind/left of Regent Marrs.]

Perhaps Gen. Gamble put then state of the art programs into place.  We don't know.  Even if he didn't, perhaps his understanding and concern for the issue has evolved over time.

I don't mean to beat a dead horse here, but the regents decide on Sunday and listening to the legislators this morning talking about how serious sexual assault is in Alaska caused me to revisit the subject.

It seems that the president of our statewide university system should be someone who has, among all the other requisite skills and abilities, a proven track record as being both sensitive to the seriousness of the issue and competent in leading the fight to reduce our appalling statistics.

The University president, like the head of most organizations, sets the tone for what is and isn't acceptable.  We need a university president who will work hard to promote a climate on all campuses that is conducive to healthy interpersonal relationships - among and between faculty, administration, staff, and students.  The president also has influence on the kinds of funding raised to support research by scholars at the university.   The legislators today said we lead the country in sexual assault by a considerable margin.  One would hope that university research would contribute to changing those dysfunctional patterns.

For the victims of abuse, and those close to them, there is no more serious issue.  But  this issue affects us all.   Resources spent dealing with the long term effects of sexual abuse are significant.   For example, Dr. Clarren one of the top scholars on FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder) reported at the FASD conference here in February, that in a study he did of mothers of FASD children, all of them had been victims of sexual abuse, and many of their stories were horrific. Alaska also has a very high rate of FASD.  Is that a coincidence?  Probably not. 


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