Incident Leads to Reevaluation of Campus Culture

During the fall semester of 2015, CSM administration was alerted of sexual misconduct between a faculty member and a graduate student. The school moved quickly and methodically to remove the faculty member, and was also able to use the incident to improve the processes to prevent future misconduct from occurring.

“The investigator who carried out the investigation gave us feedback, and the over-arching suggestion was that students felt they would receive retaliation if they filed any form of complaint about this faculty member. And that is a valid concern,” Karin Curran, Title IX Coordinator, said. “We need to be specific in the types of protection that we can offer to students when they are voicing a concern. Such as not divulging who they are and preserving that anonymity. And we did that already, but we probably weren’t communicating that as well as we could have.”

Along with addressing this issue, Curran is also looking to make successful programs, such as the safe-zone program oSTEM has adopted, a model for other programs on campus.

“I’m in the process of identifying interested faculty members in each department and administrative staff well, who are interested in getting some additional Title IX training and being identified as a safe spot in the college or department. It will be similar to the oSTEM safe zone training,” Curran said.

“oSTEM does a great program as safe zone and what it does is that it provides advanced training on LGBTQ issues and after you go through the process you are designated as a safe zone. And what that does is identify that this is a safe place for someone to come with an issue and they can identify it. We’re looking to replicate a similar system but make it a little bit more targeted in term of empowering faculty and staff to help student that have these issues.”

According to Faculty Senate President, Dr. Kenneth Osgood, the speed and care at which the situation with the faculty member was handled is encouraging, along with the steps the campus is taking to help make sure these incidents do not occur again.

“I am proud of how the administration has responded to this issue,” Dr. Osgood said. “As soon as they got the verified information, they moved very quickly. A lot of institutions might bury it, hide it, or won’t talk about it. Show me another campus that has done this. This is amazing.”

Leadership at Mines is using this incident not only as an opportunity to correct misconduct between faculty and students, but also as a catalyst to begin serious conversations about what the culture at Mines should be.

“What I really sought to do was to turn the conversation beyond merely a discussion of gender discrimination and harassment and frame it as a broad issue of campus climate. More specifically, how we engage our students. There are cases of students feeling extremely stressed and anxious, and sometimes feeling like faculty members don’t quite get it. What I wanted to do is to spark a campus conversation about what kind of message we are sending to the students. Are we sending a message that we support them? My role has been to take what I see as a broader range of issues about faculty student relationships and put sunlight on those, with the goal of changing the campus climate.”

Dr. Osgood is not alone in this quest for change.

“I met with administration, I met with Paul Johnson, the President, and Tom Boyde the Provost and we’re all completely on the same page. That we want to create cultural change on campus.”

Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students, Dan Fox, felt that this was the right time to have this conversation.

“We have a new president and we have some issues on campus. There’s a national conversation going on. Those that are courageous and wise will have those conversations on their campuses. We talk about Mines being a “helluva” lot of things. I hope we’re the type of organization that will have these conversations and know what we stand for.”

Under the leadership of university President Dr. Paul Johnson, such conversations will not only happen, but will be encouraged.

“I think every organization, whether it is a university or a company, from time to time needs to have a conversation on what its core values are, to ask what it is really about, and to see what kind of community it wants to create and be a part of,” President Johnson said. “This is an opportunity to revisit that discussion. It seems like the right time to engage the Mines community. We can use this as a sort of context to for why this is not only an abstract decision about the culture we want to have at Mines and the environment that we want to create for the students staff and the faculty.”

President Johnson sees a key point in this transformation to be defining the core values of the Mines campus.

“There are some things that we all share but it hasn’t been brought together. For example, Dr. Fox and I were at a retreat where a lot of it was focused on a strategic plan for Mines. One of the things that was discussed was this missing building block, of this very clear articulation of core values.”

In order to answer this question, President Johnson has made it his goal to get out and meet the Mines community. Through doing so, he has found some recurring themes in community members’ answers such as the university being student-centric, having a strong sense of community, professional development opportunities for students and faculty, and a hard work ethic.

“We want everyone saying these same things about us. And we want to live up to all these things. That’s the direction that we’re going with this. The goal is to have something that’s not perfect, but people can understand by the end of this semester,” President Johnson said.

President Johnson challenges those he speaks with to work towards the campus community they would want to be a part of.

“Let’s imagine what Mines could be,” Johnson commented. “It’s trying to imagine a short story of a day in the life at Mines in two years, five years, or ten years. What’s the rich essence of that story and how do we get from where we are today to that spot?”

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