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EDITORIAL: University's continued indifference toward sexual harassment shown through poor hiring decisions

Hiring and disciplinary practices of Rutgers must be further questioned

Rutgers University cares about sexual assault and the issues surrounding it. That is, until it has to take legitimate action rather than spout out a few token phrases.

Marybeth Gasman was appointed the director of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity and Justice in December 2018, and began her work at the start of this semester. In a nutshell, the institute works to increase diversity and promote the empowerment of minorities, certainly a noble cause. 

In 2017 ⁠— well before her hire was announced — a group of Gasman’s former assistants at the University of Pennsylvania filed a formal sexual harassment complaint, accusing her of making inappropriate comments and creating a “culture of sexual harassment” at the center. The University of Pennsylvania went as far as to hire a private investigator in regard to her behavior, resulting in sanctions being put in place to alter the culture.

Gasman had all of her employees sign non-disclosure agreements at the University of Pennsylvania, something nearly unprecedented in academia. The bottom of this agreement stated, in bold: “Basically what is said or done at the center stays within the walls of the center!” 

The complaint “accused her of making repeated references to her body and sex life, commenting on co-workers’ sex lives, rubbing the arms and chests of Hispanic and Black co-workers and encouraging her staff to have sex with each other."

Not only was she accused of sexual misconduct, but also of creating an atmosphere of both racial and general insensitivity.

It is important to view Gasman's case from an intersectional perspective. Given that minorities are over-represented in rape and sexual assault statistics, and given that she has a history of creating a racially insensitive culture, is Gasman really the best option for this job? Were there no other viable candidates? 

This is far from the first time Rutgers has made a questionable — to put it lightly — decision regarding its staffing. Nabil Adam, former vice chancellor of Research and Collaborations at Rutgers University—Newark, was accused of having an 18-month long sexual relationship with a graduate student. The student filed a civil case against him. He returned to work in the spring, while the investigation was ongoing.

The actions Rutgers has taken against these two staff members — both of which hold significant amounts of power ⁠— are cursory at best, but in reality, neglectful, vile and insensitive. In response to Adam’s case, they simply barred the two from coming in contact with each other, a flimsy bandage that changes absolutely nothing institutionally.

In response to the Gasman hire, Rutgers released a pair of similarly useless statements. “The Graduate School of Education vetted Dr. Gasman before her appointment and eagerly looks forward to her joining the faculty as an internationally recognized expert in higher education,” said one. This statement is incredibly vague and shows that Rutgers views her only as a “recognized expert” and not as a potentially problematic human being. 

Another statement released read: “Rutgers University would not allow any professor to implement a nondisclosure agreement of the nature described in the news report.” This again achieves nothing. Nondisclosure agreements are not normally used anyway, so the University is not exactly taking a stance by preventing her from signing one. 

Another startling fact from this statement is the reference to the report, showing that the University, without any shred of doubt, knew of the allegations. 

The cavalier dismissal of these allegations shows nothing more than cowardice on behalf of Rutgers. Further, in both cases the University did take slight action. If Rutgers is so confident in the pure reputations of these two, why would it feel the need to take any action whatsoever? 

From a broader perspective, the fact that these two work in higher education at all is gravely concerning. Undeniable power dynamics exist at collegiate institutions, dynamics that could — and often are used to — pressure students into doing things that they would not should that power disparity not exist. 

Power issues aside, what sort of example is the University setting for its students with these hires? Are these really the people we want students to look up to and idolize? Are these the type of people we want to learn from and work with? 

Rutgers’ website for potential hires has a concerning quote as well. “Think about the qualities, experience and attributes you desire in the individual. Also consider how the individual will fit within your department’s culture,” according to the site. 

Evidently, Gasman and Adam fit in with the culture of their departments, begging us to wonder what exactly those cultures consist of.

Change in higher education stems from students. When it comes down to it, universities are businesses, and we are the consumers. We hold the leverage, and we ought to use that leverage to clean up the mess that is Rutgers' hiring. 

We must voice our concerns as loudly as possible, in any way possible, until these pitiful hires cease completely.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority  of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do  not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or  its staff. 

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