Our efforts to address hostile and intimidating behavior

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To our employees, graduate students and professionals,

The interactions between our faculty, staff, and students are an essential part of the world-class education, scholarship, and outreach that happens here every day. UW-Madison strives to ensure that our learning and working environments are places where everyone feels valued and can succeed.

To achieve this goal, we must tackle instances of hostile and intimidating behavior (HIB) head-on, especially in relationships where power differentials exist, such as between counselors and graduate students.

This commitment led us to develop policies as early as 2014 to directly address these issues. We were one of the first major universities to adopt an explicit HIB policy and provide preventive training. Among our Big Ten peers, we have the strongest mix of policy, response and support, and training and communications resources.

Articles from the Wisconsin State Journal, followed by additional reports expected this week, chronicle several cases over the past decade, some of which were reported under this new policy. The cover shares the experiences of graduate students who faced verbal abuse and threats from their advisors, as well as delays in their graduation.

The behavior described is unacceptable and harms individuals and our mission. Thanks to those who shared their experiences. Graduate students deserve a research and learning environment in which they – and other colleagues – can succeed.

The cases covered by the State Journal – and in particular those that have occurred since 2017 – have resulted in investigations, disciplinary action where appropriate, and follow-up actions, such as training and monitoring, to correct the behavior. And although media coverage focuses on graduate students, we continue to expand our efforts in this area extensively – for example, we are developing an online version of our HIB prevention training.

We have also strengthened our practices and processes for responding to HIB reports at the local and campus levels to ensure consistency across campus. Substantiated cases should be forwarded to senior leadership (Deans and Directors) at school/college level for response. If cases involve faculty, they are referred to the Provost’s Office, as appropriate, under Chapter 9 of Faculty Policies and Procedures.

We strive for continuous improvement in these areas. These testimonials remind us that we all have a role to play in improving the campus experience.

If you or someone you know is experiencing hostile and intimidating behavior, we urge you to access one of the following areas:

I know I speak not only for myself, but also for Provost Scholz and all of our deans when I say: we are committed to the success of our community and to providing environments in which everyone can thrive.

Footmuff Rebecca Blank

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