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Chancellor Blank: Our efforts to address hostile and intimidating behavior

March 20, 2022

To our employees, graduate and professional students,

The interactions between our faculty, staff and students are a vital 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 reach this goal, we must address instances of hostile and intimidating behavior (HIB) head on, particularly in relationships where power differentials exist, such as between faculty advisers and graduate students.

This commitment led us to develop policies starting as early as 2014 to directly address these issues. We were one of the first major universities to adopt an explicit policy on HIB and offer preventive training. Among our Big Ten peers, we have the most robust combination of policy, response and support resources, along with training and communications.

Articles in the Wisconsin State Journal, followed by additional reporting expected this week, recount several cases over the last decade, some of which were brought forward under this new policy. The coverage shares the experiences of graduate students who were subject to verbal abuse and threats from their faculty advisers, as well as delays completing their degrees.

The behavior described is unacceptable and it harms individuals and our mission. I am grateful to those who brought their experiences forward. Graduate students deserve a research and learning environment in which they – and other colleagues – can succeed.

The cases covered by the State Journal – and especially those that arose since 2017 – led to investigations, disciplinary action where appropriate, and follow-up action, such as training and monitoring, to correct behavior. And while the news coverage focuses on graduate students, we continue to broadly build on our efforts in this area – for example, we’re developing an online version of our HIB prevention training.

We’ve also strengthened our practices and processes for responding to reports of HIB at the local and campus levels to ensure consistency across campus. Substantiated cases are required to go to senior leaders (deans and directors) at the school/college level for response. If cases involve faculty, they are referred to the Provost’s Office, where appropriate, under Chapter 9 of Faculty Policies and Procedures.

We strive to make continuous improvements in these areas. These accounts remind us that we all have a role to play to improve 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 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.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank