Oregon Legislators Call for University Oversight on Sexual and Racial Harassment Complaints

A bipartisan group of Oregon’s legislators spoke out against University handling of sexual and racial harassment complaints, and introduced a Senate resolution to establish an oversight community. 

The Joint Committee on Respectful and Safe University Campuses would have eight members — four from the Senate and four from the House. It would hold public hearings, and be able to subpoena witnesses and documents in order to take a look at what went on with the prevention and response to allegations of sexual and racial harassment, discrimination, and misconduct. 

Additionally, it could appoint independent investigators to look into these matters. 

The Current State 

Oregon Health & Science University just settled a $585,000 federal sexual assault suit, filed by a social worker who said the University did not act after she and other complained about sexual harassment by Dr. Jason Campbell, aka, the the TikTok Doc. 

Linfield University abruptly fired Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, an English professor and faculty trustee who criticized how the university handled complaints from students and faculty about four board members. He also wanted to add more training and restrictions for trustees. 

Miles K. Davis, the President of Linfield, said Pollack-Pelzner was fired “for cause” and that private universities are not obliged to follow their faculty handbook. 

One of the chief sponsors of the resolution, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, also brought up the whistleblower retaliation lawsuit, filed by a Oregon State University former dean of the College of Pharmacy, Grace Kuo, against the new current interim president Edward Feser. 

In the suit, Kou alleges she was removed from her position for demoting an executive associate dean, who students allege didn’t perform due diligence with reports of sexual harassment and had “bias toward students who speak English with an accent,” the suit says. 

A Word from Sponsors 

Gesler said the resolution would allow more insight into Oregon universities’ responses to these complaints. “We have an obligation to make sure that all of our public institutions, all of our taxpayer-funded institutions are open and transparent and are doing everything that they can to have safe and respectful cultures,” Gelser said. 

“Recent allegations on Oregon’s campuses underscore that the Legislature has not done enough to hold our universities accountable,” said Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, the author of the resolution. “The Legislature’s oversight in this area is much needed so we can understand how to protect victims of harassment. The public deserves to know how their tax dollars are being spent in this area.” 

Thatcher said she was also concerned about the amount being spent on lawyers. When money provided by taxpayers is being used by universities for “hiring expensive lawyers,” she said, “we need to get to the root cause.” 

Committee oversight would only be for public colleges and universities within Oregon, and members would be appointed within 15 days of the adoption of the resolution. 

Other chief sponsors are Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, and Reps. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, and Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville. 

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend said he also supports the resolution as a regular sponsor.  

By: Hannah Ramsey