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College & Career

Former Pitt professor's essay sparks investigation

Jamie Martines
| Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, 2:00 p.m.
Thomas Altany

The University of Pittsburgh is launching a Title IX investigation following the publication of an essay by a former professor detailing what she described as a long-standing culture of hostility in the university's Department of Communication.

The essay was published on the Ms. Magazine site Dec. 13. In it, Carol Stabile, who served as a professor in the Communications and Women's Studies departments from 1994 to 2005, chronicles what she describes as “a climate that was hostile to women and people of color” during her time at Pitt.

In the essay, Stabile described an environment where colleagues regularly made sexual comments and discussed their sexual interest in students. She also shared anecdotes of graduate students who had been pursued by professors promising favors or job offers.

An investigation was initiated following the essay, Joe Miksch, director of media relations at Pitt, confirmed.

“The investigation, conducted by our Title IX office, will evaluate the climate, past and present, including but not limited to the issues the article raises,” Miksch said in an email.

Pitt conducted an internal investigation into faculty relationships with students in 2004, concluding that while there was evidence of relationships between senior faculty and students, the Department of Communication was ultimately healthy, according to reports by The Pitt News, the student newspaper.

Pitt updated university policy on student-faculty relationships in March 2017. It states that faculty and staff members are not permitted to engage in relationships with students they supervise directly. This policy applies to advisers, coaches, graduate student teaching assistants and members of a department's thesis and graduate committees, among other positions.

Stabile left Pitt in 2005 but has since met several people who shared similar experiences, she said.

“I think that what made it come to a head for me is just having these repeated encounters with other women who had been harmed by that department,” Stabile said of the essay.

Stabile clarified that she personally was never sexually harassed during her time at Pitt; however, she and others who attempted to speak out about what they observed happening to colleagues in the Department of Communication did experience retaliation, she said.

Stabile, who is now chair of the Women's Studies department at the University of Maryland, hopes the essay will help those who have had similar experiences in academia connect with each other and encourage colleges and universities to find permanent solutions to these problems.

“I wanted it to be focused on action,” she said. “It's not just, ‘This happened to me.' It's a call collectively to say, ‘This has happened to a lot of people, and this needs to stop.' ”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@ tribweb.com, 724-850 -2867 or vi a Twitter @Jamie _Martines.

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