Education is influenced by many regulations that are designed to protect individuals, including everything from first amendment rights to the protection of children on the internet, privacy of information acts, and other related legal issues that are a direct influence on education – NCLB, ADA, or IDEA. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one such act that was not designed exclusively for educational institutions but has had profound influences in a number of ways that do not include only enrollment and employment of teachers. The Supreme Court, in a number of cases, ruled that sexual harassment, even in the case of same sex harassment, was covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in that these types of behaviors caused uncomfortable, unfair, and unsuccessful working atmospheres that specifically where designed to alienate a specific gender or group of individuals (Sexual Harassment, 2002).
Due to the difficulties of controlling a single individual within an organization, and preventing unexpected behaviors that were not predicted, the Court held that each organization could develop a Sexual Harassment policy that would define how employees were expected to behave, the procedures for reporting unacceptable behavior, and definition of the actions the organization would take to protect employees from these behaviors. Use of a successful policy provides protection for organizations and can prevent unnecessary court cases to occur. The development of these policies were not exclusively for Corporate America, but rather defined all organizations including non-profit or education based organizations. San Bernardino Valley College also developed a Sexual Harassment policy, and this policy was used to regulate the behaviors of educators and students in the college. During the transitional periods of developing the best policies and defining sexual harassment within the school, a single professor in the college was identified by a student as teaching in a manner that was offensive and created an atmosphere of sexual harassment.
Professor Cohen – Trial and Appeal The Supreme Court and the Appeals court heard the case of Cohen v. San Bernardino Valley College, 92 F.3d 968 (9th Cir. 1996), which was in response to perceived inappropriate behaviors in a classroom, regarding the discussions and assignments of the instructor, which included controversial subjects such as pornography (Notable First Amendment…, n.d.). A student report of these behaviors, as a source of sexual harassment, resulted in disciplinary measures taken against Professor Cohen. The argument held that discussion of the materials created an uncomfortable environment for students, and encouraged inappropriate viewpoints regarding gender. These beliefs were not exclusive of discussions of pornography and other topics, identified as obscene and included cannibalism and racism, rather they included how the instructor taught the class, which was perceived to be aggressive (Wright, 1996). The Supreme Court ruled that Professor Cohen was wrong in his methods of teaching, and that sexual harassment had occurred within the classroom due to his specific teaching methods. However, the ruling was overturned in the Appeals Court.
During the appeal, it was recognized that while Cohen demonstrated controversial teaching methods, he was not outside his rights as identified by freedom of speech (Wright, 1996). The court specifically stated that the goals of Professor Cohen to inspire individual thought and promoting critical thinking was his job as a professor, and that the school’s sexual harassment policy did not clearly define his behavior as sexual harassment. Furthermore, in overturning the Supreme Court decision, the Professor was able to protect a valuable teaching method and the ability of teachers to maintain strong communications in the classroom with freedom of speech and expression. Educational demands require that students experience many different types of learning materials, and some of these learning materials may be offensive, such as learning about gas chambers during World War II or identifying behaviors as potentially offensive to others – sexual harassment. The court’s decision to protect Professor Cohen was a definably important historical moment for education, in protecting the ability of teachers to successfully create learning environments for students where they can feel protected by their rights, but can explore other opinions and beliefs.
Sexual Harassment and Educational Methods
A number of legal issues have created the need for continued growth and development of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including in the creation of the Sexual Harassment regulations that have inspired a number of legal actions over the years. Specifically, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was designed to promote equality, as already promised by the Declaration of Independence, but not always visible in the behaviors and activities of US citizens. Over the years, the way people talk to each other, work with each other, and treat each other has been changing and creating new ethical environments, leading to legislation designed to protect the rights of all individuals and to create environments designed to promote exceptional equality in rights and freedoms. These designs have evolved where new needs were identified, but legislation was also designed to protect other unalienable rights, such as the freedom of speech and expression. In this way, education must demonstrate clear applications of these needs, using policies and teaching methods that promote exceptional freedoms and safety from prosecution, but also promotes exceptional critical thinking and awareness of both sides of all issues.
Sexual harassment has a place in history that is typically remembered as a time when women were unfairly treated by men or expected to “do favors” for men allowing them to get promotions or raises that they deserved. These types of behaviors were found not to be singular in nature, but came to define other behaviors, including leering, touching, unwanted solicitation of favors, and not individually assigned to behaviors of men towards women, but also to any gender, even same sex behaviors. These types of behaviors cause uncomfortable environments that can prevent an individual from experiencing their full potential and can even cause mental stress and loss of a job or educational experience. Educators must be aware of how these situations can occur in the classroom, whether through the materials or methods they teach with or even between students when in the classrooms. Maintaining the highest ethical standards promotes a safe environment where educators can present students with opportunities to explore the different events or circumstances that will include critical thinking.
Wright, S. (1996). California professor exonerated by appeals court. Community College Week, 9(3), 2. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Notable First Amendment court cases. (n.d.). American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/firstamendment/courtcases/courtcases.cfm
Sexual Harassment. (2002). In World of Criminal Justice, Gale. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/worldcrims/sexual_harassment