NSF to Require Awardee Institutions to Report Sexual Harassment Findings
NSF to Require Awardee Institutions to Report Sexual Harassment Findings

Upon Notification, NSF May Reduce or Eliminate Award Funding

September 2018

On September 21, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released new requirements that awardee organizations must notify the agency of:

  • Any findings or determinations that an NSF-funded principal investigator or co-principal investigator committed harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault.
  • The placement of the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on administrative leave, or of the imposition of any administrative action relating to a harassment or sexual assault finding or investigation.

The NSF requirements become effective 30 days after their announcement.

Upon notification, NSF will consult with the awardee organization, and determine what action is necessary under NSF's authority. These actions may include substituting or removing principal investigators or co-principal investigators, reducing award funding, and—where neither of those options is available or adequate—suspending or terminating awards.

“This new policy is intended to provide targeted, serious consequences for harassers,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “It gives people tools to make harassment stop without disturbing others' careers and lives.”

“NSF's actions on this complex and challenging issue will not stop here,” Córdova said. “In the coming months, we will continue to listen to the research community and monitor our progress.”

“We commend NSF’s leadership among federal science agencies,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “NSF is sending a strong message that harassment has been left unaddressed for far too long and will no longer be tolerated. The policy actions by NSF and other organizations send a long overdue signal that all stakeholders must work together toward culture change.”

On September 17, Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announced the launch of new anti-sexual harassment website and noted several new initiatives, including “an updated policy on harassment; a new centralized process for managing reports of harassment, including making it easier to report; launching a robust communication, training, and education campaign; and administering a survey this winter to all NIH staff, including contractors, to assess NIH workplace climate and harassment.”

Two days later, Collins announced that NIH has developed a Federal Register Notice, outlining the terms of a comprehensive NIH Policy Manual Chapter—Preventing and Addressing Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct—to which all NIH staff are required to adhere.

In his September 19 announcement, Collins noted, “By this posting in the Federal Register, NIH also encourages organizations receiving NIH funds to have in place similarly rigorous policies and related procedures for their employees, contractors, trainees, and fellows who engage in agency-funded activities.”

NSF announced its proposed requirements in February 2018, providing public notice by posting it for comment in the Federal Register. NSF received nearly 200 comments during the 60-day comment period.

It is existing NSF policy that all personnel supported by NSF awards must comport themselves in a responsible and accountable manner during the award performance period at awardee institutions, field sites, facilities, conferences, workshops, online, and everywhere NSF-funded science and education is conducted.

NSF encourages anyone with a harassment complaint involving an NSF-funded researcher to report the incident to their institution and visit NSF's sexual harassment webpage. From that site, individuals can submit harassment complaints directly to the NSF Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The webpage also includes "promising practices" on policies, effective codes of conduct, and standards of behavior that may be applied everywhere NSF-supported research is conducted, as well as frequently asked questions.

In June, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the findings of a comprehensive public report on the effects of sexual harassment on women in science, engineering, and medical careers. The report called for sweeping changes in the culture and climate of higher education as well as significant improvements in the way women are treated in the academy and scholarly professions—especially the sciences.

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