Another important characteristic of academic settings is the preponderance of men in positions of power. Although women are an increasing part of academic institutions, men still hold most of the positions of power, whether central administrative or departmental leadership positions (Zalk, 1990). At the University of Iowa and Stanford Univerity medical schools the educational hierarchy combined with the traditional occupational power of male doctors led to serious complaints from women faculty.
Inequity in the distribution of power often results in men enjoying the role of gatekeepers. Women are subject to men’s wielding power through the allotment of rewards or punishments (Taylor & Conrad, 1992). Thus, the patriarchal structure of academic institutions coupled with no or weak guidelines for student-faculty relationships sets the stage for discriminatory practices and harassment against women.
Blurred boundaries work in concert with the hierarchical structure of universities in providing opportunities for sexual harassment. Particularly in their graduate training, students are very reliant on mentors or sponsors who can determine whether they will complete a degree program. The relationship boundaries may be less clear in some fields than in others. Psychology is a field in which men acknowledge sexual contacts with their students (Pope, Levenson, & Schoever, 1979). The power differential between psychology professors and graduate students is both blurred and enhanced because of the amount of time spent in clinical supervision or in research (Miller & Larabee, 1995). The focus on personal issues also may contribute, for some psychologists and psychiatrists have sexual contact with clients who have paid for their psychological services.
Methods for tracking and remediating harassment also reflect organizational contexts. Because it is difficult to acknowledge the often concealed sexual themes present in academic settings and other settings, some organizations find it easier to identify such relationships as ones involving or potentially involving conflicts of interests rather than focus on their problems as sexual relationships. Relationships in academe are assumed to be based on either a collegial or mentor model; overt exploitation is not acceptable. Therefore, formal channels are likely to exist for the processing of complaints.
Traditional female scripts that allocate consent (and therefore responsibility) to the woman are often reflected in academic organizational practices whereby no intervention can be initiated unless the female target is willing to press a formal complaint indicating her lack of consent. The responsibility for monitoring, recognizing, and actively resisting is located with the target female, as if men cannot be expected to monitor or adjust their own behavior. It is interesting, too, that interventions are almost always customized in response to a particular individual complaint. Academic administrations seldom acknowledge the structural contexts for which they may take proactive responsibility to change.