Representative Jackie Speier recently introduced legislation that would connect incidents of sexual harassment by university researchers to their federal research grant funds. Called the Federal Funding Accountability for Sexual Harassers Act, the bill was prompted in part by research indicating sexual harassment is a serious problem for researchers as well as a spate of high profile academics’ harassment coming to light.
The bill would require universities to report instances of of harassment cases involving principal investigators (including co-principal investigators and similarly senior staff) to all federal research funding agencies that have awarded funds to that university for the 10 years prior to the finding of harassment. Universities would also be required to report complaints of harassment that have not yet been fully investigated within 6 months of the date of complaint. Funding agencies will be required to consider these reports when making funding decisions, and note cases where a funding decision was granted to an individual who is the subject of such a complaint.
With just a few short weeks left in the Congressional calendar, this bill is not likely to pass this year. Assuming Representative Speier is re-elected (incumbents usually are), I would expect to see the bill return in the new Congress. In the meantime, at least two funding agencies, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA, have expressed their interest in rooting out such bad activity, reminding grantees that the agencies are obligated to comply with civil rights laws, including Title IX which addresses sexual discrimination in education. The NSF has noted a willingness to withhold grant money for non-compliance with Title IX, but has yet to do that. This legislation might make it easier for NSF and other agencies to enforce the law, but I would hope that there are other tools that can help fight this problem.