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Former Directors are on the Hook for not Dealing with Sexual Harasser at the Time

Former Directors are on the Hook for not Dealing with Sexual Harasser at the Time

by Terrie Temkin, PhD

Founding Principal, CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc.

Sexual harassment is nothing new. It, along with its uglier cousin sexual violence, is particularly prevalent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, at home, in business, the church, and unfortunately schools. The question is not “if” it will occur in your school, but rather “when.”

I recently went to my high school reunion. While there, I spoke with someone who had served on the school’s board about 20 years ago. This person was extremely upset. Just a month earlier, a man, now in his mid-thirties, had come forward blaming those that sat on the board then for failing to protect him when he was a student there. His charge? One of his teachers exhibited improper behavior toward him and others and the board did nothing about it, even after being made aware of it. The former board director who spoke with me admitted hearing rumors at the time, but never from students or their parents. This individual said the board immediately stepped in after allegations were raised by another teacher.

While no evidence of inappropriate touching – or worse – was found, the board’s investigation revealed that the teacher in question invited his favorite male students to his house and took pictures of them exercising in gym shorts. When the students were questioned, they responded that while the experience was a bit creepy, they regularly just laughed it off. This was a nationally-recognized teacher who had been at the school for years, and the board opted to let it go.

Now, all these years later, the former directors were being brought in and questioned. All the sordid details became public. The person with whom I spoke wanted to know what the board’s culpability was here. This person also wanted to know what the board could do going forward.

I do not want to discuss legal culpability in this article. This would likely differ greatly based on the country and community in which such a situation occurs. However, I think a discussion of moral culpability is essential. The board failed the (student) community it existed to protect. Its failure is instructive to current school boards everywhere.

There were many clues that should have raised red flags. While we want to believe that a teacher who cares so much about his students that he would invite them to his home is the sort of teacher we want in our schools, the fact that the invitation was only extended to young men, and specific young men at that, should have set every board director’s ‘spidey senses’ tingling. Add to that, the strange behavior of having the students exercise for him in their gym shorts and his taking pictures of them…. The fact that the students never spoke up cannot be used to excuse away the board’s lack of action. These were teenage boys whose natural bravado demands that they appear able to take care of themselves in any situation. Their sneering laughter was yet one more clue. They were not seeing this as funny, but rather as discomforting. Why then, continue to visit the teacher at his home? This was an authority figure who was well respected. He could play a significant role in determining the universities they got into. There was also safety in numbers. The students were watching out for their friends.

True, we are now viewing this experience through the cultural lens of 2018, and throughout the world we did interpret things differently 20 years ago. However, we cannot ignore the reality that, as we now know – based on a massive amount of literature and this grown man who came back to challenge the board – this teacher did do lasting damage. Other teachers exhibiting sexually-harassing behavior will most assuredly also do lasting damage.

So, what should a board facing this situation do going forward? Accept responsibility. Admit that as a board it did not take the situation seriously enough. Volunteer to work with school representatives to make policy recommendations for the future. The unique perspective of the directors involved will be extremely valuable to the process. Or, the directors can offer to speak at other schools around the community to share what they learned from this experience that could help current boards deal better with their own challenges. And, most importantly, apologize to the men and women who brave ridicule to come forward to make their voices heard.

Terrie Temkin, Ph.D. is an internationally-recognized governance and planning expert, as well as the editor of You and Your Nonprofit Board: Advice and Tips from the Field’s Top Practitioners, Researchers and Provocateurs. She is a founding principal of CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc., which interweaves business development, governance, board development, fund development, PR/marketing and public policy to strengthen organizational capacity. Contact her at 888-458-4351 Ext. 83 or Meanwhile, check out the CoreStrategies’ website at


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