April 25, 2012

President Skorton approves resolution on student sexual violence cases

President David Skorton has accepted the recommendation in the University Assembly's (UA) Resolution 7 that investigations into allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment by students be transferred from the Campus Code of Conduct to a modified version of University Policy 6.4, which now handles faculty, staff and student-employee cases.

His acceptance of this resolution was conveyed in an email memo to Melissa Lukasiewicz, chair of the UA, on April 22. The acceptance is the culmination of a year of public discussions within the UA and its Codes and Judicial Committee with institutional stakeholders and student leaders on how allegations of sexual violence by students should be resolved to comply with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational institutions.

The UA passed Resolution 7 with a vote of 11-0, April 10, in response to concerns raised in April 2011 that the code of conduct was not in compliance with stipulations spelled out in a "Dear Colleague" letter from the U.S. Department of Education regarding obligations under Title IX.

Much of the public discussion has focused on the difference in procedures between the Policy 6.4 process, which complies with Title IX, and the campus code, including differing standards of proof and process of investigation. Under 6.4, and consistent with cases involving faculty, staff and student employees, the burden of proof is on the complainant to show that it is "more likely than not" that conduct occurred that violates the policy.

At the April 10 UA meeting, Alan Mittman, director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations (WPLR), said that the investigative process under Policy 6.4, which was developed in 1996, works "to fairly and justly adjudicate sexual violence claims," and is no less rigorous than that used under the code of conduct, though it is more private for both parties concerned.

Under Policy 6.4, after a written complaint of sexual assault is filed with WPLR, that office conducts a "fair and detailed fact-finding investigation" that includes separately interviewing the complainant, the accused and any witnesses deemed necessary to determine the facts, and all relevant documentation. Both the complainant and the accused are allowed to reply to all charges and defenses.

Under Resolution 7, student cases would be handled similarly, except that the judicial administrator would conduct the investigation and report findings to a newly established third-party decision-maker. That third party would determine what sanctions or remedial actions, if any, should be imposed. Both complainant and accused can appeal the determination.

Skorton said that "sound arguments have been advanced by both proponents and opponents of the change," and that he has been "gratified by the measured and deliberate consideration given to this consequential issue."

He said: "I am convinced that shifting offenses involving sexual harassment and sexual assault to Policy 6.4 will strike the appropriate balance between the complainant and the accused, will provide a fair and expeditious process for resolution of complaints alleging these offenses, and will appropriately address legal mandates under Title IX."

Skorton also supported the UA's request to have the "opportunity to robustly participate" in the modifications that will be needed to Policy 6.4 before the transfer can take effect. He supported the UA's call for increased efforts to educate the community with respect to sexual violence, and approved its Resolution 6, which outlines interim changes in the code of conduct until the necessary changes to Policy 6.4 have been adopted.