Draft sexual misconduct policy released by University officials

By Matthew Jackonen, For the Daily
Published October 15, 2012

After eight months of research, a team of University officials composed a draft policy on how the University will handle allegations of sexual misconduct among students.

Officials — supported by E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, and Suellyn Scarnecchia, a special adviser to the University president and clinical professor of law — assembled last fall in response to guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The Department of Education made suggestions about how colleges and universities should respond to sexual misconduct allegations.

The group consists of representatives from the University's Department of Public Safety, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and the Dean of Students’ Office.

Though there is no set time when the policy will become official, the University will hold forums to allow for community feedback on the draft and consider changes as the first step toward finalizing the protocol.

According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald the “major change” in the new draft policy is in two key areas: how an investigation is started and what is used as the standard of evidence.

The draft policy proposes that the University’s Title IX coordinator examine allegations of sexual misconduct. Under the previous policy, an investigation could only move forward if the complainant approved. However, under the new policy, Fitzgerald said the University could propagate an investigation regardless.

The Department of Education also suggested universities use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to evaluate the situation rather than the “clear and convincing evidence” standard. Under the preponderance standard, less evidence is required to validate an accusation than under the clear and convincing standard.

These changes were first introduced into the interim policy cases the University instituted in August 2011. The interim policy was intended to pave the way for a permanent system that deters such behaviors and promotes the safety of all students. Fitzgerald says the draft process is, for the most part, “consistent with the interim process.”

Fitzgerald added that neither the interim nor the new policy will have any impact on criminal investigations into sexual misconduct.

The team of officials aims to keep the University community involved in the process. The project’s facilitator, Jennifer Meyer Schrage, said in a press release that input from the community is paramount.

“All through this review our goal has been to engage a large part of the University community to get the best thinking possible on this important topic,” Schrage said. “This is the next step in that process.”

There will be two three-hour sessions for students and two additional sessions for faculty and staff to raise questions about the policy, according to Schrage. The first session will take place on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Northwood Community Center.