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The University of Michigan’s Senate Assembly met Monday afternoon to discuss the umbrella interim sexual misconduct policy, which includes Title IX misconduct procedures, the University originally adopted in August

Under the new policy, definitions of sexual and gender-based misconduct are more broadly defined. The policy also sets specific procedures depending on who the allegations are against, whether student, employee or third party. It also outlines how to report misconduct. 

University President Mark Schlissel and Tami Strickman, associate vice president of institutional equity at the University, presented changes that had been made under the new policy.

Schlissel said the policy has continually been improved upon over the years, specifically after allegations of sexual misconduct against former provost Martin Philbert were uncovered earlier this year in January. Philbert was removed from his role as provost in March. 

“Most importantly, we need to develop a campus culture where people feel free to report, without fear of intimidation or retaliation, where they’re confident that all reports will be taken seriously,” Schlissel said. “And where there will be consequences regardless of who violates our rules and standards.” 

Strickman highlighted some of the changes to the policy, including increased staff, expanding communication and a new management system. Strickman also talked about the procedure following reporting. 

“We want people who have been subjected to sexual misconduct to feel comfortable coming forward,” Strickman said. “Many were feeling discouraged with the thought of a hearing being subjected to cross examination and they really didn’t feel comfortable with that process.”

Strickman also mentioned the sole investigator model used in certain cases to replace a traditional hearing and keep the process consistent. A sole investigator is assigned to a case when misconduct is reported, and that investigator conducts outreach to those involved. An analysis is done with the investigator’s research and an outcome, either a violation or non-violation, is rendered. 

Many faculty in attendance commented against its implementation. Art & Design professor Rebekah Modrak said the University should be looking at multiple options instead of defaulting to the sole investigator model. 

“I think this single investigator model is not a way to have a thorough or objective investigation,” Modrak said. “But it doesn’t seem like a hearing is the only other option and the fact that you’re pitting one against the other doesn’t really answer the question.” 

In response to concerns over the sole investigator model, Strickman said she felt the process was fair. She said though only one investigator is involved in a case, they are well trained on how the investigation should be conducted.

Both Schlissel and Strickman said they are open to hearing feedback from faculty on the policy.

“We’re not wedded to a particular approach,” Schlissel said. “We’re wedded to doing an approach that is a balance of the advantages and disadvantages that Tami and others may bring forward and that ultimately build confidence that we’ll get more people to come forward and have cases dealt with quickly.”

In addition to Schlissel and Strickman, Title IX coordinator Elizabeth Seney, who serves as senior associate director of the Office for Institutional Equity, also gave an overview of the background and regulation of the umbrella policy. 

“The University’s policies are multipurpose,” Seney said. “One is to comply with relevant law. Another purpose is to both signal and shape and to align with the University’s expectations, which is one of the reasons that we really encourage and appreciate all of the feedback today and over time.” 

Seney noted that the umbrella policy provides more specifics and covers more detail than outlined in Title IX. 

“Our policy covers sexual and gender-based misconduct broadly, some of that falls within the Title IX definition that set forth the regulations for which we have this very prescriptive outline of how to address those concerns,” Seney said.

Seney also said she hopes to hear from the University community about where the interim policy still needs work. 

“We want to answer questions, but we also want to hear from all of you and from the students and the staff about what people like and don’t like about this and what concerns they may have or any questions,” Seney said. 

Daily News Contributor Heather Rooney can be reached at herooney@umich.edu. 

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