In an email to students and faculty Monday, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel outlined the new interim policy on sexual and gender-based misconduct, which will go into effect Aug 14. The policy will apply to students, faculty, staff and third parties on all three campuses and Michigan Medicine.
“Improving how we prevent and address sexual and gender-based misconduct in our community must always remain a foremost priority at U-M,” Schlissel said. “We strive to do better, always, and creating an umbrella policy that covers all members of the U-M community is one key measure we are implementing.”
The policy includes definitions for prohibited conduct, separate procedures for addressing allegations against students and allegations against employees or third parties, and clarifies confidential resources and ways to report misconduct.
This policy, which was originally set to be released in early 2020, was postponed in order to take the Department of Education’s new regulations into consideration. The new regulations, announced in May by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, announced new title IX procedures and protocol which will change the policy draft shared by University administration in the fall.
According to the University Record, one of the most significant changes is the new federal regulations having a more narrow definition for sexual harassment.
Rather than the previous definition, which said sexual harassment is conduct that is “severe, persistent, or pervasive,” the new definition says it is conduct which is so “severe and pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to education.”
The new University policy includes a definition of Title IX regulations to meet federal regulations, as well as a broader definition that includes sexual and gender-based misconduct outside of federal regulations. It also includes two separate procedures for staff, faculty and third parties, depending on which definition the allegation falls under.
The policy also retained reporting obligations, despite federal regulations removing references and requirements related to responsible employees. Individuals with reporting obligations are identified and obligated to report information regarding prohibited conduct to the Office of Institutional Equity.
For students, new federal regulations also require that cross examinations be held by a student’s adviser. These advisers can be outside attorneys provided by the University for students who need them.
Public Policy junior Emma Sandberg is the executive director of Roe v. Rape, a nonprofit organization that advocates for sexual assault survivors. In an interview with The Daily, Sandberg emphasized the policy changes announced by Schlissel are a huge improvement over previous policies.
“One thing that we have been advocating for throughout the past year is for the University to provide students with free attorneys, rather than advisors for cross examination,” Sandberg said. “According to the University Record, it looks like U of M has this demand in their policy changes, which is a major win for survivors.”
According to Sandberg, the group was also glad to see the University maintain the preponderance of evidence standard and continue to investigate off campus sexual misconduct, both of which were not required under the new federal regulations. Both of these were among the seven demands made by a petition that circulated in May regarding the new regulations.
However, Sandberg found that despite the improvement, there were still some shortcomings in the new policy, which Roe v. Rape plans to advocate to fix in the coming year.
“We are disappointed that these attorneys are only going to be provided for the cross examination portion, since survivors are in need of legal advice throughout the entire process,” Sandberg said.
Roe v. Rape has also been pushing for a 30-minute time limit on cross examination, something Michigan State University has implemented, but was not included in the University’s new policy.
This policy comes less than two weeks after WilmerHale released the report of its independent investigation of former University Provost Martin Philbert. The report found evidence of two decades of Philbert’s sexual misconduct, and recognized numerous University officials had knowledge of his actions. WilmerHale also has an ongoing investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations regarding former athletic doctor, Robert Anderson.
In the email, Schlissel said the University will continue to “carefully consider” the recommendations made by WilmerHale. According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, there is not yet a timeline of when the University will offer specific responses to the WilmerHale report regarding Philbert.
“The Board and I, along with the appropriate units, are reviewing the recommendations carefully, and I will report back soon with a way forward on these important issues,” Schissel said in response to the report. “We will also have to look beyond these recommendations at additional ways we can make our environment safe for all and free from sexual misconduct and harassment."
Daily Staff Reporter Iulia Dobrin can be reached at email@example.com.