University releases draft sexual misconduct policy

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 10:25pm

A draft of updates to the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy released Thursday proposes revised investigation procedures that would allow students to appeal investigation findings to an external party.

Currently, appeals of an investigation finding are reviewed by the same board that handles appeals of sanction.

The release of the draft comes in advance of a series of roundtables aimed at gathering student feedback on potential changes to the policy.

University President Mark Schlissel said in September that an updated policy would be released “before the new year.”

“The External Reviewer will be a neutral party outside of the University, usually an attorney, with knowledge of sexual misconduct cases, as well as the University’s policies and procedures,” the draft policy reads.  “The External Reviewer must also be impartial and free from bias or conflict of interest.”

The University would also move to identify all witnesses by name in investigative reports.

Additionally, a resolution officer — who previously resolved appeals to sanctions or resolutions handed down by the resolution coordinator — will no longer be involved in the process. An appeals board composed of one student appointed by Central Student Government and at least two faculty members, including one from the Law School, would make those determinations.

The policy would also explicitly state the instances when the sexual history of either party would be used in the investigation.

The draft version also includes a section dedicated to detailing the policy’s definition of consent. The core of the definition — “Consent is a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed outwardly through mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity” — remains unchanged.

However, the drafted policy outlines several clarifying bullets, including the idea that “Consent is not to be inferred from silence, passivity, or a lack of resistance, and relying on non-verbal communication alone may not be sufficient to ascertain Consent.”

In April, a Michigan Daily report pointed to a discrepancy between the definition of consent taught by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center — which promotes consent as requiring verbal agreement — and the official policy, which does not.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, sent an e-mail to the student body on Oct. 1 advertising the roundtables, and also promoted a digital feedback survey for those who cannot attend in person.

In February 2014, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would investigate the University’s handling of sexual misconduct reports. That investigation is ongoing.

In a September interview with the Daily, Schlissel said he hoped to unveil updates to the sexual misconduct policy before the new year.

“The goal of making change is to have the process be as fair as possible to the complainant and the respondent to help us arrive at a decision which is the right one,” Schlissel said.

Last January, Schlissel announced a survey to gauge campus climate on sexual assault. According to the survey results, 11 percent of University students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual behavior over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year.

“As a university president, a physician-scientist, an educator and a father, the issue of sexual misconduct keeps me awake at night,” Schlissel said when the survey results were released in July. “I feel personally responsible for the safety and well-being of all students at the University of Michigan.”