The Executive Board of the University of Michigan LSA Student Government released a statement Wednesday criticizing the University’s interim sexual misconduct policy.
The policy, titled the Interim Policy and Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence, was updated to include additional options in the resolution process and a hearing where students have the opportunity to cross-examine other students and witnesses. All cases open at the time of the new policy, which was released on Jan. 9, adhere to its guidelines.
Changes to the policy came as a result of a Sixth Circuit Court ruling in Doe v. Baum. In the lawsuit, the court affirmed a student accused of sexual misconduct has a right to confront their accuser at a hearing.
In the statement, the board called the policy “problematic.” The board wrote that while it supports students’ rights to due process, it feels there are better avenues than the current options for achieving a resolution.
The board also wrote the alternatives to in-person examination, such as using video chat from separate locations or utilizing the text option of BlueJeans, an online video chat service, fall short.
“While we recognize that these options are an attempt by the University to mitigate the harm that this process may cause the complainant, we do not find these to be acceptable substitutes as the process of direct cross-examination between the parties involved in the investigation can be hurtful in any format,” the board wrote. “While we recognize that every student deserves a fair and equal process when allegations are made, we know that there are better ways to achieve justice.”
Additionally, the board wrote the current policy discourages students from reporting sexual misconduct and ultimately creates a hostile campus environment. The board noted differing processes at peer institutions, such as the University of California, Los Angeles, which do not require cross-examination.
The board requested the University revise its cross-examination process so it is carried out by a professional representative trained in handling these scenarios.
The statement comes after a call from the American Civil Liberties Union on Sept. 5 to change the policy and student activism on campus. A petition to change the policy created on Jan. 8 by the student group ‘Jane Roe’ garnered over 65,000 signatures.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that the University is accepting feedback on the interim policy until Friday, in addition to awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on guidelines that will apply to all universities.
Fitzgerald noted the policy allows students the option to have the hearing conducted in separate rooms using technology or through written responses with no audio or video. However, he said the University has previously shown reluctance to allowing attorneys to participate in this process alongside students.
“Unlike students, attorneys have an ethical duty to represent their clients zealously,” Fitzgerald wrote. “That includes an ethical duty to vigorously cross examine witnesses. Thus, as the courts have held, an attorney may have an ethical duty to ‘confuse’ or even ‘destroy’ a student who is alleging sexual assault.”