The University announced a new interim procedure for handling allegations of sexual misconduct this week.
In an e-mail sent to the campus community on Tuesday, E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, and Suellyn Scarnecchia, the University’s vice president and general counsel, announced temporary measures that lower the required standard of evidence needed to report an alleged incident of sexual misconduct.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the interim procedure was developed in the summer after a letter was issued by the U.S. Department of Education in April to all federally funded universities in regard to how they address sexual misconduct allegations.
“It was based on that additional guidance from the Department of Education that the interim policy was sort of developed over the summer and put in place to maintain the University’s compliance with those Title IX regulations,” Fitzgerald said.
The main change in the procedure is the amount of evidence needed when addressing a claim of sexual misconduct. Before, students needed to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that an incident occurred. Now, students only need to meet the standard of a “preponderance of evidence” to corroborate the allegation.
According to the guidelines established by the Department of Education, a preponderance of evidence is when “it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred.” Clear and convincing evidence, meanwhile, is defined as a situation where “it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred,” the guidelines state.
Every allegation of sexual misconduct brought against a student will be evaluated and potentially investigated by the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and the University’s Title IX Coordinator, according to Harper’s and Scarnecchia’s e-mail.
“(If) the University determines, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that a student is responsible for sexual misconduct, sanctions or interventions will be applied to eliminate the misconduct, prevent its recurrence and remedy its effects,” Harper and Scarnecchia wrote.
While the e-mail to students stated that the interim procedure “supersedes” the permanent policy, Fitzgerald said the University’s Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities — the set of regulations all University students must follow — has not been changed for good.
“This isn’t an amendment to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, but it is a new procedure for how allegations of sexual misconduct will be handled, and that new procedure is based on the guidance provided by the Department of Education,” Fitzgerald said.
He added that the interim procedure will remain in place until a permanent amendment is adopted in the Statement. A permanent amendment can only be proposed by an executive officer of the University, the Senate Assembly — the faculty’s governing body — or the Michigan Student Assembly.
Numerous University groups were involved in developing and reviewing the interim procedure including OSCR, the Division of Student Affairs, the Department of Public Safety and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, according to Fitzgerald.
In December 2009, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs — the lead faculty governing body — opposed the measure to permanently require a preponderance of evidence when investigating all violations of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities — not just sexual misconduct. Though MSA initially endorsed the amendment, it retracted its support because it felt that the lower standard of evidence shouldn’t apply to all types of complaints.
MSA President DeAndree Watson could not be reached for comment on the policy change.
Fitzgerald said he hopes the change dictated by the Department of Education and the initiation of the interim policy will prompt MSA and the University community to discuss and create a fixed procedure in the Statement regarding the standard of evidence needed in substantiating cases of alleged sexual misconduct.
“(The interim policy) also allows us to have a much deeper, richer discussion as a University community, which will absolutely involve MSA, the students and all aspects of the University community … as we craft and put in place a permanent policy,” Fitzgerald said.
Correction Appended: An earlier of this story incorrectly stated that SACUA supported a preponderance of evidence policy in 2009.