Office of the Vice President for Communications

Monday, March 12, 2012

Effort seeks to craft new process for handling student sexual misconduct allegations

The university has launched a process to develop an appropriate approach for responding to allegations of sexual misconduct among students.

The initial phase of the work, now getting under way, will include a wide range of individual and group interviews to gather input from all parts of the university community.

 

More information

• The interim policy
• Questions or concerns? Send an email to jschrage@umich.edu

The effort comes under the sponsorship of E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, and Suellyn Scarnecchia, vice president and general counsel. The work is being led by project facilitator Jennifer Schrage.

"Our goal is to engage a large number of people and campus groups to make sure we are getting the best thinking possible on a process that is appropriate for this campus community," Schrage says.

The yearlong effort stems from additional guidance received last spring from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. That guidance highlights the nationwide impact of sexual misconduct on college campuses and makes specific recommendations regarding how colleges and universities should respond to allegations of sexual misconduct.

In response to that guidance, the university last fall put in place an interim procedure for addressing sexual misconduct allegations against students.

"Putting the interim policy in place gave the university time for a thoughtful discussion of how best to implement long-term changes that are consistent with the new guidance and consistent with U-M values and traditions," Harper says.

The interim procedure is different from the previous procedure in two important ways, and both changes are consistent with the guidance received from the Department of Education. These changes again will be carefully considered as the university moves ahead to develop a long-term procedure.

How an investigation is started: The interim procedure states that all allegations of sexual misconduct made against students are to be reviewed by the Office of Student Conflict Resolution in consultation with the university's Title IX coordinator. Under the previous procedure, the university investigated only if the complainant of sexual misconduct elected to move forward.

The standard of evidence: The new guidance also instructed campuses to use a "preponderance of evidence" standard to evaluate an allegation of sexual misconduct. Previously the university used a "clear and convincing evidence" standard. Under the interim procedure, the university will rely on the less-demanding "preponderance of the evidence" standard to substantiate an allegation.

It's important to note that neither the interim nor the new long-term procedure will have any impact on how a criminal investigation is handled.

Development of the new procedure is being guided by a campuswide advisory committee. Its membership ranges from the Department of Public Safety, members of the faculty and undergraduate students to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and the Dean of Students Office.

A subset of the advisory group is planning and leading the effort on campus. This core team includes Maya Kobersy, associate general counsel; Jennifer Meyer Schrage, project facilitator; Holly Rider-Milkovich, SAPAC director; Anthony Walesby, senior director of the Office of Institutional Equity; and Jay Wilgus, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.

Following the initial phase of gathering information through interviews, the core team will draft elements of a procedure and then use focus groups in the fall to get additional feedback. It is hoped that a new procedure will be ready for implementation by January 2013.