University implements new policy regarding student sexual misconduct
After an extensive, campuswide development and review process, the university is starting the academic year under a new policy that makes a clear statement that sexual misconduct "will not be tolerated at the University of Michigan and is expressly prohibited."
"As a university community that honors the values of civility, dignity, diversity, education, equality, freedom, honesty and safety, this policy is very clear on the point that Michigan is firmly committed to maintaining a campus environment free from sexual harassment and sexual assault," says E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs.
In developing the new Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Students, U-M is underscoring the long-held belief that sexual misconduct jeopardizes the mental, physical, and emotional welfare of students and the overall safety of the university community, Harper explains.
"Sexual misconduct violates our institutional values and its presence in the community presents a barrier to fulfilling the university's missions of education, research, service and patient care," she adds.
The policy, which applies to all U-M students as well as participants in university-sponsored programs, took effect Aug. 19 as students began returning to campus. Classes for the fall semester begin today. The new policy replaces an interim procedure that was put into effect in August 2011 in response to new guidance provided to all universities by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
The new policy has no impact on criminal investigations, which would be handled independently by either the U-M Police Department or the Ann Arbor Police Department.
The work to develop the policy fell under sponsorship of Harper, Suellyn Scarnecchia, special adviser to the president and clinical professor of law, and Timothy Lynch, the university's vice president and general counsel. That work was guided by a diverse, campuswide advisory committee, with membership including both graduate and undergraduate students, members of the faculty, and staff from the Division of Public Safety and Security, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the Office for Institutional Equity and the Dean of Students Office.
A subset of the advisory group planned and led the effort on campus. This core team includes Jennifer Meyer Schrage, project facilitator; Maya Kobersy, associate general counsel; Holly Rider-Milkovich, SAPAC director; Anthony Walesby, associate vice provost and senior director of the Office for Institutional Equity who serves as the university's Title IX coordinator; and Jay Wilgus, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.
While the new policy specifically addresses sexual misconduct among students, it also addresses how faculty and staff can contribute to the prevention of, intervention in, and effective response to student sexual misconduct. All members of the community may play a role in building a safe and just educational environment by:
• Modeling healthy and respectful behavior in personal and professional relationships.
• Increasing personal awareness of what constitutes sexual misconduct.
• Speaking out against behavior that encourages sexual misconduct or discourages reporting.
• Developing the necessary skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors of sexual misconduct.
• Intervening in situations that can lead to sexual misconduct and related misbehavior.
• Interrupting an incident of sexual misconduct if it is safe to do so.
The policy is built on the pillars of respect, report, respond and review.
Respect: This policy applies to all students, and all students engaging this policy can expect to be treated with respect as the university seeks to provide an appropriate, private, timely and fair response to reports of sexual misconduct by students. Retaliation will not be tolerated.
Report: The university strongly encourages the reporting of sexual misconduct. The university will respond to any report of sexual misconduct made to a non-confidential university employee. All reports to non-confidential employees will be reported to the U-M Title IX coordinator in the Office for Institutional Equity.
Respond: The university will respond to reports of student sexual misconduct with support and resources, and proceed in a way that seeks to honor the rights of students affected by the report. If a complainant requests confidentiality or decides not to participate in the response process, the university will consider this request and proceed in a way that takes into account the safety and wellness of the community.
Review: A report of sexual misconduct will be reviewed, and if deemed appropriate, investigated. In the interest of privacy, investigations will not involve a hearing or require that participants meet together. If the evidence supports a finding of responsibility, the matter will proceed to the sanctioning process.
"I am very proud of the way our university has approached the development of this important policy," says Walesby, U-M's Title IX coordinator. "We've taken a thoughtful and inclusive approach to ensure we are consistent with university values and compliant with applicable laws."
While the interim procedure was in effect, the team of university officials worked with many segments of the university community to develop an appropriate approach for responding to allegation of sexual misconduct among students. Last fall a draft policy was presented during a series of focus groups and forums open to the entire campus community.
"The extensive review process was designed to engage a large part of the university community and to get the best thinking possible on this important topic," Schrage says.
Key changes in the policy, which also were part of the interim procedure, include how an investigation is initiated, and the standard of evidence being used. These changes also are consistent with guidance from the Department of Education.
How an investigation is started: The policy states that all allegations of sexual misconduct made against students are to be reviewed by the university's Title IX coordinator. Under the previous procedure, the university process was largely directed by the complainant after a complaint was filed with the Office of Student Conflict Resolution.
The standard of evidence: The new guidance also instructed campuses to use a "preponderance of the evidence" standard to evaluate an allegation of sexual misconduct. Previously the university used a "clear and convincing evidence" standard. Under the new policy, the university will rely on the "more likely than not" preponderance of the evidence standard.
Changes that appear in the new policy that were not part of the interim policy cover such areas as an expanded appeal process, the addition of informal resolution options in certain circumstances and a change in where sexual misconduct incidents are reported from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution to the Office for Institutional Equity.
In addition to outlining how the process of review works, the policy also includes contact information for the various resources, on campus and in the community, that are available to students.