A report released Monday through the Provost’s Office pushes for a more centralized and streamlined system to handle sexual misconduct at Yale.
The Sexual Misconduct Committee, which was appointed by the Provost’s Office, advocates the creation of a University Wide Committee, or UWC, to address complaints of sexual grievances, and introduces the phrase “sexual misconduct” as an umbrella term encompassing rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. The report also suggests hiring professional investigators to look into formal claims brought before the UWC, and says it will be more feasible to train and staff the UWC — one central committee — than the many committees that currently exist across campus.
The announcement comes almost exactly one year after the Women Faculty Forum issued a 76-page policy report on the subject. Now, with the recommendations submitted to Provost Peter Salovey, a second committee will soon begin reviewing the report to decide how to implement the changes. Philosophy professor Michael Della Rocca, who will chair both committees, said he is confident the report’s main points will be enacted.
“The whole committee doesn’t need to hear every case, but you do need to have a group of people that is constant,” Salovey said the Friday before the report was released. “The goal of a University Wide Committee is to have University-wide standards.”
The 14-member Sexual Misconduct Committee that met last semester included representatives from the Office of the General Counsel, the Provost’s Office and five of Yale’s professional schools, who worked to determine which suggestions from the extensive Women Faculty Forum report best fitted Yale’s needs, Della Rocca said. Although the new nine-member committee will most likely begin meeting this week, the time line for implementing changes suggested by the Sexual Misconduct Committee’s report remains uncertain, Della Rocca said.
“The task of the committee this semester is to work with various groups, including especially students and deans, to figure out how best to do that and to consider what modifications might need to be made,” Della Rocca said in an e-mail Tuesday, adding that he hopes the UWC will be operational by spring semester.
Students currently seeking to file sexual misconduct complaints act through “local grievance committees” in each of Yale’s schools, which operate independently of one another. Procedures are better defined in some schools than in others, according to the report released by Della Rocca’s committee.
The UWC would “complement,” not eliminate, these local options, the report said. Schools would decide on an individual basis whether to keep their local options after the UWC is formed. The UWC would consist of 15 to 20 members pulled from across the University, and smaller pools of members would be assigned to hear individual cases.
University President Richard Levin said Yale’s policies are “not fully there yet” compared to those of other universities, and he hopes the committee’s work will give students simple and transparent avenues to resolving issues of sexual misconduct.
Yale Women’s Center spokeswoman Sally Walstrom said the Center fully supports the changes to Yale’s policy outlined in the report.
The proposed UWC would be specifically trained to handle sexual misconduct cases, said Melanie Boyd, special advisor to the dean of Yale College on gender issues and a member of the committee that produced the WFF report. Therefore, it would be better-equipped to deal with the cases’ complexity than some of the existing options, such as the Executive Committee in Yale College, Boyd said.
“The executive committee mostly handles plagiarism and drunken conduct. Sexual assault is a small percentage of cases, but it takes up a disproportionately large amount of their time,” she said. “But this new University Wide Committee could be specifically structured and given the necessary support to manage those challenges.”
Last year’s WFF report looked at how 10 of Yale’s peer institutions deal with sexual misconduct. Bodies like the proposed UWC, which the report called “more centralized, streamlined, and well-articulated than Yale‘s current system,” were in place at four other universities. Boyd said adopting the recommendations would usher Yale into the group of institutions with the “best practices.”
Della Rocca said most universities handle sexual grievances through multiple committees, like those currently found in Yale’s separate schools, but added that Yale wants to emulate those, like Columbia University, which use a more centralized method.
Constance Bagley, a professor at the School of Management and co-chair of the committee that released the WFF report, said she was pleased with the review conducted by Della Rocca’s committee. Bagley said posting the new report to the Provost’s Office website has increased the transparency of Yale’s work with the sexual misconduct policy.
“One of the things we talked about in the WFF report was really promoting transparency,” Bagley said. “It’s a breath of fresh air; it’s a willingness to really bring this out into the community.”
Bagley said her main concern with the report was that it would allow the continued existence of the local options, while she would prefer to see the UWC replace them completely.
If the changes are implemented this spring, the report suggests they be reevaluated after three to five years.