Univ. to revise sexual misconduct policies

The University will alter its sexual misconduct policies following the Department of Education’s clarification of Title IX regulations, a member of the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel said Tuesday.

The revised specifications, released April 4 in a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Office for Civil Rights to schools and universities receiving federal funding, outline procedures for handling sexual misconduct that are mandatory for compliance with Title IX. As administrators determine the details of a new University-wide Committee that will begin hearing sexual misconduct cases from across Yale on July 1, they will take into account requirements in the DOE advisory that are not currently in place at Yale.

“We need to examine exactly what those regulations say and what our regulations say, and move to full compliance if we are not there,” said Yale College Dean Mary Miller this Monday.

In particular, the UWC will have to depart from the Yale College Executive Committee’s current minimum burden of proof necessary to find an accused party guilty of misconduct, said Associate University General Counsel Susan Sawyer. The revised guidelines may also require that the investigation and discipline process move faster, she said.

According to disciplinary procedures published online, the Executive Commmittee — which currently reviews disciplinary cases of sexual misconduct within Yale College — requires a “clear preponderance of the evidence” to establish that sexual misconduct has taken place. Because this standard requires more evidence to prove that sexual misconduct has occurred than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard required by the Title IX clarifications, which amounts to about 51 percent certainty that the accused party is guilty, Sawyer said, the University will immediately switch to the latter.

“[Yale’s standard] is somewhere in between ‘preponderance of evidence’ and ‘clear and convincing evidence,’” Sawyer said of Yale’s standard. “If preponderance is ‘more certain that not,’ [Yale’s standard] is a bit more certain than that. Because the OCR issued [these] guidelines, we will be changing the standard for any such cases.”

Two Title IX experts said they had not heard of a standard described as a “clear preponderance of evidence” before.

S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for security on Campus, Inc. — a nonprofit organization focused on safety on college campuses — said many other schools across the country have set their burdens of proof too high. As schools review their disciplinary procedures in light of the “Dear Colleague” letter, Stanford University will also lower its required burden of proof to the “preponderance of evidence” standard in cases of sexual misconduct, The Stanford Daily reported Tuesday.

The DOE advisory also states that institutions must have “designated and reasonably prompt time frames for the major stages of the complaint process.”

According to current Executive Committee procedures, the committee’s action on a case must be completed before the end of the academic semester after the semester in which the complaint is initiated. The committee may vote to extend the process.

Carter said he does not think Yale’s time frame qualifies as “prompt.”

The speed of the committee’s action may sometimes depend on the work of its fact finder, Miller said, who is not dedicated solely to the Executive Committee.

“It’s important to remember that the fact finder for Yale’s Executive Committee is a faculty member that has other responsibilities,” Miller said.

The new University-wide Committee will have a professional fact finder, Miller said.

Sawyer added that the UWC will have to determine whether it needs to operate within a shorter time frame to comply with Title IX standards.

“That’s an important question and something we have to think through carefully,” Sawyer said. “I hope the UWC will be able to improve upon the time frame in hearings.”

The DOE’s new clarifications were announced by Vice President Joe Biden at an event at the University of New Hampshire. At the time, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the News that the recommendations were unrelated to the OCR’s investigation into allegations of a hostile sexual environment at Yale, announced by two Yale complainants March 31.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *Sawyer added that the UWC will have to determine whether it needs to operate within a shorter time frame to comply with Title IX standards.*
    *“That’s an important question and something we have to think through carefully”* Swayer said.

    **”Justice delayed is justice denied”. (Gladstone)
    But remember Arthur Miller’s lesson in *The Crucible*:
    Justice rushed is justice crushed.**

    PK

  • yalestudent

    why did they ever think it was a good idea to use a faculty member as a fact-finder?

  • Branford73

    The term “guilty” should be replaced by “responsible”, too. It’s not just semantics. “Guilty” implies a crime, and the standard for that determination has traditionally been (and is in the public mind as) “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

  • Skeptic

    Two observations. First, the pace of events is often controlled by circumstances unrelated to the procedures themselves: delayed reporting of the alleged offense; difficulty in contacting and scheduling interviews with relevant individuals.. students often delay interviews by weeks simply because of their other obligations, preferences, etc. (the ExComm does not have subpoena power); and frequently one or both parties have legal counsel involved (and we all know how lawyers like to delay things until they have everything under control), The ExComm procedures have deadlines designed to balance the need for timely action with the need for adequate investigation and deliberation. Second, the threshold for decisions may be clear in words but hard to apply in practice: should not the “preponderance of the evidence” always be “clear”? Most of us would not feel fairly treated to be found in violation of the undergraduate regulations based on a preponderance (of evidence) that was murky. How does “preponderance of the evidence” really differ from “clear preponderance of the evidence”? Also, the standard “beyond reasonable doubt” which is often applied in capital cases in the legal system is certainly more demanding that “preponderance of the evidence”… but within a system (the Yale ExComm) where expulsion (with no option for readmission) is the maximum punishment possible, one might think that expulsion is “academic capital punishment” which might call for a rather stringent standard of judgement, i.e., beyond reasonable doubt.

    Unfortunately, ever since the revision in Yale’s sexual harassment policy a few years ago, our academic administrators have repeatedly come down on the side of heavy-handed rule-making designed to placate timid regulators rather than to stand for independence, individual responsibility, and adult expectations of our students.

  • Branford73

    Just a quibble, Skeptic: “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard for all criminal prosecutions, not just the death penalty.