Schools revise sexual misconduct policies

Yale was not the only university to face a Title IX complaint in the last academic year, and it is not the only one revising its sexual misconduct policies.

As of this spring, Yale, Princeton University, Duke University, Harvard Law School and the University of Virginia were all under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for alleged violations of federal Title IX regulations. Complaints filed against the schools accused them of using inappropriately high standards of evidence to prove sexual misconduct and of failing to resolve sexual misconduct cases promptly. These universities, including Yale, are now changing their sexual misconduct policies — but Title IX experts said some are adjusting more quickly than others.

On April 4, the Office for Civil Rights sent a 19-page “Dear Colleague” letter to schools and universities across the country that clarified and updated Title IX expectations. Administrators at the schools under investigation said the letter prompted them to review their policies to ensure they complied with the regulations.

“We’ve worked hard to amplify the definitions of sexual misconduct to conform with [the new guidelines],” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, adding that the University aimed to send a “single, congruent” message about it will handle cases of sexual misconduct.

The new definitions were among extensive changes to the Undergraduate Regulations announced Tuesday, many of which were in the works before the “Dear Colleague” letter was released. Yale’s new definition states that sexual misconduct encompasses sexually harassing speech and online communication, as well as nonconsensual sexual contact.

The “Dear Colleague” letter also spurred other universities to alter the wording of their sexual misconduct policies: Princeton and UVA have both expanded or clarified their definitions of sexual misconduct and sexual consent in the past few months.

“Language is important because you want everybody to be on the same page,” said Melissa Lucchesi, outreach education coordinator for Security on Campus, Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to prevent campus violence. “If you have people from one office thinking one thing, and students thinking another thing, it’s not going to make for a smooth or effective or fair process.”

But both Lucchesi and Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law in Boston who helped file grievances against Harvard Law, UVA and Princeton, said changing definitions is just the start of Title IX compliance.

While Yale and UVA have made extensive additional changes — Yale created a new University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct to handle all sexual misconduct complaints and instituted mandatory sexual misconduct prevention training for student organizations — Princeton’s revisions are so far limited to definitions, The Daily Princetonian reported.

Murphy said Princeton’s changes are “not remotely close to sufficient to comply with Title IX,” pointing out that they do not take steps to resolve sexual misconduct cases more quickly.

“The critical concerns I raised [in complaints filed against Princeton and Harvard Law] don’t have nearly as much to do with definitions of sexual assault as much as the promptness with which complaints are resolved,” Murphy said.

Sarah Marston, public information officer at Harvard Law School, declined to comment on whether the law school has changed its policies.

In what Lucchesi and Murphy called one of the most important component of the new guidelines, the “Dear Colleague” letter said that universities must adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for proof of sexual misconduct, which means that an accused party is found guilty if 51 percent or more of the evidence is against them. Yale, UVA and Duke have already altered their regulations to meet this requirement, and the “preponderance of the evidence” standard represents a lower standard of proof that the universities previously required, student newspapers at the schools reported.

Murphy added that Princeton and Harvard Law have not yet changed their standard of proof.

At Duke, administrators have revised procedures for handling cases of sexual misconduct in an additional way: complainants can now appeal outcomes of hearings, a right that was only granted to accused persons in the past, said Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct at Duke.

Title IX passed into law in 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex at all educational institutions receiving federal funding.


  • The Anti-Yale

    *“preponderance of the evidence” standard for proof of sexual misconduct, which means that an accused party is found guilty if 51 percent or more of the evidence is against them.*

    So a person’s reputation is ruined by one percent?


    • SY

      In the law, the preponderance of evidence burden of proof is met when the complainant presents ANY credible evidence, subject to the rebuttal of the accused. In the Title IX cases, this means the complainant testifies and cries; cross examination is discouraged; past conduct and sexual experience are not allowed; and then the accused denies the testimony without crying. There are three arbitrators including at least one gender studies professor/administrator. Guess who is “more likely than not” to prevail?

  • penpusher

    Is this “Dear Colleague” letter available to view anywhere? I’m curious to read the wording and see the commentary the Office of Civil Rights offered in nineteen pages.

  • River_Tam

    “Beyond a reasonable doubt” isn’t good enough for those with the totalitarian instinct.

  • The Anti-Yale

    One per cent is one percent.

  • SY

    Teachers should never have romantic/sexual relationships with undergrad students, without notice to the Dean and written consent from the future sexual misconduct victims. Students should not have first night drunk sex, which is the only real way to call their partner a rapist. (Girlfriends don’t call a boyfriend a rapist even if a sexual relationship ends.) If women won’t take responsibility for their actions, ruin a couple of male teachers and students. Just put sexual misconduct or rape on their academic records. No jobs for them. Problem solved.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *Sexual violence, as that term is used in this letter, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol. An individual also may be unable to give consent due to an intellectual or other disability.*

    Unless a person is an alcoholic or a drug addict , equating the “use drugs or alcohol” with a disability seems questionable.

  • anon82

    The problem is with defining sexual violence. If people are deemed incapable of giving consent due to drugs or alcohol, then certainly people can be deemed incapable of obtaining consent due to drugs or alcohol. And that 1 in 5 statistic of women who have been victims of sexual violence is outlandish. Sure 1 in 5 women have drunken themselves into a stupor and regretted sleeping with someone, and it includes attempted sexual violence, which can basically mean hitting on someone at a bar or party. Lots of girls get drunk because they want to have sex.