After thoroughly reviewing existing policies, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct has implemented a host of changes to its formal procedures, University President Peter Salovey announced in a campuswide email Monday.
The changes, effective today, include a modification of the role of the final decision maker, who has the conclusive say on the outcome of hearings of formal sexual misconduct complaints. According to UWC procedure, formal complaints are heard in front of a panel of five UWC members, who then decide if the respondent has violated University sexual misconduct policy and recommend disciplinary action if necessary. The final decision maker — the dean of the respondent’s school, or the provost if the respondent is a faculty member — can then accept, modify or reject the panel’s decision and disciplinary recommendation. Under the new procedural changes, the decision maker is now required to meet with all members of the UWC panel who participated in the hearing if he or she is considering any changes to the panel’s conclusions and recommendations for action. This is a departure from the previous procedures, in which the decision maker received a report of the panel’s findings but then had full power in rendering a final decision without an obligation to meet with the panel again.
Additionally, the respondent and complainant will now receive only the findings and conclusion of the UWC panel with regards to the complaint but not the panel’s original recommendations for disciplinary actions. Information about the final disciplinary actions, if any will be taken, will come only from the decision maker.
Other changes include stricter confidentiality policies, a more streamlined informal complaint process, clarification of the right to bring forward additional allegations during UWC proceedings and clarification of the criteria for selecting a fact-finder. The fact-finder is now only required to be “impartial” and to have received the “appropriate expertise and training in investigating allegations of sexual misconduct”; previously, the fact-finder was also required to be independent of the University.
The changes are the result of a thorough review of UWC procedure spearheaded by University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler over the spring and summer. In addition to suggestions from UWC members, deputy Title IX coordinators and the Women Faculty Forum, the review also incorporated student input from an undergraduate survey conducted in January by the Yale College Council and Women’s Center as well as recommendations from a faculty committee appointed in April, according to Salovey’s email.
Salovey noted that when the UWC was first established in July 2011, administrators anticipated that procedures would be updated in a few years as the body accumulated more experience in handling cases of sexual misconduct. The faculty committee was convened with the express purpose of reviewing UWC procedures and synthesizing the input gathered last spring, Spangler told the News.
“These modifications were intended to enhance clarity, to more accurately reflect UWC practices as they have evolved over the past four years and to align the procedures, where appropriate, with other University processes,” Salovey wrote in the email, adding that the faculty committee concluded its review in September, after which he, in consultation with the University Cabinet, accepted the committee’s recommendations.
Law professor Kate Stith chaired the committee, which included Trumbull College Master Margaret Clark, Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway, Women Faculty Forum Chairwoman Paula Kavathas and Deputy Dean of the School of Management Andrew Metrick. Spangler and Deputy General Counsel Cynthia Carr advised the committee.
According to Stith, committee met every few weeks over the summer to discuss the existing procedures with colleagues and individual students. The committee examined the results of the joint YCC and Women’s Center report, which highlighted students’ confusion about the informal complaint process, and also compared Yale’s procedures to those at other universities, Stith said.
In his email, Salovey said he asked the faculty committee to focus on three key issues: the confidentiality of UWC proceedings, the decision-making process and the relationship between findings and sanctions. The decision-making process, especially, has come under scrutiny after the New York Times revealed last November that Provost Benjamin Polak had lightened the recommended punishment for former School of Medicine cardiology Chief Michael Simons MED ’84 after Simons was found responsible for sexual harassment.
“I believe that President Salovey asked the committee to focus on those specific issues that had been topics of particular interest and broad discussion in the Yale community,” Spangler said.
Stith agreed with Spangler’s explanation, adding that these issues have surfaced in previous formal complaint cases and thus deserve re-evaluation. Elizabeth Villarreal ’16, one of the authors of the joint YCC and Women’s Center report, said two of the three issues that Salovey highlighted particularly resonated with undergraduates. Survey respondents, who were all undergraduates, were often confused about confidentiality policies, the communication of findings and sanctions and other specifics of the complaint process, Villarreal said.
Asked if and how these changes will impact future UWC proceedings, UWC Chairman David Post told the News that he believes the revisions will not produce major effects.
“As President Salovey mentioned in his letter to the University community, changes in the UWC procedures mostly clarified the procedures and aligned them with existing practices,” Post said. “Therefore, changes in the procedures will have very little impact on future UWC cases.”
Stith, however, said clarifying the confusion surrounding the UWC procedures was a good idea. In particular, Stith said students will now have a clearer understanding of the informal complaint process, which will now be handled explicitly by Title IX officers, though members of the UWC will still be available for consultation.
Administrators and students interviewed were optimistic about the progress of the UWC and the University’s handling of sexual misconduct cases over the last four years.
“Yale’s sexual misconduct complaint process is still relatively new, and we’re glad to see the University continuing to refine their procedures in response to input from various sources, including student survey results,” Villarreal said. “As the University collects more data, including from last year’s AAU survey for example, we hope that they will continue to refine their procedures in the future.”
According to the University’s most recent Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct, published on Aug. 4, there were seven formal complaints and zero informal complaints filed with the UWC between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year. Title IX coordinators and the Yale Police Department received 29 and 20 complaints, respectively.