The following is the response to a petition posted online by faculty and a resolution passed at last week’s Associated Student Government meeting. The response was first sent to the Northwestern community Tuesday morning. It is reprinted here as an opinion piece at the request of University administrators and will also appear on Wednesday’s Opinion page. It does not reflect the views of The Daily Northwestern.
An online petition created recently and a resolution passed by Northwestern’s Associated Student Government have raised concerns regarding the University’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints. As members of Northwestern University’s Title IX Coordinating Committee, we wish to respond to the issues that have been raised. Our committee is charged with reviewing and overseeing the University’s efforts in Title IX compliance. The Committee shares the goals of ensuring the safety of everyone in our university community and of furthering Title IX’s objectives of promoting a campus environment free from sexual violence and discrimination on the basis of sex.
(ASG lends support to sexual misconduct petition)
The Committee appreciates the valuable ideas contained in the petition and student government resolution, many of which are already in practice at Northwestern, and we will consider those suggestions thoughtfully. In an effort to be both responsive and transparent, we address below some of the concerns raised in those documents.
The petition asks Northwestern to release a 2012 “Resolution Agreement” with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Northwestern was not a party to such an agreement and no such agreement exists.
The Committee wishes to clarify the process by which faculty discipline is determined and implemented in sexual harassment and sexual violence matters at Northwestern. After the Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention investigates a complaint, it prepares a written report, including its findings. The report is then provided to the dean of the appropriate school. The Dean’s Office reviews the investigation report and determines and implements the appropriate discipline based on the specific findings in the case. Under the faculty handbook, a faculty member may file an appeal of any sanctions. A faculty Committee on Cause reviews the report and the discipline, and makes a recommendation on the appropriateness of the sanctions imposed by the Dean. In doing so, the Committee on Cause may propose greater or lesser sanctions.
The petition asks that all University units that receive reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault keep records of each case, including identities of the parties, facts of the case, investigation or hearing outcome, and sanctions. The Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention (which investigates sexual misconduct matters involving faculty and staff), the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (which handles sexual misconduct matters between students), and the Northwestern University Police Department (“NUPD”) (which investigates criminal matters on campus when a survivor wishes to file a police report), already maintain detailed logs and files on all complaints received, how they are handled, findings, and sanctions. In addition, the University’s Title IX Coordinator maintains a central log of all matters of reported sexual misconduct. Logs of complaints are not currently shared with the public due to confidentiality concerns and the possibility raised by survivor advocates that public disclosure of this information could have a chilling effect on reporting sexual misconduct. But each complaint is logged and tracked.
The petition asks that survivors be informed of the outcomes of the investigation or hearing, including the sanctions imposed. Northwestern’s current practice is to inform every survivor of the findings of the investigation or hearing, as well as sanctions directly relating to the survivor, such as no-contact orders. The Committee appreciates the petition’s suggestion that survivors be notified of all sanctions imposed, and will make it a priority to consider and clarify practices, in light of applicable confidentiality laws and policies, whereby sanctions in sexual harassment or sexual violence matters would be disclosed to survivors.
The petition asks that positive findings from investigations should be made part of the personnel file of the respondent. This is our practice. The University responds to requests for information about its employees from prospective employers, including information on University investigations, based on the nature of the inquiry and in accordance with applicable laws.
The petition seeks amendment of the new policy on Consensual Relationships Between Faculty, Staff and Students to state that faculty who violate the ban on sexual contact with undergraduates may be terminated. http://policies.northwestern.edu/docs/Consensual_Relations_011314.pdf. The policy states that violation will lead to discipline in accordance with the disciplinary procedures contained in the relevant handbooks. The Committee agrees that this new policy could specify that discipline for violation can include termination, including termination of tenured faculty. Northwestern is one of very few universities to have a policy expressly prohibiting faculty-undergraduate relationships, and is a leader in this area.
The petition asks for an office independent of Northwestern to oversee University handling of sexual violence matters and to ensure that survivors receive support and advocacy. We do not believe this is necessary. The University already has a Title IX Coordinator and four Deputy Title IX Coordinators who oversee the University’s handling of sexual misconduct matters. Northwestern also has the Center for Awareness, Response, and Education (CARE). CARE is a confidential, on-campus resource for students who have experienced sexual violence, where they can get survivor-centered advocacy, crisis counseling, help with academic and housing accommodations, medical assistance, information on legal and law enforcement options, and university complaint processes. CARE is staffed by professionals with extensive experience in the field of sexual violence survivor advocacy.
The petition urges that information defining sexual assault be included on Northwestern’s websites and written materials. This is already done. Northwestern’s new policy on Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, and Dating and Domestic Violence provides a detailed definition of consent and describes all types of sexual misconduct, reporting obligations, available accommodations, and disciplinary and law enforcement processes. http://policies.northwestern.edu/docs/Sexual_Misconduct_011314.pdf. Northwestern’s Title IX website, NUPD website, CARE website, and Women’s Center website all provide information on sexual assault and how to report it. Moreover, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office, Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the Women’s Center, all Title IX Coordinators, Counseling and Psychological Services (“CAPS”), and CARE, all advise survivors of their right to file a police report if they have suffered sexual violence and they wish to pursue criminal proceedings.
The Committee is encouraged that members of the Northwestern community agree that sexual misconduct on campus is an extremely important issue, and looks forward to working with faculty, students and others in advancing Northwestern’s efforts to educate our entire community on how to prevent sexual misconduct. Only with a commitment from every member of the university community can we achieve our goals.
Title IX Coordinating Committee
Todd Adams, Dean of Students
Eva Ball, Sexual Violence Response Services Coordinator (CARE)
Janna Blais, Associate Athletic Director; Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Brian Boardman, Associate General Counsel (Counsel to the Committee)
Theresa Bratanch, Program Assistant, Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention
John Dunkle, Executive Director, Counseling and Psychological Services
Julie Anne Friend, Director, Office of Global Safety and Security; Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Shaun Johnson, Northwestern University Police Department, Commander
Renee Redd, Director of Women’s Center
Roberto Sanabria, Director, Office of Equal Opportunity & Access; Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Joan Slavin, (Chair); Director, Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention; Title IX Coordinator; Special Assistant to the Provost
Laura Stuart, Sexual Health Education and Violence Prevention Coordinator (CARE)
Tara Sullivan, Director, Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution; Deputy Title IX Coordinator