UNC panel progressing on sexual misconduct policy recommendations
The UNC-Chapel Hill Title IX Task Force, which has held meetings since May to discuss university policies relating to student-on-student sexual misconduct, tackled on Wednesday the responsibilities of UNC investigators handling such cases.
Within the old policy, an investigator gathers and presents information about a sexual misconduct case but doesn’t find a student responsible. That step was reserved for the adjudicator.
The new recommendation from a 22-member task force would allow investigators to gather information as well as determine if a student is or is not responsible for sexual misconduct. The task force was created in response to claims made by five women who charged that UNC routinely mishandled sexual assault cases. The U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation in March, and UNC officials have vigorously denied the charge.
The panel’s recommendation to allow investigators to make determinations immediately takes more weight off of the student reporting the incident and places it back on the shoulders of the university, said Christi Hurt, who is UNC’s interim Title IX coordinator and on leave as director of the Carolina Women's Center.
She said the potential policy change would move from an “aggregation of facts” system to more decision-making responsibility on the university at the beginning of a case.
Once UNC investigators start looking into reported sexual misconduct, there would be more information shared with the reporting and respondent students early on in the process, instead of after a hearing.
“The biggest complaint is that it’s not transparent,” said Gina Smith, a nationally known consultant and expert on sexual assault working alongside UNC’s task force, about the old procedure.
The task force includes students, faculty and staff members, from Jayne Grandes, an investigator with UNC’s Equal Opportunity/ADA Office, to UNC Student Body President Christy Lambden.
“I like this model a lot,” Lambden said during the meeting. “I think it’s efficient. I think it’s expedient.”
The new procedure under discussion also would allow the student respondent to take responsibility early on for his or her misconduct, moving along the sanctions process.
Hurt said over the summer, the task force defined different types of prohibited conduct, from sexual exploitation to cyber stalking. They’ve held about 10 meetings since May.
She took a “temperature check” of the task force members Wednesday, with more than half of the room raising their hands to support the new model regarding findings of responsibility.
“Up ‘til now, we’ve done everything by consensus,” Hurt said. “… It’s still progress.”
Hurt said their next meeting will be held in November. At that meeting, adjudication will be discussed, to include if settling a sexual misconduct case should be handled by a single person or a panel, and the group also will explore disciplinary actions that can be taken by the university if a student is found responsible.
When a recommendation report is finalized, it will be reviewed by administrators and then presented to Chancellor Carol Folt.
“Even though this feels like quicksand, it’s important quicksand,” Hurt told the task force Wednesday. “.. We are getting there. Every conversation we have gets us closer.”