University continues to tweak sexual misconduct policy

Division of Student Affairs accepting feedback on overarching interim changes

Jonah Roth, Staff Reporter

The Division of Student Affairs is accepting feedback on its interim sexual misconduct policy. Currently in the process of collecting feedback from the Case Western Reserve University community, the committee revising this policy will be speaking to representatives of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies in the coming weeks. These groups include the Undergraduate Student Government, the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff.

CWRU is in the process of revising and merging its sexual harassment and sexual assault policies into one overarching sexual misconduct policy. This revision is in response to a “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education on April 4, 2011, which requires all schools and universities receiving federal funding to have certain sexual misconduct policies in place.

For the 2013-14 academic year, CWRU created an interim policy.

“Towards the end of the year, we’ll take the feedback, look at the things that we can change,” said Louis Stark, vice president for Student Affairs. “For the next academic year we’ll have a [finalized] sexual misconduct policy.”

The changes to the new policy include clarifying the definitions of many concepts, including misconduct, consent, incapacitation and confidentiality. There will also be new emphasis on the fact that everyone has a legal obligation to report sexual misconduct.

Stark points out that many of the policy changes required by the “Dear Colleague” letter are things that CWRU has been doing for years, but are just now being formalized and put into writing. CWRU has also been raising awareness about sexual misconduct issues for decades through initiatives such as the posters currently hanging in most bathrooms around campus.

“We’ve been doing… some pretty progressive things in terms of raising awareness around sexual misconduct,” noted Susan Nickel-Schindewolf, associate vice president for Student Affairs, who also sends an email to every incoming freshman providing them and their parents with information about sexual assault.

The new policy also identifies CWRU’s Title IX coordinator: Dr. Marilyn Mobley, vice president for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity. In that role she is responsible for making sure the provisions of Title IX, a law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education, are being followed. Mobley is one of the faculty members implicated in CWRU School of Law Professor Raymond Ku’s retaliation lawsuit against CWRU School of Law Dean Lawrence Mitchell, who is currently on a leave of absence.

Stark says the new policy is also intended to make it easier for students to come forward and report sexual misconduct without necessarily worrying about “disciplinary sanctions that aren’t educational”; for example, if a student under 21 had to report that they were drinking alcohol as part of reporting a sexual assault.

The interim policy states that “the university’s primary focus will be on addressing the sexual misconduct.”

The free speech watchdog group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has criticized the “Dear Colleague” letter for its standard of evidence in determining whether an accusation of sexual misconduct is true. The letter uses the “preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred)”—and CWRU’s interim policy uses similar language—which FIRE’s website calls “our judiciary’s lowest standard of proof.”

However, the letter notes that higher standards of evidence “are inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX.” CWRU’s interim policy uses similar language, which the Department of Education calls “the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence,” to describe the university’s standard of evidence.

The full text of the interim policy is available to read online.