The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights notified the university Feb. 24 that it would investigate a complaint that the university “failed to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports, and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice … and, as a result, students were subjected to a sexually hostile environment.”
In response the university issued the following statement:
We’re very proud of our student sexual misconduct policy, our prevention efforts and our programs to support survivors of sexual misconduct. We will fully cooperate with the Department of Education and we believe that a review of our policy, programs and investigations will conclude that the University of Michigan is doing what it should in this important area.
Questions and answers regarding sexual misconduct policy
Here are a few basic questions and answers about the university’s policy on sexual misconduct by students. Read a more complete FAQ here.
Q. Is the policy equally applied to all students?
Q. Who is usually involved in the investigation process?
A. In most cases, the university’s Title IX Coordinator will appoint an investigator from the university’s Office for Institutional Equity to conduct a thorough fact-finding investigation. That typically includes meeting separately with the complainant, the respondent, the reporter (if applicable), witnesses and reviewing other pertinent information. At any time during the investigation the complainant, respondent or any witness may provide a written statement or other supporting materials. Any person involved in the investigation may have a support person present during any meeting.
Q. How is the new policy different from the one in effect before August 2011?
A. There are two important changes first implemented with the interim policy in 2011 that carried through with the final policy in 2013. How an investigation is started: The new policy states that all allegations of sexual misconduct made against students are to be reviewed by the university’s Title IX coordinator. Under the previous procedure, the university investigated only if the victim of sexual misconduct elected to move forward. This current investigatory approach is consistent with Department of Education guidance. The standard of evidence: The 2011 Department of Education guidance also specified the standard of evidence to be used to determine if an allegation of sexual misconduct was valid. That standard is to be a “preponderance of the evidence.” Previously the university used a “clear and convincing evidence” standard with reports of sexual misconduct. Under the new policy, the university will rely on the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Use of a preponderance of evidence standard also is consistent with the standard used by the university in evaluating allegations of sexual misconduct against faculty and staff.
Q. Is the university’s investigation the same as criminal justice process?
A. No. This new policy has no impact on a criminal investigation that would be handled separately by police. The university does, however, encourage anyone who believes they have experienced a sexual assault, or any other crime, to make a report to the U-M Police Department or other appropriate police agency.
Q. Can an incident from the past be investigated?
A. Yes. The Title IX coordinator can and does review information whenever it is received and makes a determination on how to proceed. The university does not, however, routinely review complaints received in earlier years without being in receipt of some additional information.
Q. What happens when a complainant does not want to cooperate with an investigation?
A. If a complainant requests confidentiality or asks that the report of sexual misconduct not be pursued, the university will, generally before taking any further investigative steps, forward that information, along with all available information about the report, to a review panel. The review panel will consist of the Title IX Coordinator and staff members. These panel members will represent the interests of the university, law enforcement, survivors of sexual misconduct, persons accused of sexual misconduct, and/or other offices as deemed necessary and appropriate under the circumstances. The review panel is charged with balancing U-M’s tradition of supporting survivor-centered practices with U-M’s equally strong commitment to providing due process to the respondent and promoting a safe community.
Q. Why is it important to keep student discipline records private?
A. Students involved in a sexual misconduct investigation may choose to share information. They have the right to decide whether and if they share the information of an investigation outcome. The university will not usurp students’ ability to make their own decisions by providing that information to the public.
Q. How will the University demonstrate transparency?
A. The University must balance privacy and transparency and that we will do it through an annual report that demonstrates our policies are being consistently and fairly applied in every instance.
Q. What are the possible outcomes of a review?
A. Once an investigator from the Office for Institutional Equity has completed a review and the report has been reviewed by the Title IX Coordinator, the university’s official written determination generally will be provided to the complainant and the respondent. If the respondent has been found responsible for sexual misconduct the university will initiate a sanctioning process designed to eliminate the misconduct, its recurrence and remedy its effects while supporting the university’s educational mission and Title IX obligations. There also is an appeal process available to complainants and respondents.