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University System of Georgia Revises Sexual Assault Policies

The new policies give authority to a system-level office during sexual assault and other student misconduct investigations.

The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents announced changes to its sexual misconduct policy officials say are an effort to increase oversight while sexual assault victims’ advocates argue the changes put them in violation of Title IX.

The changes give the university system’s central office a greater role in university disciplinary proceedings and create a single process for all student conduct cases, including sexual assault and rape.

“We are working closely with our institutions and using their experience and insights to make sure we are putting best practices in place for the safety of our students and campus communities,” Chancellor Steve Wrigley said in a statement.

Under the changes, institutions must notify the University System Office when a student conduct case is opened that could result in suspension or expulsion. The university system’s director for equity and investigations will have the authority to “direct the [Title IX] Coordinator’s work at each institution as needed to address system-wide issues or directives.”

The director will also work with the college or university to determine whether any interim measures are necessary, to assign an investigator and to “collaboratively supervise” the investigation.

Another change is that all student conduct cases will be adjudicated by the Office of Student Conduct in the same manner regardless of the charge. Kimberly Ballard-Washington, the university system associate vice chancellor, said the change was made to bring more consistency to student misconduct proceedings, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The new policy does not include a time frame for complaints to be resolved, although Title IX guidance states that most investigations should be concluded within 60 days.

Ballard-Washington said the University System of Georgia is willing to let investigations go longer than 60 days in order to get them “right.” Although that would seem to defy federal guidance, Ballard-Washington insisted the new policy complied with Title IX.

However an official with Atlanta Women for Equality Inc., which provides free legal advocacy for low-income women and girls facing sex discrimination, argues dozens of aspects of the new policy violate Title IX. Some of the non-compliance areas the official cited are listed below.

  • The UGA policy does not refer to OCR at all
  • It does not state that UGA is required to comply with Title IX as a recipient of federal funding
  • It does not provide the contact info, name or title for the Title IX coordinator
  • It does not specify when Confidential Employees would be required “to fully disclose details of an incident in order to ensure campus safety”
  • Interim measures must be taken as long as it’s at the survivor’s request or for the larger community
  • It does not describe process for survivors to request interim measures
  • It does not state how UGA will prevent retaliatory measures
  • It does not provide support services, or provide written information about support services, which is mandatory regardless of whether there is a complaint
  • The UGA policy states “a party” will receive notice, can respond, can remain silent, not participate, etc., without adverse inference. It must say both parties.
  • The policy says parties can only appeal when suspension or expulsion sanctions have been imposed. Thus, complainants cannot appeal when respondents receive unduly lenient sanctions or are found not responsible. This is clearly procedurally inequitable.

By announcing a policy inconsistent with Obama-era federal guidance, the university system is testing new Department of Education officials.

New Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was asked if she would uphold the controversial 2011 Dear Colleague Letter during her nomination hearing in January but said it would be “premature” to commit to anything. Since then, the Department of Education hired a prominent critic of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, OCR Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson announced plans to scale back Title IX investigations into schools, and federal officials announced plans to “reorient”policies regarding Title IX enforcement at colleges.

The university system’s new policy comes after lawmakers in Georgia attempted to change the way rapes were handled by colleges and universities in a bill introduced earlier this year. HB 51, which was shelved by a state Senate committee in March, would have required certain school employees to report possible rapes to police.

Many sexual assault victims’ advocates opposed that measure. Some of those same advocates were also critical of the university system’s new student misconduct policy, which similarly takes flexibility away from officials on campus to respond to allegations of sexual assault and rape.

University of Georgia System Executive Vice Chancellor of Administration Tricia Chastain said the new policy is not linked to HB 51.

Georgia Representative Earl Ehrhart, who introduced HB 51, said he contacted the Board of Regents twice about the new policy to advocate for sexual assault prevention education. Ehrhart, who is an outspoken critic of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, met with Chancellor Wrigley and Secretary DeVos in April.

Schools within the University of Georgia System must enact the new policies by the fall semester. Some victims advocates have also said that requirement gives schools too little time to develop and adopt the policies then train employees and publish the policies.

Read the complete announcement here.

 

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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