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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ sexual assault policy shifts

Published: August 31, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

More than one year after the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance regarding Title IX and university sexual assault cases, Brandeis has adopted a separate grievance process for cases of sexual misconduct.

The new addition to Rights and Responsibilities this year, titled “Special Examiner’s Process,” and listed under section 22.6, applies to one or more violations of Section 3, which deals with sexual responsibility, or section 7, which deals with equal opportunity, non-discrimination and harassment.

The special examiner role is defined in this year’s handbook: “The examiner of allegations and related evidence regarding the allegations. The Special Examiner will conduct an investigation and prepare a report of their findings at the conclusion of the Fact-Finding Phase that is submitted to the Dean of Student Life in support of the Outcome Phase of the process.”

Under the new process, unlike other violations of Rights and Responsibilities that appear before the student conduct board, the special examiner will investigate sexual assault and harassment cases and the dean of student life will render the final decision for the outcome of the case.

The change in evidence standards, which took effect immediately following the April 2011 guidance from the Department of Education, will also be applied under section 22.6.

“This process will use the Preponderance of the Evidence standard in evaluating the responsibility of the Accused,” Rights and Responsibilities states. “Under this standard, the Accused is presumed not to have engaged in alleged conduct unless a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ supports a finding that the conduct occurred. A preponderance of evidence means a greater weight of evidence or more likely than not.”

Under the previous “clear and convincing” standard, which most universities, including Brandeis, used before April 2011, it had to be “highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred.”

Under the dear colleague letter sent to school administrators in April 2011, the guidance included a combination of recommendations and requirements in order to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The guidance letter reminded any school receiving federal funding that sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment prohibited under federal law. It did not require schools to adopt a new grievance process such as the special examiner, but many colleges have followed suit, in line with the recommendations to ensure compliance with Title IX.

Other new and significantly revised sections to Rights and Responsibilities this year include cyber bullying regulations, banning of drinking games and a confidential complaint hotline.

“We celebrate a vivid plurality of ideas and individuals on our campus through the practice of honest scholarship and respectful discourse,” Dean Gendron, director of Community Rights and Standards, wrote in an email on Monday to the university community. “Our student code of conduct, ‘Rights and Responsibilities,’ is the compendium of many years’ worth of Brandeis conversations about what makes our University strong.”