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New policy reforms procedures for sexual discrimination, harassment and assault response

A new chapter in Board of Regents policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Discrimination passed unanimously during the board’s June meeting, and the changes to how the University of Alaska has committed to handling reports of sexual discrimination and harassment are substantial.

For the first time a single policy provides clear guidance for students, employees and external entities alike, including definitions, standards of conduct, reporting information and contacts, established timelines, equitable processes for complainants and respondents and a clear appeals process.

As part of the Voluntary Resolution Agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) the new policy addresses 30 areas of concern that the OCR identified during their review of the university. It puts the university in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Alaska Statute 18.80 and due process of law.

The university must respond to reports of prohibited conduct with measures designed to stop the behavior, prevent its recurrence and remediate any hostile environment it caused. The policy and regulations describe in detail how and when that happens, who is responsible, and what actions can be taken to appeal the decisions.

While the following overview provides a summary of major elements of the new policy, all employees and students are encouraged to read Policy & Regulation Chapter 01.04 to ensure they understand their rights, roles and responsibilities under the new policy and regulation.

Single policy for all parties and environments

One of OCR’s biggest concerns was the lack of a single policy to address all forms of sex discrimination that applies to employees, students and third parties alike. Prior to this revision student and employee policies were separate, and third parties – contractors, visitors, alumni, etc. – were not covered in policy at all. The new policy replaces the portions of student and employee policies that addressed sex discrimination. It also clarifies that the procedures apply to everyone at all university facilities, programs and activities on or off campus – including internships, travel programs and remote sites – and online environments.

Relationship with criminal investigations

The university is not the legal system, and Title IX investigations and criminal processes occur separately. The new policy describes the relationship between criminal investigations and Title IX investigations but clarifies that one does not influence the other. A case closed finding in criminal proceedings cannot bear positively or negatively on the findings of a Title IX investigation. Additionally, different standards of evidence are employed in criminal and Title IX investigations. The preponderance of evidence standard, defined in Board of Regents regulation as “more than likely than not that alleged conduct occured,” is used in Title IX investigations. The preponderance of evidence standard is typically described as 50 percent plus a feather. This is a less challenging standard than the legal system which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. Violation of the university’s policy will result in discipline of the offending party, including the possibility of separation from the university. Criminal prosecution takes place independently of any university-imposed disciplinary proceeding.

Role of Title IX Coordinators

Central to the system is each university’s Title IX coordinator whose duties include communicating with all members of the community regarding Title IX, ensuring institutional compliance, conducting Title IX training, providing information on how individuals may access their rights, and responding to any complaint or report. In this capacity the Title IX coordinator oversees the investigation and resolution of any alleged misconduct, directs the provision of any remedial measures, and monitors the administration of any related appeal.

Investigative timelines established

A key addition is the establishment of a 60-day investigative timeline. The Title IX investigator will have 50 days to prepare their final report and forward the findings to the appropriate disciplinary authority such as the dean of students or human resources office, who will then have 10 days to make a determination. The timeline may be extended with good cause.

There is no time limit on reporting sexual harassment or assault. Individuals who learn of instances of gender discrimination, harassment or assault are encouraged to report it promptly, regardless of when in the past it occurred.

Appeals process

A complainant or respondent wishing to appeal the investigation or findings can submit an appeal to the Title IX coordinator within 5 calendar days of receiving notice of the outcome of the investigation. Disciplinary proceedings would pause until the appeal is resolved. Steps for the process are outlined in Board of Regents regulations.

Amnesty from sanctions

In order to encourage students to make reports of sexual harassment or assault, the university will provide amnesty for conduct that would otherwise warrant minor sanctions under the Student Code of Conduct, such as underage drinking or prohibited drug use.

Responsible employee designation

Another key addition is the explicit designation of employees as “responsible employees.” At the University of Alaska that includes all staff, all faculty and Residence Life student employees except confidential or other student employees.

Confidential resources include campus mental health counselors, pastoral counselors, social workers, psychologists or other persons with a professional license requiring confidentiality who are working within the capacity of that license. The counselor-client relationship is respected, and confidentiality ensured, so that students will seek the help they need.

Responsible employees must report any sexual or gender-based discrimination, regardless of who it involves, to the Title IX coordinator within twenty-four hours. The report must contain all relevant details about the alleged sexual misconduct that the student or another person has shared. This includes the names of the alleged perpetrator (if known), the student who experienced the alleged sexual misconduct, other students involved in the alleged sexual misconduct, as well as relevant facts, including the date, time, and location. The school will need to determine what occurred and resolve the situation.

Consistent reporting of sexual misconduct to the Title IX coordinator is necessary because it allows the university to offer interim services such as counseling, medical care, class schedule changes, and housing options. It also allows for tracking predatory behavior, understanding risky areas of campus, preventing future misconduct and ensuring student safety.

Annual Title IX training required

To ensure compliance with reporting obligations, responsible employees must train annually on Title IX and the school’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures. If you have not taken the required Title IX training you can attend an online session through Haven accessible through UAOnline.

New policy and regulation alone will not prevent instances of discrimination, harassment or assault, but improvements to handling, tracking and response to any reports, clear instructions for reporting violations, the explicitly shared responsibility of all members of the university, and the true commitment to monitoring and improving the campus environment related to sexual harassment and assault are huge steps in making UA’s campuses safer and more responsive than ever.

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