1. Preventing all forms of sexual and gender-based misconduct

    January 29, 2019

    Preventing all forms of sexual and gender-based misconduct is a top priority for U-M’s leadership team and our Board of Regents. This includes encouraging reporting, supporting claimants, and having zero tolerance for retaliation against those who report.

    I want to update everyone on recent developments and the latest work we are doing to address this important issue.

    U-M supports the AAU’s recommendations for improving Title IX

    U-M is a founding member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an advocacy group that represents the interests of America’s top research universities, both public and private. Our collective voice carries a large amount of weight in Congress and with the Administration. On Thursday, the  AAU provided comments to the U.S. Department of Education on proposed changes to Title IX regulations. The department had previously announced proposals, in a communication called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), that would change how colleges and universities address allegations of sexual misconduct and sought comment on those proposals.

    I am sharing the AAU’s comments as we contributed directly to their formulation, and they align with many of the University of Michigan’s values and longstanding, expert-informed practices on preventing and addressing sexual misconduct. Our shared goal is to ensure we have every opportunity to minimize harm while serving the needs of respondents and complainants.

    Specifically, the University of Michigan endorses the AAU’s three recommendations for improving regulations:

    1. Remove requirements that institutions permit cross-examination and appoint aligned advisors.
    2. Remove the requirement that universities apply the same standard of evidence and process across all disciplinary processes.
    3. Clarify whether the Department intends to preempt other relevant laws, and whether and under, what circumstances an institution may forbid and investigate behavior that falls outside the Department’s definition of “sexual harassment.”

    The Department of Education’s proposals force universities to act like courts and discourage people from coming forward. They would undermine U-M’s ability to support survivors of sexual misconduct and fairly treat all parties involved, including complainants, respondents and witnesses. The NPRM is overly prescriptive and does not account for the important differences among the types of colleges and universities in our nation. Further, many tools and methods that long have been considered best practices and acceptable to complainants and respondents would be prohibited under the department’s proposal.

    Revised student sexual misconduct policy and procedures

    Last semester, U-M revised its student sexual misconduct policy and procedures based on a court ruling by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that a public university must give an accused student an in-person hearing when credibility is at issue in sexual misconduct cases and provide the opportunity for the accused student or their adviser to cross-examine the accuser and witnesses.

    The change was necessary to follow the law, but U-M respectfully submits that the Sixth Circuit got it wrong. In fact, even one of the three judges on the panel dissented.

    It is our hope that any rule changes will not nationalize the challenges presented by this case by taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

    Even as we comply with the current law, we continue to believe that having experienced, fair hearing officers posing questions to all parties and witnesses based on input from both sides is the best way to determine the truth and minimize harm to all students involved.

    We will do all we can to continue to encourage people to report misconduct given this new requirement. We’ve also expanded the resolution options for students to provide them an alternative process, and one without an in-person hearing, to resolve matters of sexual misconduct.

    In the meantime, we want to remind everyone that our support services — including our confidential resources provided by our Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the University Ombudsperson — are always available.

    U-M’s ongoing work

    This week, all Ann Arbor students will receive an email invitation to participate in the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct. The survey is an important step for our university in continuing to assess the campus climate and culture in relation to sexual misconduct. I encourage all students to complete the survey by March 2.

    We are finalizing a comprehensive sexual misconduct training and education approach for all faculty and staff and this training will be mandatory. Along with the creation of a centralized website, this measure was recommended by our working group on faculty and staff sexual misconduct, which included faculty and staff experts on sexual misconduct from our three campuses and Michigan Medicine.

    We are evaluating how to implement additional recommendations from the working group, including a second phase on developing an equitable and inclusive workplace environment to diminish the frequency of misconduct.

    Currently, we are also working to implement revised policies prohibiting sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and undergraduate students.

    To take advantage of the best thinking and experience in this area, we continue to work with an outside expert to conduct a broader examination of our policies, procedures and practices around sexual misconduct, assess the quality of our current efforts and suggest what we can be doing better.

    I’ve heard many painful stories from survivors of sexual misconduct. They have shared what they went through and have asked for our help. I ask everyone in our university community to help us prevent sexual and gender-based misconduct, and I thank everyone who is working to create a safer, more equitable university for all.

    Our centralized website for reporting, education and training, and resources for students, faculty and staff is available at https://sexualmisconduct.umich.edu/.