Princeton University Faculty Committee Recommends Changes in Sexual Misconduct Policies, Procedures

Nassau HallA faculty advisory committee at Princeton University is recommending changes to the school’s policies and procedures for addressing issues related to sexual misconduct.

The changes are intended to bring Princeton University fully into compliance with Title IX requirements as interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title IX, as well as with the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that was enacted last spring. The faculty committee’s recommendations will be presented to the full faculty for action at its first regularly scheduled meeting of the year on Sept. 15.

On May 1, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of the higher education institutions under investigation by the federal government for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Princeton was one of 55 schools on the list.

“In conversations over the summer with OCR about its pending review of Princeton’s practices in these areas, it became clear that we needed to modify our sexual misconduct policies and procedures to become fully compliant with current Title IX requirements, and that in the interest of fairness to all members of our community we should make these changes as promptly as possible,” Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said. “I am grateful to the faculty members, students and others who were willing to make time over the summer to develop these recommendations in such a thoughtful manner. As a University, we take all matters of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and violence, very seriously, and we want to be sure we have policies in place that are effective, fair, transparent and fully compliant with all statutory and regulatory requirements.”

The faculty committee’s recommendations include the following:

– Change the evidence standard in all student disciplinary matters relating to sexual misconduct from “clear and persuasive” to an evidence standard of “preponderance,” which means “more likely than not.”

– Create a team of three trained investigators to conduct investigations and make findings of fact and responsibility in all cases involving allegations of student sexual misconduct. If there is a finding of responsibility, the dean of undergraduate students and an associate dean of the graduate school would jointly determine the penalty. This replaces a current procedure under which student sexual misconduct cases are adjudicated by a subcommittee of a faculty-student disciplinary committee; that committee will continue to operate according to its current procedures in all student disciplinary matters that do not involve sexual misconduct. The new procedure ensures that fact-finders in sexual misconduct cases will have appropriate professional training. It also allows for more timely resolution of disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct.

– Allow complainants and respondents to be accompanied by an adviser of their choice in all meetings relating to the sexual misconduct disciplinary process. Current procedures only allow advisers from the University community; the new procedure would permit non-University individuals, including lawyers, in cases involving sexual misconduct. The adviser would be permitted to assist the student but would not be permitted to speak on the student’s behalf.

– Establish parity for the complainant and the respondent in the right to appeal in all sexual misconduct disciplinary procedures; this would include procedures governing members of the faculty and staff as well as student procedures.

“These are significant changes, and I believe they will help clarify and strengthen the University’s policies and procedures, ensure timely, effective and equitable responses to allegations of sexual misconduct, and bring the University fully into compliance with all requirements related to Title IX,” said Michele Minter, the school’s vice provost for institutional equity and diversity and its Title IX coordinator. “I especially want to express deep appreciation for the enormous amount of time and care that members of the student-faculty Committee on Discipline have devoted to issues related to sexual misconduct in recent years; they have taken their responsibilities under our current procedures very seriously and have discharged them well.”

Eisgruber also has announced the formation of a new faculty-student committee on sexual misconduct to recommend strategies to ensure students understand their rights under Title IX and the University’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures and to improve the effectiveness of the University’s procedures, support services, and resources available to students and for the prevention of sexual misconduct, including outreach and educational activities. The committee, which was recommended by the faculty advisory committee, also will provide consultative support for annual surveys. The committee will be composed of students, faculty and administrators, and will be co-chaired by Minter and Professor Deborah Nord of the Department of English.