The University of California Regents discussed Title IX policy at last week’s meeting with other UC officials, reviewing what the systemwide and local campus Title IX offices have accomplished in the past few years in addition to addressing controversy regarding how the UC handles cases of sexual misconduct.
The discussion around Title IX — a federal law banning discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded educational institutes — focused on cases of sexual misconduct and violence on UC campuses and what the UC Title IX offices have done to address the issue.
After reviewing what the UC Title IX office has done over the past six years, a panel of individuals working in the UC Systemwide Title IX department and on specific campuses took questions from the UC Regents.
“Student complaints have increased significantly since we put the [Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment] policy in place in 2016, and [the state auditor] connected that increase to better training and student outreach and improved reporting processes,” said Suzanne Taylor, the UC systemwide Title IX director.
“This increase in reports is really an encouraging reflection,” she added.
The Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy is the UC’s rule system regarding cases of sexual misconduct and defines what is considered sexual violence.
During the roughly 30-minute presentation and discussion, the topic of “innocent until proven guilty” was brought up by Chair of the Universitywide Academic Senate Kum-Kum Bhavnani. The UC Regents are currently being sued in a class action lawsuit by plaintiffs who allege their due process rights were violated by the university during investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct against them.
UC Santa Barbara has faced at least three Title IX lawsuits in which the judge sided with the student in their appeal against the university’s decision to either suspend orexpel the student following alleged Title IX violations.
One student was exonerated and his suspension was reversed after 629 days in October 2018; in another lawsuit, which UCSB lost also in October 2018, the judge called the case “noticeably absent [of] even a semblance of due process.” In a third case in August 2018, UCSB was held in contempt of court and the expelled student was allowed to return to UCSB.During the discussion, Bhavnani questioned how the rights of the accused are balanced within a larger context of “moral panic over sexual violence.”
“Our question is whether someone violated our policy and that’s different from a criminal inquiry,” Taylor responded to Bhavnani. “We have a process that allows for a thorough, neutral and impartial investigation.”
The U.S. Department of Education is considering rolling back some of the previous administration’s rules regarding how universities address sexual misconduct allegations — such as narrowing the definition of sexual assault and allowing universities to operate on a preponderance of evidence standard or a “clear and convincing” evidence standard — a move which UC President Janet Napolitano denounced in a Washington Post op-ed in December 2018.
The panel of Title IX officials repeatedly called for additional funding over the duration of the discussion. Kendra Fox-Davis, the UC systemwide Title IX deputy director, noted that she hopes the next UC President will support UC Title IX offices as well, after Napolitano resigns in August 2020.
“We hope that with continued investment in survivor support that we are able to continue to serve our campuses and communities impacted by sexual violence,” Fox-Davis said.