After completing a regular policy review last fall, the University of Michigan will make a handful of updates to its policy and procedures regarding student sexual and gender-based misconduct.
The revisions include numerous edits to make the policy easier to read and understand.
Among the more significant changes include revising definitions of gender-based harassment and intimate partner violence; changing responsibility for determining sanctions from a volunteer board to staff at the Office for Student Conflict Resolution; and clarifying when mediation may be used as a voluntary alternative resolution option for non-penetrative cases of sexual assault.
The university’s standard of evidence remains as a preponderance of evidence standard as it awaits further guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.
These revisions, which take effect Feb. 7, build on the 2016 U-M Policy and Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence, which replaced an earlier version of the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, introduced in 2013.
The most recent annual report on the policy, covering fiscal year 2017, was made public last week.
“We are confident that these changes will make the policy and procedures clearer and easier to understand, while also addressing some important changes that are significant to the adjudication of these cases,” said Pamela Heatlie, the university’s Title IX coordinator, senior director of the Office for Institutional Equity, and associate vice provost for academic and faculty affairs.
The review was carried out by a collaborative team that included representatives from OIE, the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, and the Division of Student Life.
Among the updates to the policy and procedures are these:
Definitions: The definition of gender-based harassment was revised to reflect how to handle cases where there is harassment based upon gender and another protected class such as race, national origin, disability or veteran status.
The definition of intimate partner violence was revised to reflect that emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior, rather than an isolated incident.
Sanctioning process: Under the revised policy, sanctions are determined by professional staff in OSCR instead of volunteer sanctioning boards that consist of faculty, staff and student representatives trained by OIE and OSCR.
The revised approach is consistent with other phases of the university’s process where a professional with significant training and expertise related to their role in the process is responsible for various decision-making, and allows for increased consistency in sanctioning. OSCR also handles sanctioning for violations of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
Cases opened under the 2016 policy will adhere to the previous process with violations sanctioned by a sanction board. In addition, the policy continues to require that the university’s Title IX coordinator approve all sanctions, and will now outline a process that can be used in situations in which the Title IX coordinator and sanctioning decision-maker cannot agree.
Alternative resolution: The 2016 Policy has allowed for claimants to request alternative resolution, and these processes have been available when the claimant and respondent agree and when the Title IX coordinator has approved.
The policy has been updated to clarify the language about mediation — one form of alternative resolution. In some cases — and only when agreed to by both claimant and respondent and approved by the Title IX coordinator — mediation may be available as a voluntary means to resolve concerns of non-penetrative sexual assault.
This change is based on feedback from students, and it reflects the university’s commitment to offering survivors the broadest possible range of appropriate options to address their concerns.
The change also reflects the most recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. That office has indicated that if the parties voluntarily agree and the university’s Title IX coordinator determines that the particular case is appropriate for such a process, the university may use alternative dispute resolution including mediation to assist the parties in reaching a voluntary resolution.