On March 1, 2019, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) released an interim framework for the sexual violence and harassment proceedings within the UC system. These changes came in the form of Appendix E to the Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations, and Services (PACAOS).
This section of the Title IX policy is responsible for university proceedings that serve to resolve sexual misconduct reports. The appeal process was the main topic requiring change in the interim policy due to recent developments regarding university sexual assault cases in California.
In January of 2019, an appellate court in California ruled that all universities are required to hold live hearings for any student cases which involve “a student accused of sexual misconduct facing severe disciplinary sanctions, and the credibility of witnesses is central to the adjudication of the allegation.”
This ruling came in response to a case involving University of Southern California students in which one student was expelled without the opportunity for a live hearing.
With life-altering consequences to consider, Suzanne Taylor, the Title IX coordinator for UCOP, said it’s important that these cases are handled with the utmost diligence, and that when witnesses are a major factor, hearings should be indispensable.
“It is UC’s responsibility to carefully and thoughtfully provide a process that is fair, treats both parties with respect and compassion, and results in just and reliable outcomes,” Taylor told The College Post.
To comply with the mandate for access to live hearings, Appendix E articulates a policy that gives equal opportunity to appeal the decision and/or sanctions to both the complainant and respondent in suspension or dismissal cases. Additionally, the timeline for these cases was increased from 120 days to 135 days to allow more time for the possibility of a hearing or further information review.
A description was also added regarding the complainant and respondent’s ability to further review and respond to the information considered relevant before the conclusion of the investigation.
These changes all advance an effort to create a more beneficial and accurate system for handling reports of sexual assault.
According to a UCSB student who went through a harassment case in the past and requested not to be named over privacy concerns, although there were resources in place for them, they felt displeased with the way the case was handled.
“I know that sexual misconduct is an especially prevalent problem on college campuses, so I wish that I could feel like someone had advocated for me more,” the student told The College Post. “I wish the school would’ve given me more options when it came to how I chose to proceed.”
In recent years there has been a steady increase in reported sexual assaults on college campuses. UCSB has seen this increase on its own campus with the UCSB Campus Security Report showing that reports of stalking, dating violence and rape all increased between 2015 and 2016.
As sexual assault becomes less stigmatized through programs like the Green Dot Bystander Training and workshops on healthy relationships and more students are willing to come forward with their experiences, Taylor reaffirmed how important it is that they are handled with care.
Making these positive policy changes “is how we engender the trust of our community, and how we ensure those who have experienced sexual harassment continue to come forward,” Taylor said.
The UCSB student added that they think accessibility to hearings is a great starting place for these changes to occur.
“I do think a hearing would have been beneficial,” they said. “I wish I could have made my case to more than one person.”
Because this is just an interim framework, a workgroup is currently collaborating on a more permanent solution to some of these issues. The workgroup is composed of faculty, students, Title IX staff, and CARE staff all working towards the goal of “arriving at solutions that are not only legally compliant, but also true to our values,” Taylor said.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also issued a statement earlier this year of new proposed Title IX rules that could present additional changes to these policies, not just in California, but nationwide.
While there may be more changes on the horizon for university sexual misconduct policies, Taylor assured that UCOP will “thoughtfully and deliberately adjust our approach as necessary to ensure we comply with current law and implement best practices” for University of California students.