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Office of Civil Rights: Some Stanford policies on misconduct ‘not compliant with Title IX’

Kingscote Gardens, where Stanford's Title IX Office is located (AXELLE TALMA/The Stanford Daily).

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) found after a three-year investigation that aspects of Stanford’s policies on sexual harassment and sexual assault were not compliant with Title IX, Provost Persis Drell announced in a “Notes from the Quad” post on Tuesday.

OCR reached a resolution agreement with the University following an examination of individual reports as well as broader policy. OCR’s review of overall policy issues found both areas of noncompliance as well as “concerns that did not rise to the level of non-compliance,” Drell wrote. Stanford’s handling of the individual matters was found compliant. However, OCR took issue with Stanford’s handling of three cases, two of which were specific OCR complaints and one of which pertained to the office’s “broad review.”

Stanford’s resolution with OCR was a “voluntary process” that closed the investigation without the University admitting to “any violation of law,” according to the document.

Drell added that an accompanying letter from OCR with more detailed analysis of Stanford’s policies and actions is forthcoming following the redaction of personal information from its contents.

The agreement requires Drell to meet with the two students involved in cases that OCR found problematic, explain pertinent policy revisions and “provide each student with the opportunity to share their concerns regarding their experiences with the University’s handling of their complaints.”

In total, Drell stated that OCR reviewed at least 174 of all 437 reports of sexual misconduct at Stanford from 2012 to 2016.

Agreed-upon changes to the current Student Title IX Process aim to improve the system’s transparency, clarity and timeliness. Stanford’s Title IX Office will now have to clarify that they will notify complainants of their decision to proceed or not to proceed with investigations of reports within an unspecified “reasonably prompt timeframe.”

The agreement states that timeliness in each case depends on the “complexity of the matter and the severity and extent of the alleged harassment.” Provost Drell said that the University will identify appropriate time frames for the Title IX Office to issue Notices of Concern to parties when a complaint is filed and for mandatory reporters to file reports of sexual misconduct.

The office will also excise the qualifying word “reasonably” from the part of the Student Title IX policy protecting complainants against retaliation. Currently, the policy outlines “the right to be reasonably protected from retaliation and intimidation” when one has reported a Title IX concern or participated as a party or witness in the process.

Stanford will also update its Title IX Administrative Policies and Procedures and its Statement on Faculty Discipline. The changes range from stipulating what a case’s Outcome Letter must provide to applying a “reasonably prompt timeframe” to various steps of a faculty case.

Per the agreement, the University must formalize its Title IX document management system so that procedures are more clear to all parties involved.

In response to OCR’s review, Stanford said it will work to consistently follow its policies on using case evidence related to a person’s prior sexual history and character.

The University has also agreed to more formally coordinate with the Office of Accessible Education for students who need accommodations related to a Title IX investigation. In addition, the University must enforce stay-away directives more effectively.

“After a lengthy process spanning three years, we are hopeful that the resolution announced today by the Provost will help bring survivors a degree of closure,” wrote ASSU Exec candidates Shanta Katipamula ’19 and doctoral candidate Rosie Nelson in a statement Tuesday evening to The Daily, saying that OCR’s findings validate concerns long raised by students.

They said they are particularly looking forward to seeing improvements in stay-away directive enforcement and OAE coordination to support sexual assault victims from disproportionately affected communities.

OCR did not take issue with Stanford’s definition of sexual assault or the use of an unanimous vote to determine responsibility under the Student Title IX Process.

Law professor and activist Michele Dauber said that OCR did not find fault with what she described as “the worst two aspects of its policies” – Stanford’s definition of assault, which requires penetration through force or while the victim is entirely unconscious to be considered “sexual assault,” as well as the unanimous vote requirement. Katipamula and Nelson also criticized these elements of Stanford’s process. 

According to Dauber, almost none of Stanford’s peer schools in the Pac-12, Ivy League and U.S. News top rankings have either requirement. She added that last year, three Stanford students found responsible for non-consensual penetration were not expelled for their actions.

Drell said that she and her Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices are considering concerns raised about both definitions and panel voting requirements by community members.

“This process has been extremely beneficial,” Drell wrote. “The improvements we made during the review and have agreed to make going forward, coupled with changes we have undertaken through our own initiatives (such as the development of the Student Title IX Process) will all work together to support our ongoing efforts to create a campus free of sexual violence and discriminatory conduct.”

Moving forward, Stanford will continue to provide its Title IX data from the 2017-18 school year to OCR for further review. The University has agreed to submit its revised policies and guidelines to OCR by July 1.

 

This article has been updated with comment from Katipamula and Nelson. 

 

Contact Courtney Douglas at ccd4 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

An earlier version of this article stated that no peer schools by several metrics use the definitions and unanimous panel policy criticized by Dauber, Katipamula and Nelson. The Daily regrets this error.

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