The University’s sexual assault policy is facing many possible changes, administrators said in a presentation to the University Assembly Tuesday.
Many of these changes, some completed and some being deliberated, include a new proposed hearing board model and new definitions of certain offenses.These changes follow the Office of Civil Right’s launch of a May Title IX investigation against Cornell and 115 other schools.
Completed Policy Changes
Changes made to Policy 6.4, last revised in 2012, reflect new state mandates, according to Alan Mittman, director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations.
Mittman says recent legislative changes to 6.4 incorporate guidance from the Office of Civil Rights and a new state law called, ‘Enough is Enough,’ which mandates that all New York State collegues create certain previsions including affirmative consent.
Cornell has modified Policy 6.4 to comply with the new state law. This includes updated definitions of certain offenses that were previously considered unclear or too wordy. The updated definitions more clearly categorize different forms of sexual assault, according to Mittman.
Also for the first time, there are now two full-time Title IX investigators working for the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations responding to claims against students. According to Mittman, this allows the Office of the Judicial Administrator to focus on earlier intakes, interim and formal resolutions and other steps the process not pertaining to the direct investigation, Mittman said.
Proposed Policy Changes
Among the proposed policy changes is a new model for hearing boards, which run the Title IX trial system. Under the new model, a legally trained Cornell faculty or staff member would chair the hearing. However, only the hearing panel would be able to ask questions to defendants and complainants, thus they never directly communicate with the hearing chair, according to Carol Grumbach, Associate Dean and Director New Student Programs.
Another possible addition of the new hearing model is the ‘alternate resolution’ option, according to Grumbach. This resolution presented by the hearing board, which is different entirely to the one initially discussed, would have to be approved by both parties and Cornell.
Grumbach then detailed how the changes will progress if implemented, sighting an increase of ease and clarity in all steps of the trial and reporting process.
“Under the proposed revisions, the investigator would stop short of making any findings,” Grumbach said. “There would be a thorough investigation, there would be an assessment of general credibility, but no finding as to responsibility and no recommendations.”
According to Mittman, the previous system of reporting Title IX offenses was labeled as confusing, counter-productive and over-informative. The new system — which differentiates three categories of violation: prohibited discrimination or protected-status harassment, sexual assault and dating or domestic violence — should provide victims with a clearer direction on how to proceed with reporting.
“Again, this is very much still under construction, but the idea is to have a few provisions of policy principles, and then move to the area of what do I do… if I made a decision to move forward?” Mittman said.
Reasons for Policy Change
Mittman added that multiple factors prompted the system overhaul. The first factor, Mittman said, was that the University felt it was time to review the policy change in place since 2012 that brought the Title IX cases involving students from under the Code Process to the Policy 6.4 Process.
According to John Siliciano, senior vice provost for academic affairs, the most highly regarded reasons that prompted the revisit to the issues with Policy 6.4 were independent of federal legislation.
“There is a growing nationwide concern about high incidents of sexual assault on university campus,” Siliciano said. “At the same time there’s rising national concern that the processes on many campuses are both ineffective and potentially unfair to respondents.”