President David Skorton’s signature has sealed a year-long debate over how to resolve allegations of sexual assault against students in compliance with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational institutions.
Skorton approved the University Assembly’s Resolution 7 Wednesday, affirming the decision to treat accusations of sexual assault or harassment cases against students in the same way as those made against faculty, staff and student employees.
Skorton’s approval of the resolution was announced in an email to Melissa Lukasiewicz ’14, chair of the UA, on April 22, according to a press release Wednesday.
“Students are very much in favor of the UA having a strong voice in the changes that will be made to Policy 6.4,” said Lukasiewicz.
The UA passed Resolution 7 with a vote of 11 to zero, including 2 abstentions, on April 10. The last open meeting that the UA held was well publicized, according to Lukasiewicz, so anyone could attend, give feedback and receive information about the issue.
The resolution, which will shift the existing investigative procedure for cases of sexual violence by students under the campus Code of Conduct to the procedure outlined in University Policy 6.4. The policy is currently applied to faculty, staff and student employee cases and the change to include students has been hotly debated by the UA, its Codes and Judicial Committee, faculty and student leaders since April 2011.
Skorton said that “sound arguments have been advanced by both proponents and opponents of the change,” and that he has been “gratified by the measured and deliberate consideration given to this consequential issue,” according to the press release.
Alan Mittman, director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations, defended the shift to Policy 6.4.
“I’m confident from the way that the process has worked with reviews of sexual harassment cases against faculty and staff that it should work equally well with claims against students to fairly, effectively and promptly resolve such claims,” Mittman said.
Under the new system, laywers will not be allowed to advocate for the accuser of the accused, and the standard of proof will be lower than it is for other offenses.
Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant ’88 said she also supports Resolution 7.
Lowering the burden of proof for sexual assault cases will encourage more victims of sexual violence to file complaints, Grant said.
Grant acknowledged the concern expressed by opponents of the change that an increase in allegations of sexual assault will result in more students being falsely accused or found in violation. Still, she said she is optimistic about the effects the change will have on assault investigations and that she is glad that the debate is finally resolved.
“At times, I felt impatient,” Grant said. “But at the same time, because our system values shared governance, it is important that the decision goes through this process.”
After a year of deliberation since the Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague letter” to U.S. colleges and universities — which Cornell administrators argued required the University to make immediate changes to its process for dealing with sexual assault accusations — Skorton expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the debate, according to the press release.
“I am convinced that shifting offenses involving sexual harassment and sexual assault to Policy 6.4 will strike the appropriate balance between the complainant and the accused, will provide a fair and expeditious process for resolution of complaints alleging these offenses, and will appropriately address legal mandates under Title IX,” Skorton said.