August 23, 2016

Cornell Updates Policy 6.4 With Community Feedback

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Cornell has implemented an updated version of Policy 6.4 — guidelines for handling issues of discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence — in an attempt to clarify all the steps of the trial and reporting process, according to the University.

The University released the revisions this week after the Department of Education announced it would investigate Cornell for possible Title IX violations in handling assault cases, The Sun previously reported.

These new procedures were heavily influenced by feedback from the Cornell community, according to the University.

The committee designing the revision visited groups across campus including shared governance organizations, deans and department heads, law school faculty, as well as students and faculty who had previously been involved with complaints, according to the University.

One major change that emerged from these discussions was a new definition of the role of investigators in sexual assault cases. Now, when a complaint is filed, the investigator will gather evidence and produce an investigatory report for the hearing panel, but stop short of giving recommendations or an opinion regarding responsibility, according to the University.

The committee also created a revised model for hearing panels. The panel will be made up of three members of trained faculty and staff and a hearing chair to preside over them. The hearing chair will make sure the panel understands the policy and will determine admissibility of witnesses and questions, but will only act as a nonvoting member of the hearing panel. The goal of this change is to create a position that ensures both parties are treated fairly, according to the University.

“We believe the new procedures provide a balanced approach to responding to reports of incidents of sexual misconduct,” associate vice-provost Carol Grumbach J.D. ’87 told the Cornell Chronicle.

In addition, she explained that the new policy allows for quicker initial response times, provide better privacy and safety to both parties, and will “give both parties an opportunity to present their cases to a panel of trained fact-finders.”

These modifications to Policy 6.4 follow lawsuits filed against the University by two students— Wolfgang Ballinger ’17 and a student using the name “John Doe” — who alleged that Cornell conducted sexual assault investigations against them “unlawfully,” The Sun reported.

Last year, Cornell modified Policy 6.4 in response to the New York State passing, ‘Enough is Enough,’ an act which mandates that all New York State colleges and universities create certain provisions including affirmative consent, a student’s bill of rights, and an amnesty clause, according to the University.

In addition to this amendment, Cornell’s Title IX executive committee formed a working group to review the entire policy.

John Siliciano, senior vice provost for academic affairs, previously told The Sun that the reason for this scrutiny was due to “a growing concern about high incidents of sexual assault on university campuses,” and “rising national concern that the processes on many campuses are both ineffective and potentially unfair to respondents.”