New procedures for reporting, investigating and rendering decisions on incidents in which students are accused of sexual misconduct were implemented at Cornell Aug. 1, the result of extensive feedback from across campus and benchmarking against 19 other colleges and universities.
These procedures can be found at titleix.cornell.edu, along with Cornell’s Policy 6.4, which they support.
A year ago, Cornell revised Policy 6.4 to comply with new state legislation, “Enough Is Enough.” Last year’s revisions, among other changes, instituted a student bill of rights; gave alcohol and drug amnesty to bystanders or victims reporting sexual misconduct; and implemented an “affirmative consent” standard.
Even before that time, in light of growing nationwide concern about sexual assault on university campuses as well as discussions about the efficacy and fairness of campus processes, Cornell’s Title IX executive committee charged John Siliciano ’75, deputy provost, and Carol Grumbach ’78, J.D. ’87, associate vice provost, to form a working group to comprehensively review Policy 6.4 against the backdrop of all applicable federal and state legislation, and regulations issued since 2013. They focused specifically on the processes involving students, and researched best practices and garnered extensive campus community input. They met with the University, Employee, Student, and Graduate and Professional Student Assemblies, the Faculty Senate, investigators, the judicial administrator, victim advocates, judicial code counselors who advise respondents, Cornell Law School faculty members, deans and department heads, students who had been involved in past complaints, and faculty and staff who had been involved in the adjudication of such complaints, including serving on review boards.
“We found a high degree of campuswide consensus among different constituents for including in the procedures a carefully conducted hearing by a small panel of staff and faculty,” said Siliciano.
The working group recommended a path to balance the rights of and protect both parties: adding a carefully controlled hearing by a three-person panel of trained faculty and staff members who would make findings regarding responsibility and determine any sanctions, as well as a hearing chair who would ensure that hearings are conducted fairly for both parties.
The revised process:
- redefines the investigator role. All complaints will be referred to the Title IX office, where the Title IX coordinator’s first concern will be to meet the complainant’s immediate needs. Should the complainant file a report, a trained Title IX investigator will interview all parties and witnesses, gather evidence and prepare an investigatory report for the hearing panel outlining findings of fact. Both parties will have an opportunity to review all party and witness statements and the report. The investigator will not give an opinion regarding responsibility, as that is the hearing panel’s role.
- provides for a hearing with a trained panel and gives the parties the opportunity to testify and request witnesses. The hearing panel conducts all questioning.
- calls for a hearing chair to preside over the hearing. The chair will make sure the panelists understand the policy and procedures, standards of proof and evidentiary issues. The chair will also serve as a gatekeeper by determining the admissibility of witnesses and questions, after consulting with panelists and parties. The hearing chair will be a nonvoting member of the panel.
- requires that the parties are always in separate rooms.
- gives both parties the assistance of a trained adviser who can accompany them to all meetings and proceedings, provide advice, and help with written submissions.
- provides for appeals to a three-member panel.
“We believe the new procedures provide a balanced approach to responding to reports of incidents of sexual misconduct,” said Grumbach. “They provide for quick initial responses, address concerns for privacy and safety, and give both parties an opportunity to present their cases to a panel of trained fact-finders.”
Grumbach and the working group, including, among others, Sarah Affel, Title IX coordinator for the university, made great effort to make the procedures easy to read and uncomplicated by legal jargon. Affel said she and her office also will conduct trainings and provide education about these procedures and continue to promote Cornell’s broader commitment to a caring and respectful campus culture in which bias, harassment and violence have no place.