Majority of 124 investigations occurred before latest UC sex misconduct policy update

Originally published on March 1, 2017 for The Daily Californian

As many of the 113 investigations detailed in UC documents released Tuesday unfolded, the University Office of the President pushed for systemwide changes to UC sexual misconduct policy.

The Daily Californian obtained hundreds of pages of documents that showed the UC had investigated at least 124 cases of sexual violence and harassment, or SVSH, policy violations at all UC campuses between Jan. 1, 2013, and April 6, 2016. But many of these investigations were conducted under procedures that are no longer in effect, according to UC spokesperson Claire Doan.

“The majority of these cases were investigated and adjudicated before these measures were passed,” Doan said. “We implemented a systemwide framework for investigations, adjudications and sanctions in student cases of sexual violence.”

A new SVSH policy most recently went into effect Jan. 4, 2016, and it has not changed since, according to UC systemwide Title IX coordinator Kathleen Salvaty.

Doan explained that after high-profile sexual harassment cases surfaced at UC Berkeley in the past two years — including investigations of former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry and former vice chancellor for research Graham Fleming — UC President Janet Napolitano found it necessary to change the culture around sexual violence and misconduct across the UC system.

Each UC campus once had its own sexual misconduct policies, but Napolitano did not believe such a system was ideal.

Over the past two and a half years, UCOP has initiated several policy changes, including:

  • Forming a task force to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to handling sexual misconduct cases
  • Issuing a new systemwide policy prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual violence
  • Implementing mandatory education and training systemwide for faculty, staff and students
  • Creating the requirement for a confidential advocate on each campus who works exclusively with UC community members who have been impacted by sexual misconduct
  • Creating a systemwide peer-review committee to assess and approve sanctions that involve a senior UC leader, such as chancellors, coaches and deans
  • Creating a new systemwide Title IX coordinator position that works with Title IX offices at each campus to ensure consistency

Some UC campuses, including UC Santa Barbara and UCLA, said they have taken “significant measures” to strengthen their ability to prevent and respond to SVSH over the past few years, emphasizing the universitywide policy changes that UCOP has implemented.

“The system has been continuously improving its prevention and response efforts in this area since President Napolitano came to the UC,” Salvaty said in an email. “I believe that the investigation and adjudication of a case in 2013 would look very different than a case investigated and adjudicated today.”

While UC Berkeley students were largely pleased with recent policy changes, they were also skeptical of the effectiveness of a systemwide approach.

ASUC Senator and campus junior Marandah Field-Elliot had worked on the ASUC Sexual Violence Commission throughout her freshman and sophomore years. She said the commission pushed for more accountability from the campus administration and more timely sexual misconduct investigations.

“Having systemwide policy is good just so that there (aren’t) discrepancies in the ways that survivors can seek justice. … So in theory, I think it’s a good idea,” Field-Elliot said. “The one worry I would have (is that) in an attempt to have a policy that wide-reaching, (it) would end up being watered-down.”

ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Frances McGinley also acknowledged the significant changes both UC Berkeley and the entire UC system have made to improve the handling of sexual misconduct cases. She referenced the university’s push to ensure that complaints are handled “in a more timely manner” and to increase funding and staffing for the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.

McGinley added that although the UC system has improved its SVSH policy, it still has “a long way to go.”

The Daily Cal reached out to multiple respondents listed in the sexual misconduct cases, but none could be reached as of press time. Members of the campus’s Academic Senate also were not available for comment.

Sofie Karasek, a UC Berkeley alumna and the director of education for the survivor advocacy organization End Rape on Campus, pointed to a difference in how the university addresses faculty cases as opposed to student cases. She said she believes that policy for faculty members has changed at a slower pace than it has for students.

“Every time there’s a new scandal, it just shows that very little has changed from one scandal to the next,” Karasek said. “Much of what they’ve done has been more effective at seeming like they address the problem without actually addressing the problem.”

Doan said the university’s newest SVSH policy allows for greater consistency and transparency across UC campuses. She emphasized that now, the UC system has a policy “that everyone is aware of.”

“We believe that we’ve been able to provide a better sense of clarity, fairness and timeliness with regards to these issues as a result of the policy changes we made,” Doan said.

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