State audit finds that UC system does not comply with Title IX case handling regulations

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Ariel Hayat/File

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The California State Auditor released a report Thursday on the UC’s handling of sexual harassment cases, which found that the university must improve its methods to comply with Title IX.

Title IX is the federal law that requires colleges to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including in regard to sexual harassment. The report found that all three UC campuses it investigated — UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA — failed to comply with federal regulations and best practices concerning sexual harassment.

The audit found that UC campuses took longer to discipline faculty — professors and lecturers — than it did staff, with staff receiving punishment within 43 days compared to faculty’s 220 days. Suzanne Taylor, the UC’s interim systemwide Title IX coordinator, said that while the investigative procedures for faculty and for staff are identical, Academic Senate jurisdiction over faculty matters accounts for the discrepancy in disciplinary time frames.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the UC uses two investigation methods in sexual harassment cases — a formal procedure that includes a typical process of assembling evidence and interviewing witnesses, and an informal process that simply enacts preventative measures. The report found that the informal process was used twice as often as the formal investigation.

“Often, individuals who are reporting prefer to have their concerns handled informally, and there could be a variety of reasons (why),” Taylor said. “Often, we’re really honoring the wishes of the complainant.”

The report also found that student complaints against faculty and staff have increased since 2007, which Taylor said the report attributed to the efficiency of university resources in providing victims a safe and comfortable way to report misconduct.

This report comes after a similar report, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, regarding about 12 sexual violence and sexual harassment cases handled by UC Berkeley. Of those, OCR asked the campus to review eight of the cases to determine whether any additional action needed to be taken, Gilmore said in an email.

UC Berkeley entered into a resolution agreement with OCR after the four-year review that raised federal concerns with and recommendations for the UC’s treatment of sexual violence and sexual harassment cases. The agreement began a two-year federal monitoring period over the UC, according to a letter from Chancellor Carol Christ.

“Concerns raised in the state audit report as well as the OCR report (such as length of time it sometimes takes for faculty disciplinary cases to conclude) … are being addressed by the campus and UC system as part of the Resolution Agreement,” said Gilmore in an email.

In the report, the auditor called for the UC Board of Regents to establish a uniform disciplinary time frame and for the UC Office of the President to require disciplinary consultations between coordinators and officials.

Further concerns in the report included the university’s lack of adequate discipline for faculty members found guilty of harassment and the routine use of inconsistent disciplinary measures.

Despite facing public scrutiny for its conduct, UC Berkeley has made considerable strides between 2013 and today toward improving its campus safety in regard to sexual violence, a fact that isn’t fully realized in the data used for the state’s report, according to Gilmore.

In 2017, the campus was the first of the UC system to create a faculty adviser to the chancellor on sexual violence and sexual harassment. It also implemented Think About It, a digital module that, accompanied by the in-person training Bear Pact, constitutes a mandatory sexual assault training course for incoming freshmen.

“We are committed to fostering a campus community where sexual harassment and sexual violence are not tolerated,” Gilmore said. “We recognize there is more work to be done.”

Contact Alexandra Reinecke at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the UC uses two disciplinary methods in sexual harassment cases. In fact, these methods are related to OPHD investigations, not discipline.