UC aims to be nation’s ‘leader’ in addressing campus sexual assault, administrators testify

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Chancellor Nicholas Dirks plans to convene a national conference on sexual assault early next year, UC Berkeley officials confirmed June 30 — the same day top university administrators from around the state testified to legislators in Sacramento about their efforts to address sexual harassment and sexual violence.

During last week’s hearing, legislators questioned administrators about how their institutions will implement recommendations outlined in an audit report released two weeks ago, which criticized the handling of sexual assault at UC Berkeley and three other campuses. The national conference, which officials said is not a response to the audit, is in preliminary planning stages but will likely take place at UC Berkeley.

California State Auditor Elaine Howle testified that the recommendations in last week’s report, which include better training and education, apply to all colleges in the state, not just the audited campuses.

“For those of us who have been assaulted or have had a friend be assaulted, we know we’re not safe,” said Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president, during her testimony. “We take the long way home to avoid walking past the houses where we got assaulted … We lose friends who choose assailants over survivors.”

Quinn was one of two students who testified at the joint oversight hearing, which brought together lawmakers from the Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education and Joint Legislative Audit Committee. The latter body was responsible for approving the audit of UC Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego State University and Chico State University in August last year.

UC Berkeley Associate Chancellor Linda Williams testified that there have been 10 instances since 2008 in which UC Berkeley students accused of sexual misconduct through the formal campus investigation process were dismissed or suspended.

According to recently published campus data, between 2008 and June 10 this year, there were 64 complaints of sexual misconduct referred to the Center for Student Conduct, which holds the power to discipline students accused of violating the code of conduct. About half of the 64 cases involved noncontact sexual misconduct, which includes forms of harassment.

Of the 64 cases, 42 resulted in finding a student responsible for sexual misconduct, according to the data. As Williams testified, 10 students were suspended or dismissed from the campus over the last six years for sexual misconduct, which, to prompt a suspension or dismissal, would usually involve nonconsensual sexual intercourse.

“Forty-two cases, six years, it seems a little low,” said Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, who chairs the Committee on Higher Education, at the hearing. “If you have certain privacy concerns, there must be still a way to publicize that someone was expelled. If no one knows that there are consequences, how are victims ever going to feel safe?”

At the hearing, Quinn and Chico State student body president Taylor Herren testified that perpetrators of sexual assault on their campuses were known to face very few consequences. Quinn also said campus prevention and education training ought to be interactive and better enforced.

Howle, too, highlighted the need for enforcement of mandatory training at UC Berkeley and San Diego State. According to the audit report, students at UCLA and Chico State are told that they will face registration holds if they fail to complete training.

Williams told legislators that UC Berkeley administrators have considered implementing registration holds, but there are concerns that doing so would result in financial aid not being dispersed to those who do not attend mandatory training.

In her testimony, Howle pointed to a 60-day window during which most cases of sexual misconduct must be resolved. But 25 of the 80 cases the audit team reviewed, she testified, were not completed within the window. According to the audit report, the causes of delays in 14 of those cases were “reasonable.” Still, Howle urged administrators to enforce the timeliness of campus investigations and better communicate with complainants about the status and outcome of their cases.

In addition, Howle told legislators that the UC system did not conduct Title IX compliance reviews for the five-year period analyzed by the audit team. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

For Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the lack of consequences for colleges found to be noncompliant with federal and state law was a point of frustration.

“We can talk all day about more reports and more notifications and more transparency,” Gray said at the hearing. “But without consequence, I don’t know that we can fairly expect the system and the culture and the behavior to change.”

Contact Kimberly Veklerov and Melissa Wen at [email protected].