Napolitano announces changes to university sexual misconduct handling

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UC President Janet Napolitano released several changes to the university’s process for handling cases of sexual misconduct involving faculty Monday, based on recommendations made by a joint committee of UC administration members and members of the Academic Senate.

Napolitano stated in a letter she sent to members of the joint committee Monday that immediate action to implement changes includes requiring that Title IX officers at each campus inform chancellors when the office begins an investigation of a faculty member and designating one confidential resource that serves as a faculty equivalent of confidential advocates for students. The person that fills this role would be exempt from reporting obligations.

“Our goals should be threefold: foster a culture of safety and respect on all our campuses; provide clarity, fairness, and timeliness when investigations are undertaken; and ensure that any sanctions are commensurate with the seriousness of substantiated complaints,” Napolitano said in the letter.

In the aftermath of widespread criticism of UC Berkeley’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against then-astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy in October, Napolitano convened the joint committee — made up of UC administrators and members of the Academic Senate — to evaluate the process by which UC campuses handle the investigation, adjudication and sanctions of faculty members implicated in violations of UC sexual harassment and sexual violence policy.

Napolitano’s letter mandates that the Academic Personnel and Academic Affairs offices indefinitely maintain records of disciplinary action or early resolution agreements issued to faculty and asks for an elimination of the deadline for filing formal disciplinary charges after a faculty member implicated in an investigation is placed on paid leave, which currently is required within 10 days.

The recommendations, however, do not adequately address certain issues, Napolitano said in the letter. She asked in the letter for the committee to reconvene and develop recommendations to ensure that investigations are timely, sanctions issued are proportionate to violations of conduct policy and that cases are handled consistently across the UC system.

“One of the biggest complaints for all parties is that (the investigation process) takes forever,” said university spokesperson Dianne Klein. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

According to a letter from joint committee members sent to Napolitano on April 4, because of high-profile sexual harassment cases that emerged toward the end of the committee’s evaluation process, the committee determined that further investigation is needed to find answers to other issues raised in light of these cases.

In March, following sexual harassment allegations released against former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry, Napolitano announced the creation of a universitywide peer review committee to examine proposed sanctions for sexual misconduct allegations against senior campus leaders. Napolitano recommended Monday that the committee provide instruction on forming similar committees on each campus to review sanctions for faculty cases.

On April 5, The Daily Californian acquired documents that showed that 19 campus employees were found to have violated university sexual harassment policy in the last five years and included the results of 11 investigations that had previously not been made public.

Selina Lao, the current student advocate-elect, said she appreciated the joint committee’s recommendation to eliminate the 10-day deadline but added that there are key areas that still need to be addressed.

“I think there are major gaps in the policies,” Lao said, adding that she hopes that faculty disciplinary processes will be better communicated to the student body.

The committee received a one-month extension between Feb. 29 and April 4, during which it circulated the recommendations among senior administrators, members of the Academic Senate and representatives of postdoctoral scholars and graduate students for feedback. The report found that there was little understanding among faculty and students universitywide on how existing policies are implemented and suggested extensive education efforts.

The committee is set to present further recommendations to address Napolitano’s suggested areas of improvement by the end of July.

Contact Suhauna Hussain and Alexander Barreira at [email protected].