UC Berkeley mishandled 8 Title IX cases, federal investigators say

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UC Berkeley will review eight sexual misconduct cases after a four-year federal investigation found that the campus violated Title IX policies.

The campus reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, on Feb. 20 outlining policy changes to address the OCR’s concerns detailed in its report. Among other recommendations, the resolution agreement requires the campus to revisit cases in which the OCR identified “significant concerns” and/or violations.

If a complainant — who was a student at the time — is no longer enrolled at UC Berkeley, then the case will remain closed, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. If, however, the student is currently enrolled, and the campus determines that further action is necessary, then it “could be contacting” the complainant, Gilmore said in an email.

“(The campus) will review, determine if next steps are needed, and take them if needed,” Gilmore said in an email. “There is no need to contact the student unless our review of the case files indicates a need to do so.”

The OCR’s investigation launched after 31 former and then-current UC Berkeley students filed federal complaints against the campus in February 2014 for mishandling sexual misconduct cases.

Meghan Warner, a UC Berkeley alumna and one of the 31 initial complainants, said that disregarding cases that were “mishandled” is a “serious problem,” especially if the respondent is a faculty or staff member who is still affiliated with the campus.

Sofie Karasek, a UC Berkeley alumna and another initial complainant, echoed Warner’s sentiments, alleging that the respondent could still pose a risk to students on campus and that the complainant should be “notified of what’s happening in their own cases.”

“Even with changes to the policy, there is a fundamental problem in that the (campus) has a conflict of interest with its own students — they want to protect themselves from legal liability,” Karasek alleged. “It’s in their interest to make these cases go away.”

From 2011 to 2015, the campus received 401 oral reports or written complaints of sexual harassment and/or violence — the majority of which were settled through an informal process, as opposed to a formal investigation — according to the report.

The report also found that that the UC sexual harassment policy and the Student Code of Conduct failed to provide “reasonably prompt timeframes,” as it could take up to three years to conclude an investigation and issue a response. Until 2013, the campus had not explicitly told complainants the outcome of their investigations.

“They’re using these sham investigations and dragging them out for months, and sometimes years,” Karasek alleged.

The campus also treated some complainants and respondents inequitably, according to the report’s findings, and failed to provide students with information on filing complaints from 2011 to 2013.

Warner said that when she looked at the campus’s policies as a freshman in 2013, she could not find clear guidelines on filing a complaint. She noticed, however, that the policy did have instructions for people who had been accused.

“It’s incredibly validating to have outside confirmation that what we have been saying for years … is in fact true,” Warner said. “None of the improvements were made until students forced their hand and I’m very proud of all of us. It shows that students can make change if they organize.”

Anjali Shrivastava covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.