Faculty committee recommends changes in sexual misconduct policies, procedures

The Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy, an elected committee that also serves as the faculty membership of the executive committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC), is recommending changes in the University's policies and procedures for addressing issues related to sexual misconduct. 

The changes are intended to bring the University fully into compliance with Title IX requirements as interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title IX, as well as with the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act enacted last spring. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities, and applies in sexual misconduct cases that include sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence.  

The faculty committee's recommendations will be presented to the full faculty for action at its first regularly scheduled meeting of the year on Sept. 15. The recommendations have been discussed at length by the CPUC executive committee, which also includes undergraduates, graduate students and other members. If the faculty approves the recommendations, revisions to incorporate them in the booklet Rights, Rules, Responsibilities will be presented to the full CPUC for action at its first regularly scheduled meeting of the year on Sept. 29.  

"In conversations over the summer with OCR about its pending review of Princeton's practices in these areas, it became clear that we needed to modify our sexual misconduct policies and procedures to become fully compliant with current Title IX requirements, and that in the interest of fairness to all members of our community we should make these changes as promptly as possible," said Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber. "I am grateful to the faculty members, students and others who were willing to make time over the summer to develop these recommendations in such a thoughtful manner. As a University, we take all matters of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and violence, very seriously, and we want to be sure we have policies in place that are effective, fair, transparent and fully compliant with all statutory and regulatory requirements." 

The faculty committee's recommendations include the following:  

  • Change the evidence standard in all student disciplinary matters relating to sexual misconduct from "clear and persuasive" to an evidence standard of "preponderance," which means "more likely than not." 
  • Create a team of three trained investigators to conduct investigations and make findings of fact and responsibility in all cases involving allegations of student sexual misconduct. If there is a finding of responsibility, the dean of undergraduate students and an associate dean of the graduate school would jointly determine the penalty. This replaces a current procedure under which student sexual misconduct cases are adjudicated by a subcommittee of the faculty-student Committee on Discipline; that committee will continue to operate according to its current procedures in all student disciplinary matters that do not involve sexual misconduct. The new procedure ensures that fact-finders in sexual misconduct cases will have appropriate professional training. It also allows for more timely resolution of disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct.
  • Allow complainants and respondents to be accompanied by an adviser of their choice in all meetings relating to the sexual misconduct disciplinary process. Current procedures only allow advisers from the University community; the new procedure would permit non-University individuals, including lawyers, in cases involving sexual misconduct. Consistent with current practice, the adviser would be permitted to assist the student but would not be permitted to speak on the student's behalf. 
  • Establish parity for the complainant and the respondent in the right to appeal in all sexual misconduct disciplinary procedures; this would include procedures governing members of the faculty and staff as well as student procedures. 

Michele Minter, the University's vice provost for institutional equity and diversity and its Title IX coordinator, said: "These are significant changes, and I believe they will help clarify and strengthen the University's policies and procedures, ensure timely, effective and equitable responses to allegations of sexual misconduct, and bring the University fully into compliance with all requirements related to Title IX. I especially want to express deep appreciation for the enormous amount of time and care that members of the student-faculty Committee on Discipline have devoted to issues related to sexual misconduct in recent years; they have taken their responsibilities under our current procedures very seriously and have discharged them well." 

In addition to the steps the faculty committee is recommending, Eisgruber has announced the formation of a new faculty-student Committee on Sexual Misconduct to recommend strategies to ensure students understand their rights under Title IX and the University's sexual misconduct policies and procedures and to improve the effectiveness of the University's procedures, support services, and resources available to students and for the prevention of sexual misconduct, including outreach and educational activities. The committee also will provide consultative support for annual climate surveys. The committee will be composed of students, faculty and administrators, and will be co-chaired by Minter and Professor Deborah Nord of the Department of English.