Today, members of the Working Group on Sexual Assault Policy (WGSAP) will meet with Deputy Dean of Students Martina Munsters to discuss WGSAP’s proposed changes to the University’s disciplinary policy for sex offenses. As it stands, campus policy is insufficient and outdated, and Munsters should seize on the opportunity to make important revisions.
Some of WGSAP’s suggestions will likely be adopted without much debate, such as the request that proceedings be conducted in a timely manner and that members of the committee undergo sensitivity training. Needless to say, ensuring prompt, considerate treatment should be high among the University’s goals.
Other provisions, although more controversial, are no less important. During the 2005–2006 academic year, when the policy was last modified, a proposal to centralize complaints under the office of the dean of students was shot down by faculty members who insisted that they felt a kind of involvement with and responsibility for students in their divisions. Outsourcing the review of sexual assault cases to the central administration, they argued, would diminish the close relationships between faculty and their students. But these close relationships are likely to skew judgments, or at least present the appearance of having done so, both of which are unacceptable.
Likewise, the presence of committee members from the same department as the accuser or accused presents the same possibility of personal bias. Though both these changes may be resisted by faculty, they are a necessary step toward ensuring the impartiality of a tribunal whose consequences are so grave.
It is also in the interest of fairness that the accuser be allowed to request a review of the final decision, as WGSAP recommends. Currently, such a right is extended in cases of improper procedure or the discovery of new evidence, and only to the accused. But giving the option to both parties enables the greatest likelihood of an accurate decision.
The proposal also touches on the idea of including students on the disciplinary panels. Rather than allowing either the accuser or accused the opportunity to include students on the committees, the sexual assault policy should be amended so that students, who lend a unique and critical perspective and who best understand contemporary social situations, are always included on a panel.
WGSAP’s final request––that the accuser be given access to all additional material and testimony by the accused and witnesses––is problematic, since Munsters has noted that releasing confidential student material may violate federal law. But most of WGSAP’s proposals are sound, creating and enhancing safeguards for the processes carried out in the serious event of an accusation of sexual assault. It’s time for the U of C to update it’s flawed policies.
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