Friday, November 01, 2013

OCR Concludes Independent Title IX Investigation of SUNY System

In December 2010, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights initiated an independent investigation of Title IX compliance at the State University of New York System and its twenty-nine campuses, to evaluate their policies and practices regarding sexual harassment and assault.  (An independent investigation is one that is not prompted by a complaint, but by OCR's own initiative.) Yesterday, the agency announced some findings of noncompliance and published the resolution agreement that SUNY has committed itself to in order to ensure compliance going forward.

Here is a summary of some of the major compliance issues addressed in the findings and the agreement:

  • The SUNY System and some of the SUNY campuses did not have designated Title IX Coordinators, so the Agreement requires SUNY to ensure that SUNY’s administrative office and each SUNY campus has designated a Title IX Coordinator, and that notice is provided to students and staff ofthat person's contact information. The agreement requires the SUNY System to revise its grievance procedures, as well as the individual campus procedures, to ensure that these comply with the requirements of Title IX. In addition to looking at written policies, OCR examined how four of the 29 SUNY campuses handled reported cases in recent years. OCR found several problems with the System's procedures, including not expressly stating their application to complaints of sexual harassment committed by third parties, not include assurances "that SUNY will take steps to prevent further harassment and correct its discriminatory effects, as appropriate," not providing express protection against retaliation for reporting sexual harassment; failing to include examples of harassing conduct and a definition of sexual assault/violence; and failing to address interim measures for keeping the complainant safe during the investigation and resolution of her complaint, among other problems. 
  • The individual campus-wide procedures contained many of the same problems, as well as such additional issues as failing to ensure a prompt time frame for investigating complaints or a full independent investigation of a student's complaint, not using a preponderance of evidence standard for evaluating evidence against the accused student, and not providing notice of a hearings or notice of outcomes to the complaining student as well as the accused student.
  •  The four campuses selected for review of recent complaints will reexamine those complaints to determine whether each as handled according to procedures as required by Title IX.  Those schools must take appropriate action to correct the problems identified.
  • The agreement calls for enhanced training of all staff responsible for recognizing and reporting incidents of sexual harassment, and to people with Title IX compliance and implementation responsibilities, as well as campus-wide training directed at students to teach them how to recognize and report sexual harassment and sexual assault. 
  • Each campus will conduct annual climate checks and report results to OCR for the next three years.