Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Single complaint triggers larger investigation at University of Chicago

The complaint to OCR by one University of Chicago student about the way the university handled the disciplinary procedures resulting from a sexual assault by a (now) former partner has resulted in a broader examination of campus culture and the university's procedures for reporting and adjudicating sexual assault cases. The student filed her complaint in March 2013 for the events which occurred in AY2011-12. But the findings from that investigation prompted OCR to inform the university last month that it would be returning to conduct additional interviews and reviews of policies and procedures. According the student newspaper which ran a series about sexual assault on campus that was partly responsible for triggering the current investigation, investigators are now meeting with students.
The university has responded by forming a faculty committee to address (presumably) current and ongoing issues related to Title IX, sexual assault, and sexual climate on campus. University  representatives have also said that a new discipline policy will be issued this summer.
The original complaint by the one student is ongoing but involves the alleged downgrading of the student's report of a sexual assault to a more benign student dispute for which administrators encouraged informal mediation during which the two students involved would come together to talk it out basically. The complainant contends, among other things, that the downgrading and the suggested conflict resolution would have meant that the university would not have had to report the incident as a sexual assault. This, she said, made her wonder if the university was underreporting sexual assaults. This might be another reason why OCR has broadened its investigation in Chicago, though no one has said this is a Clery Act investigation.