Sent on June 26, 2020
Dear Members of the Campus Y and the Joint Governance Council of Student Government:
Thank you for sharing your thoughtful concerns regarding the Department of Education’s Final Rule relating to reports of sexual misconduct pursuant to Title IX. As you know, the Final Rule affects various University processes for students, faculty, and staff. While we anticipated some of the content of the Final Rule from the Department’s 2018 proposed regulations, there are significant and nuanced changes between the proposed and final versions. We are taking care to study each section of the Rule thoroughly to understand its implications and to knowledgeably discuss next steps with our community.
Regardless of the new requirements, the University’s response to reports of sexual and interpersonal violence will continue to be guided by our institutional values of safety, diversity, education, and equity. Sexual and interpersonal violence are contrary to these values and violate the essential dignity of our community members. Our response to this misconduct, whether it occurs on campus or off, in the classroom or on a study abroad program, will continue to be focused on providing care and support tailored to the needs of those affected and, where appropriate, an adjudication process grounded in principles of respect, equity, and integrity. Any required changes to the University’s policies will be made in coordination with our community and campus partners. Specifically, the already-established Advisory Group for the University’s Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct will review and provide feedback on any proposed changes to University policies or procedures. The Policy Advisory Group is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff.
In response to some of your specific concerns:
• The University maintains and affirms its commitment to providing equal access to safe learning, living, and working environments to all students and employees, regardless of gender, gender expression, gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation. This includes continuing to prohibit discrimination and harassment based on these protected statuses, as stated in the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct.
• The University has recognized the preponderance of the evidence standard as the applicable standard in cases of sexual misconduct, harassment, and discrimination. This
recognition is embodied in current University procedures. Whether we can retain this standard for all cases of sexual harassment, sexual violence, interpersonal violence, and stalking is not solely in the University’s control. This is because the new Rule requires a uniform standard for adjudications of sexual harassment by students, faculty, and staff, and the standard for certain faculty and staff processes are set by State and UNC System policy. The University is actively engaged with the State and the UNC System to address the intersections between these policies.
• The University, and specifically the Equal Opportunity and Compliance (EOC) Office, has made great strides in improving the efficiency of investigations. We intend to retain our commitment to a 60-business day timeline for investigations, absent extensions for good cause.
• The EOC Office has continued to respond promptly to all reports of discrimination and harassment and to conduct investigations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Regardless of where misconduct is reported to have occurred and whether any particular course of action is sought, the University will continue to offer support measures to all affected parties as appropriate to ensure safety and well-being These measures are tailored to individual needs to maximize access to education programs and activities and to foster a stable and safe environment before and during the process of reporting, investigation, and/or adjudication.
• As permitted by the Final Rule, the University will continue to prohibit, respond to and, when appropriate, adjudicate reports of sexual misconduct, regardless of where the reported misconduct occurs if the conduct has continuing adverse effects on campus, including behavior that may fall outside the Department of Education’s definition of sexual harassment.
• The University does not and will not compel either party to participate in mediation or any other form of informal resolution for reports of sexual misconduct. Existing procedures provide options for informal resolutions, which can include a variety of resolution options tailored to the particular circumstances, and these are only used when chosen by the parties and deemed appropriate by the University. We continue to support this approach so we can maximize choice and empowerment rather than requiring parties to go through one formal investigation process to find resolution for their report.
• The University plans to solicit feedback from our community about our current policy on Responsible Employees, those faculty and staff who must report information about suspected sexual or interpersonal violence with the EOC Office. We realize there are different perspectives on this issue, and we want to ensure impacted parties receive appropriate resources and reporting options in a prompt and compassionate manner.
• We are creating a new page on the EOC Office website that explains the new Rule and provides a platform for feedback from students and employees.
• Once we have completed our review of the potential implications of the Final Rule on our existing policies and procedures for students, faculty, and staff, we will present to the Policy Advisory Group for their review and feedback a draft of any new policies and/or revisions to the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct and related procedures.
• We also plan to hold a Zoom webinar prior to the implementation of any revisions to policies or procedures to explain any changes – and the basis for those changes – to our campus community.
We appreciate and admire the advocacy of the concerned students and other Carolina community members who seek assurance that the University will remain committed to the well-being of our community—specifically to responding to reports of sexual and interpersonal violence in a way that still aims to eliminate this conduct, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects. We welcome ongoing dialogue with students, faculty, and staff as the University seeks to ensure compliance with the regulations while not retreating from our effort – grounded in large part in student advocacy – to ensure safety and equity for all members of our community.
Vice Chancellor of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity and Compliance
Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs
Director of Title IX Compliance/Title IX Compliance Coordinator