The conversation of how to best handle campus reports of sexual assault continued Tuesday in a Bloomington Faculty Council discussion of sexual misconduct complaints levied against IU faculty.
BFC was slated to share opinions on the Bloomington campus’ specific Faculty Board of Review policy, but the discussion quickly broadened to include a debate of faculty rights and fairness presented in University investigations.
BFC President Alex Tanford introduced the topic as the BFC representative for a five-person task force currently reviewing University sexual misconduct policy as it relates to faculty members.
Tanford began with a brief presentation on how IU responds to reports of sexual assault against University faculty. In such cases, an IU investigator compiles a report based on collected evidence and witness interviews to be presented to a separate campus administrator who uses the investigator’s findings to decide whether IU policy was violated and what faculty sanctions should be placed.
If either side is unhappy with the administrator’s decision, it can request a Faculty Board of Review, which allows five faculty members elected by the BFC to review the case and either agree with the original finding or suggest new recommendations to the provost for consideration.
However, this faculty review policy was written years before IU’s current Sexual Misconduct Policy was enacted in 2012, and it applies to a number of different types of faculty complaints, most frequently including questions of tenure, Provost Lauren Robel noted at Tuesday's meeting. Robel said only one faculty case has been heard at IU under current policy.
So, the five-member task force is now looking to reconsider how the Faculty Board of Review policy should factor in to IU’s sexual assault procedures in the event any future reports against faculty are made.
Major concerns about the Faculty Board of Review process include what role reporting students and faculty should play in the board review process, what time frames should be used to make review board decisions and whether the Faculty Board of Review should conduct its own review of sexual misconduct reports.
Currently, the Faculty Board of Review doesn't allow witnesses, such as those who have reported against a faculty member, to attend its hearings. Those who are in favor of an expedited review process say it will bring quicker resolution to both parties involved in sexual misconduct reports. Also, the review board currently only makes decisions based on the findings of the University investigator.
While the council recognized these issues in respect to Tanford’s focus on the Faculty Board of Review, BFC members quickly drew the conversation into a larger discussion of the University’s broader Sexual Misconduct Policy.
Several members noted recent changes in federal guidance for how schools should respond to reports of sexual assault. Others raised concerns of how IU policy can strike a balance between providing a supportive environment for those seeking to report sexual assault with providing fairness to faculty who are accused in the IU system.
BFC members quickly drew debate of what parties’ rights should be in these cases. IU’s policy does not allow either a person reporting or accused of sexual assault to have an adviser or attorney speak on his or her behalf. Neither party can cross examine witnesses in the Faculty Board of Review, and decisions are made on a lower standard of proof called preponderance of evidence.
“Historically, due process and the rights of the accused have been very important in this country,” BFC member Kenneth Dau-Schmidt said. “And these tenured professors, or these professors with a property interest in their job at a public university, certainly do have due process rights, and it’s very important, no matter what they’re accused of, that’s those rights not be traught on.”
Robel was quick to draw the distinction between rights offered in the criminal justice system versus the University system, such as standards of proof and attorney participation. She said the rights offered in the Faculty Board of Review procedure – regardless of whether the case is related to a complaint of sexual assault – are what the University considers faculty members’ given due process rights.
“A criminal case is a very different thing,” Robel said. “I know it feels pretty high, and it is to lose his or her job, but it’s not the same thing as losing the possibilities of one’s liberties.”
Others on the council rejected the notion that IU’s procedures need to incorporate more rights and fairness to faculty accused of sexual assault. BFC member Rebecca Spang said she recognizes that very few cases of sexual misconduct are reported against faculty members and fewer make it to a formal hearing.
She said she is more inclined to favor a policy that is weighted more heavily in favor of the person who reports sexual assault and that this person shouldn’t be made to retell his or her account to a Faculty Board or Review after an IU administrator had decided the case.
“I don’t want anybody who has gone through the process of claiming, rightly or wrongly, that he or she was sexually assaulted by a faculty member to then have to sit through another meeting where someone says ‘You’re making this up,’” Spang said.
The council reached no consensus in its nearly 20-minute discussion. However, the council never intended to vote on the issue. Tanford said he brought the topic to BFC to gather the the council's input to share at his next task force meeting.
“At some point, when things are balanced on that knife edge, a policy is either going to have to favor a victim or favor the accused,” Tanford told the council. “And that’s the place where it’s most difficult.”