UM seeks feedback on sexual misconduct policy changes

The Detroit News

The University of Michigan is seeking feedback over the next month from students and faculty about proposed changes to the school’s sexual misconduct policy.

UM is conducting three forums this month to gather comments from faculty and staff, and also plans sessions for students.

Under a draft policy under consideration and announced Thursday, students who file complaints and those accused of misconduct could appeal investigation findings before the school’s sanctioning process is completed. Under UM’s present policy, students can appeal only after both investigation and sanctioning processes are finished.

A neutral party not affiliated with UM — usually an attorney, with knowledge of sexual misconduct cases would hear appeals of investigation findings, the proposed policy revision said. Currently, a single board hears appeals of findings and sanctions.

Under the revised policy, sanction appeals would be heard by a board with at least two faculty members, including one from the UM Law School, and a student chosen by the university’s student government.

The draft policy also calls for identifying all witnesses in investigative reports, taking the UM resolution officer out of the sanctioning process, and making it clear under which limited circumstances the sexual history of either party would be considered.

“We have been carefully studying the effectiveness of our current policy,” E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said in a statement Thursday. “This study, along with analysis from independent experts in sexual misconduct policies, review of new federal guidance and law and feedback from our university community, guided the draft policy revisions.”

Under federal investigation for its handling of a sexual misconduct case, UM is among the schools nationwide exploring policy overhauls amid an ongoing crackdown on campus sexual assault.

The university, which conducted a survey on campus this year that found 11 percent of students had a nonconsensual sexual experience within the previous 12 months, last updated its sexual misconduct policy in fall 2013.

Last month, UM announced it had reached a settlement agreement with a former student suspended in 2012 after he was accused of sexual assault. Under the agreement, the university states that student Drew Sterrett’s disciplinary record will reflect that he did not violate its sexual misconduct policy. As part of the agreement, Sterrett cannot reapply to the university and cannot disparage or contact the female student who brought the complaint against him.

Deborah Gordon, the Bloomfield Hills-based attorney who represented Sterrett, called UM’s proposed policy update “a big step forward.”

“I think that the university has taken a thoughtful approach and is willing to go back and revisit the original policy. It’s a very good sign that it’s going to provide a lot of additional layers of due process and fairness to their system of investigating and making findings.”