Petition Closed

This petition to the Board of Trustees of Northwestern University comes in response to the recent Title IX Complaint against Northwestern University, and Northwestern’s  Answer to it.  

 

To ensure our shared goals of the safety of students and colleagues, gender equity, and a flourishing creative campus through strong protections of academic freedom, the undersigned faculty request that the University fully implement laws and policies that favor a) accountability for misconduct, including failure to properly respond to allegations of criminal behaviors; and b) transparency to the greatest extent possible in sharing findings and disciplinary outcomes with those who have reported on misconduct and with the university community.

 

We recognize that in 2012 Northwestern University entered a "Resolution Agreement" with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR), pursuant to another Northwestern student filing a complaint with that agency charging that Northwestern's mishandling of her report of a sexual assault resulted in her withdrawal from the university.   We ask Northwestern to release that Resolution Agreement in its entirety immediately.

 

We recognize that in navigating Title IX, contract, and employment law university administrators must make difficult choices, and that these may result in lawsuits. And yet, we believe Northwestern has compiled a record of poor choices. When internal findings document misconduct, especially misconduct consistent with violation of state or federal laws, Northwestern should prioritize campus safety and stand firmly on the side of those who have the least power and privilege, understanding that this may risk lawsuits from aggrieved parties.

 

We believe that the description of the Northwestern response to the student's allegations in the Answer to her lawsuit indicates a failure of judgment considering past events in providing complete and accurate information to the Northwestern community of faculty and students as to their legal rights and responsibilities under Title IX and the Clery Act.

 

Moving forward, we ask that the Board of Trustees engage an independent team of faculty and other experts on university administration to conduct an audit. We ask that this audit committee interview all administrators to discern the identities of those who were aware of Joan Slavin's findings on the student's complaint in February 2012, as well as the identities of all those who were aware of the 2011-12 OCR investigation.

 

We request a public release of the findings of this audit as well as correction, disciplinary action, and possible removal from supervisory responsibilities of administrators and attorneys who were aware of the OCR investigation and the student's allegations but failed to urge the removal of the faculty member from the Northwestern campus.  We also request information defining sexual assault and the importance of reporting its allegations to the police be included in all Northwestern websites and other written materials implementing Title IX requirements on sexual misconduct and abuse, along the lines of the language used by Loyola University.

 

We further request the following, many of which are policies required by Title IX or the Clery Act:

 

1.  All University units that receive reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and/or sexual abuse from victims and third-parties to keep records of each case that include the victim's status (undergrad, grad, staff, etc), the alleged perpetrator's status, relationship between parties, date, location, details, who made the initial report (victim or a third party), whether a criminal report is filed and charges are pressed, whether an internal NU investigation and/or hearing will be pursued, committee findings and outcomes. In particular, the reasons for failure to proceed to a complaint should be articulated (victim’s fear of X; insubstantial evidence; etc) should be explained and analyzed.  Each case can maintain confidentiality by using case numbers and anonymous titles such as Target, Incident Reporter, and Accused. These case files should be kept as raw data and made available to those who ask to see them.

 

2.        An office independent of Northwestern University to oversee University handling of sexual violence, abuse, and harassment cases to ensure that the target receives proper support and advocacy from professionals whose clearly understood first concern is the well-being and rights of the target, to ensure that targets are told of the outcomes of any investigations or hearings, including what penalties are handed out to those found guilty/responsible, and to annually audit all cases of reported sexual harassment, assault, and abuse to ensure that punishments are consistent and to provide an evaluation of the University's handling of cases. This audit – with identifying details removed to ensure confidentiality – should be made available to the public annually and serve as a report card for the University.

 

3.        Join leader Universities in requiring those who have been found to have committed sexual violence, assault, or abuse against any student be barred from campus until formal proceedings are held to protect the target of sexual violence from running into their alleged abuser on campus.

 

4.        Amend the new section 2.0 of our sexual harassment policy (and/or the faculty handbook as appropriate) to indicate that a professor who violates the ban on sexual contact with an undergraduate may be terminated regardless of tenure. This would explicitly bring Northwestern’s policies in line with those at other leading universities.  

 

5.        Make a commitment that professors who have been determined (by campus or legal processes) to have committed sexual harassment, violence, or abuse shall not be “passed on” to other Universities.  Rather, positive results of investigations should be made part of the personnel file of the person who has been found to have committed the harm.  

 

6.         Join leader Universities in acknowledging that University policies guaranteeing confidentiality may not be able to be maintained when the safety of community members is at risk. Maintaining the confidentiality of a person who is found to have committed sexual harassment, assault, or abuse puts the entire University community at risk.

 

7.        Use the information in those case files to compile and make public an annual report with a full accounting of sexual harassment, sexual assualt, and sexual abuse cases. This may be a separate report from the annual audit conducted by independent office or may be included within the audit. This accounting should include sufficient data so that the Northwestern community can easily see not only the number and type of cases, but also the rate of positive findings and the consequences for those who are found to have committed sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual abuse.

 

We acknowledge that these are very difficult issues and that confidentiality for targets and accused perpetrators  of sexual abuse is important.  We also appreciate that that the University has made efforts to improve our policies in recent months.  In particular we applaud the newly added provision 2.0 that forbids all relationships between undergraduate students with professors and coaches, whether ‘consensual’ or not, which reads:  

 

When undergraduate students are involved, the difference in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great that no faculty member or coaching staff member shall enter into a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with a Northwestern undergraduate student, regardless of whether there is a supervisory or evaluative relationship between them.

 

We also know that Northwestern University is not alone in grappling with these issues. Recent, similarly disturbing Title IX lawsuits against AmherstCollege, Vanderbilt University, the Office of Civil Rights investigations of the University of Chicago, Dartmouth, and others, along with President Obama’s recent establishment of a White House Task Force on campus sexual violence,  and the Office of Civil Rights’ “Dear Colleague” letter about sexual violence all demonstrate the renewed importance of addressing sexual violence on campus.  

 

The undersigned concerned faculty at Northwestern University therefore respectfully request the adoption of policies outlined above to ensure full compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act, to discourage future litigation, but most importantly for the protection of victims and potential victims of sexual violence, harassment, assault, and abuse on our campus.

 

Sincerely,


Letter to
Northwestern University Board of Trustees
Consider Sexual Violence Policies and Practices