Attorneys for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and The University of New Mexico met recently to discuss a negotiated agreement in response to the DOJ findings following a review of the University’s policies and procedures regarding campus sexual assault investigations.
UNM responded in a letter dated June 2, 2016 to the DOJ findings delivered in April, following a 16-month review. UNM officials described the last week’s discussion as a “very productive session that moved the University closer to a formal agreement with the DOJ.”
A final agreement is still in the works, but UNM President Robert Frank is encouraged by the progress.
“UNM has made considerable progress over the past two years in developing processes that demonstrate our commitment to ending sexual harassment and sexual violence, as indicated by our letter to the Department of Justice,” stated UNM President Bob Frank. “UNM continues to be dedicated in our focus on not only campus safety, but creating an environment that is welcoming to and supportive of our students.”
In December 2014, the DOJ began its review of UNM’s policies and procedures, examining documents spanning six years from 2009-10 through 2014-15 academic year. It found that in some areas, the institution had failed to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.
In the report’s conclusion released in April 2016, the DOJ identified five specific steps for UNM to take to be in compliance with Title IX:
- Provide comprehensive and effective training to all students, faculty and staff that gives notice of the University’s prohibition on sexual harassment, including sexual assault; information about reporting options, duties and obligations; details on where to go for help or assistance; and information on grievance procedures and potential outcomes;
- Revise the University’s policies, procedures and investigative practices to provide a grievance procedure that ensures prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations;
- Adequately investigate or respond to all allegations by students who have alleged sexual harassment, including sexual assault and/or allegations of retaliation for reporting sexual assault or sexual harassment;
- Take prompt and effective steps to create a safe environment, prevent recurrence of sexual assault or sexual harassment and address its effects and;
- Ensure that the individuals designated to coordinate its Title IX efforts receive adequate training and coordinate these efforts effectively.
In response to the DOJ’s findings, UNM highlighted a number of areas that overlapped, were conflicting and/or inconsistent with current institutional policies involving sexual misconduct. Some new or revised policies were either in the process of being addressed when the DOJ conducted its investigation and/or implemented during the nine months since its report.
UNM’s response highlighted certain ongoing efforts, such as:
- University Policies Prohibiting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault
- Campus Awareness of Sexual Harassment Policies
- Campus Administrative Investigations
- Campus Law Enforcement Investigations
- Campus Climate
- Campus Title IX Coordinator and other new hires in the Office of Equal Opportunity
In its response letter, UNM said, “The University is pleased that many of its most recent efforts to address sexual harassment and sexual assault have been commended as significant and proactive in the Department’s findings.”
One of the areas UNM has addressed is to provide a more prompt and equitable grievance procedure in response to its policies, procedures and investigative practices. On June 15, UNM implemented new processes designed to speed up discrimination claims and departmental investigations while allowing more timely input from both the complainant and respondent in the case.
In addition to these new procedures, the University has hired new staff to handle the influx of sexual assault and harassment cases, which have grown in response to federal law. UNM also conducted a campuswide survey on sexual assault to obtain a clear picture of the problem on campus and what needs to still be addressed. The results of that survey will be released this summer.
“I’m pleased that our conversations with the DOJ have been going so well,” Frank said. “We are optimistic for a final agreement by early fall of this year.”