Task force urges new grievance process

Liz Bogut

and Sarah McKenzie
Although the University has an effective behavior code to respond to sexual assault complaints, enforcement of disciplinary measures is too bureaucratic and slow.
That was the conclusion of a four-month review of the University’s Student Conduct Code, which defines unacceptable student behavior and the punishments for that behavior.
The conclusion, included in a report released Thursday by an ad hoc task force, recommends that the University establish a new grievance process mandating that all sexual assaults are forwarded to Student Judicial Affairs, the University’s internal disciplinary system.
The final version of the recommendations will be forwarded in two weeks to University President Mark Yudof for his consideration.
Yudof formed the five-member task force July 9 in response to an outside counsel’s report on sexual misconduct and domestic abuse involving male student-athletes.
The July report, completed by Minneapolis attorney Don Lewis, determined men’s athletics officials were involved in at least 12 sexual misconduct investigations involving male athletes since 1993. Investigators did not find systematic interference, however.
According to an Oct. 20 memo issued to Yudof, panel members urged administrators to adopt the following measures:
ù Internal investigations and student disciplinary hearings should go forward independently of any civil or criminal court action.
ù A highly trained person with legal expertise and experience in sexual assault investigations should be appointed to handle the internal investigations.
ù Any sexual misconduct allegation should be promptly referred to Student Judicial Affairs and the Program Against Sexual Violence.
ù In turn, “PASV should continue to encourage victims to report to Student Judicial Affairs and the University Police,” according to the report.
ù The suspension of a student-athlete accused of criminal sexual misconduct should only be lifted by a senior administrative officer responsible for student or academic affairs.
General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the internal mechanisms would not take the place of police investigations. Instead the University would have recourse if police agencies or prosecutors do not pursue assault complaints.
“The key point is, we need to streamline our multilayered, unnecessarily complicated procedures to better protect victims and perpetrators,” Rotenberg said.
The grievance process prompted criticism from students last spring after McKinley Boston, vice president of student development and athletics, was accused of ignoring a football tutor’s sexual harassment complaint.
Rebecca Fabunmi, a former student and tutor, claimed she told Boston during a 1995 meeting that a football player had masturbated in front of her.
Boston has denied any wrongdoing, but Fabunmi contends the vice president dismissed her complaint and accused her of changing her story, said Jim Lord, her attorney.
Fabunmi could not be reached for comment Thursday.
After the allegations surfaced, about 40 demonstrators protested May 24 in front of Morrill Hall to denounce the actions of the administrators and male student-athletes.
Nikki Wright, a 1999 graduate and PASV volunteer, was one of the key protest organizers. She said a change in attitude toward victims of sexual violence is more important than any new provisions.
“The best way to handle the situation would be for sexual assault to be taken seriously,” Wright said. “From the top to the bottom, everyone needs to realize how serious it is.”
Lord, who has been a vocal opponent of the University throughout the men’s basketball investigations, said Thursday the new recommendations sound “far superior to the existing situation.”
He said Fabunmi and Christine Shevchuk — former basketball player Courtney James’ ex-girlfriend, who accused the athlete of abusing her — faced insensitivity among men’s athletics officials when they reported the misconduct.
Members of the review panel reiterated the need to create a speedy process to address the concerns of the victim and the alleged perpetrator.
“The University has an obligation to respond (to the allegations),” said Sara Evans, panel member and history professor. “(Sexual assaults) create wounds on our community of a very serious sort.”
Tonya Moten Brown, Yudof’s chief of staff, said the final version of the recommendations will be turned into the president’s office by the end of the month.
She said Yudof approves of the new provisions and is expected to announce a series of policy changes in two weeks.
Members of the review panel include Evans; Betty Hackett, director of Student Judicial Affairs; General Counsel Mark Rotenberg; Associate General Counsel Kathryn Brown; and Julie Sweitzer, director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

— Staff Reporters Megan Boldt and Erin Ghere contributed to this report.

Liz Bogut and Sarah McKenzie welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected]