Board of Regents adopts new sexual harassment policy

Additionally, the Board approved the University’s 2018 capital request for $238.5 million from the Minnesota Legislature.

by Allison Cramer

The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents adopted a new sexual misconduct policy and approved changes to another at its meeting Friday.

The board’s new Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Stalking and Relationship Violence policy will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. The regents also ratified changes to a separate University sexual misconduct policy, which will undergo a 30-day public notice and comment period before the board takes a final vote on the changes in December.

Sexual misconduct policies

The Board of Regents policy – which defines prohibited sexual misconduct and relationship violence – requires the University to “adopt procedures on each campus for providing training on prohibited conduct to all members of the University community.”

According to previous policy, “affirmative consent is freely and affirmatively communicated words or actions given by an informed individual that a reasonable person would believe communicate a willingness to participate in the sexual contact.”

The board added the word “sober” to its definition of “a reasonable person” on Friday to prevent those accused from claiming they couldn’t determine consent because they were intoxicated.

“We wanted to clarify that when we’re using the ‘reasonable person’ standard, we’re looking at a reasonable person that would be sober, not intoxicated,” said Tina Marisam, director of the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, at Friday’s meeting. “Intoxication is not a defense to sexual assault.”

Other policy language was also adjusted for clarity, according to Friday meeting materials. The changes come after feedback from a June Board of Regents meeting.

The proposed administrative policy aims to alleviate fears from potential reporters of sexual assault by giving amnesty from drug or alcohol violations, except when someone gave alcohol or drugs to another “with the intent of causing them to become incapacitated and therefore vulnerable to experiencing prohibited conduct.”

Officials from the EOAA who conduct misconduct investigations already follow that policy informally, Marisam told the Minnesota Daily in February.

“We don’t want to deter reporters,” Marisam said of the proposed change in February. “We also want witnesses and respondents to feel like they can speak candidly during our investigations.”

Some changes to the administrative document aim to align the policy with federal Title IX guidance, she said at the Friday meeting, like giving those accused of sexual misconduct written notice of the allegations and a chance to respond to the investigative report before a decision.

The policy would be more comprehensive than existing University rules and comply with a 2015 agreement with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights to implement a “single, comprehensive sexual harassment policy,” according to meeting documents.

Officials hope to implement the updated administrative policy on Jan. 1, 2018. Additionally, the administration hopes to begin system-wide sexual misconduct prevention training for employees in the new year, Marisam said.

“Implementing the new policies on Jan. 1 would allow the University to use this training to educate our community on the new policies,” she said.

Some regents praised the University officials’ speed and diligence in evaluating current sexual misconduct policies during Friday’s meeting.

“I don’t think we’re rushing anything here; it’s big, important stuff and we want to make sure we get it right,” Regent David McMillan said at the meeting.

Regent Peggy Lucas said the policies show the University won’t back down against what it considers to be serious behavior.

“I’m really appreciative of how much thought and effort has gone into this,” Lucas said at the meeting.

Capital request

The Board of Regents also approved the University’s $234.5 million 2018 capital request at the meeting.

Of the total request, $200 million would go to maintain and restore current University assets, a top concern for the Minnesota legislature, said Vice President of University Relations Matt Kramer.

“We have talked extensively with the legislative leadership and we understand that there is an increased priority … that we invest in and maintain our existing infrastructure,” Kramer said at the meeting.