Title IX Sexual Harassment and University Policy

August 14, 2020

To: Members of the University Community
From: Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
Subject: Title IX Sexual Harassment and University Policy
Date: August 14, 2020

The United States Department of Education recently issued new regulations that govern how the University must respond to allegations of sexual harassment under Title IX, a civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. I write to share information about the University’s implementation of the new regulations and to reaffirm the University’s fundamental commitment to fostering a safe, healthy, and inclusive environment for all members of our community.

To comply with the new regulations, which were issued May 6 and become effective today, the University has established a stand-alone Policy on Title IX Sexual Harassment. Other policies on related issues remain in place, including the Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct. Under the new policy and as dictated by the regulations, Title IX sexual harassment is defined as conduct on the basis of sex that satisfies one or more of the following:

A University employee conditions the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the University on an individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct;

Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the University’s education program or activity;

Sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking as defined under federal laws,

and that takes place in the United States in connection with a University educational program or activity.

Accordingly, the new policy applies to conduct that occurs within the University’s domestic on- and off-campus education programs or activities. The new regulations also require the University to follow a prescribed process for the investigation and adjudication of matters involving allegations of Title IX sexual harassment, which includes holding live hearings and allowing cross-examination of parties and witnesses by a party’s representative. Under the new policy, and as required by Illinois law, the University will continue to use the preponderance of evidence standard as its standard of proof.

Under the new regulations, the University will continue to address other forms of harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct that do not constitute sexual harassment under Title IX. Complaints of harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct that fall outside the scope of the new policy but implicate the existing Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct (or other University policies) will continue to be addressed by the University under its existing policies. This means that hearings related to complaints of sexual misconduct that do not constitute sexual harassment under Title IX will remain largely unchanged for the upcoming academic year and will not involve live cross-examination.

As an alternative to a live hearing, and in accordance with the new regulations, the University may offer an informal resolution option if both parties voluntarily consent, unless the matter involves allegations that a University employee subjected a student to Title IX sexual harassment, in which case informal resolution is prohibited. Informal resolution does not result in a determination of violation of policy and may include the parties’ voluntary agreements to restrict or modify living, academic, or work environments, or to engage in educational offerings that would be relevant to the complaint.

We understand these are complex issues, and members of our community hold a range of views on the legal changes. In all cases, the University remains committed to fully supporting members of our community who may experience sexual harassment or be a party in a Title IX disciplinary process. The University will convene a committee this academic year to review the University’s approach to resolution of sexual misconduct complaints under the new and existing policies.

The University makes substantial efforts to prevent and address allegations of sexual misconduct and ensure that all reports are addressed in a prompt and thorough manner that is equitable for all affected parties, best serves our community, and complies with the law. Sexual misconduct awareness and prevention training is mandatory every year for all students, faculty, other academic appointees, staff, and postdoctoral researchers. Information about training for the upcoming year will be shared in coming weeks.

In the meantime, please visit the Equal Opportunity Programs website for information about policies, resources, and support, or contact Bridget Collier, Associate Provost and Title IX Coordinator (bcollier@uchicago.edu).