Following a months-long review and drafting process, the University of Nebraska system has updated its policy and procedures on sexual misconduct in order to comply with new federal Title IX regulations.
The NU Board of Regents approved an amended sexual misconduct policy during its Aug. 14 meeting. The university has also updated procedures for how it responds to sexual misconduct reports against both students and employees.
Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. In May, the U.S. Department of Education issued new regulations for how colleges and universities covered by Title IX (including the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and all other institutions in the NU system) investigate and adjudicate reports of sexual misconduct.
The most significant changes in the Title IX regulations include:
In nearly all cases, a signed complaint is required for a Title IX investigation to begin. Only in instances where there is a compelling university-wide interest can an investigation take place without a signed complaint — and, in that instance, the complaint must be signed by the Title IX coordinator.
Cross-examinations of complaining and responding parties, as well as witnesses, are required during live hearings led by university officials. The cross examinations will be led by each party’s advisers, who may be lawyers, but not by the parties themselves.
Universities are only obligated to respond to sexual harassment reports that occurred off campus if the location is in use by an officially recognized student or institution organization. Universities are also not required to handle complaints of sexual harassment that occur outside the United States. They can, however, apply misconduct policies for abroad programs if universities so choose.
The definition of sexual harassment has narrowed. It is defined as “any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal education access.”
Title IX complaints will be addressed and resolved by three separate officials — a Title IX coordinator, who formally receives the complaint; an investigator, to gather facts and interview parties/witnesses; and a decisionmaker, to determine responsibility and sanctions or remedies for parties.
Title IX processes may be conducted virtually. Live hearings will be recorded, by transcript or electronic device, and made available to parties involved. The recordings must be maintained by universities for at least seven years.
The regulations do not impose a pre-determined timeframe for universities to follow when resolving complaints. Institutions are to set their own “reasonably prompt” timeframes for each phase of the grievance process.
The list of university employees who are required to report incidents of sexual misconduct, now referred to as “Officials with Authority” instead of responsible employees, has been narrowed to presidents, chancellors, provosts, vice chancellors, and campus Title IX coordinators. All other members of the campus community are expected to report cases of sexual misconduct to the Title IX coordinator. Reporting will not force a person who has been subjected to sexual misconduct to file a complaint or begin an investigation, but it will ensure they are offered supportive measures.
Colleges and universities were required to comply with the updated Title IX regulations by Aug. 14. All sexual misconduct investigations launched before Aug. 14 will follow previous federal policies and procedures. The updated policy is being followed for all investigations reported after the Aug. 14 deadline.
NU’s update to Title IX regulations included a team of more than 30 students, faculty and staff representing universities across the system.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a campuswide Collaborative on Sexual Misconduct had already started to review policy and practices pertaining to sexual misconduct for the purpose of providing recommendations to Chancellor Ronnie Green. The work of the collaborative informed and influenced the NU system’s effort to update the new policy and procedures.
Announced in September 2019 and launched in anticipation of the updated federal regulations, the 45-member collaborative included representation from students, faculty, staff and community. It was led by Susan Swearer, professor of educational psychology.
The NU system’s updated Title IX policy is available here. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Title IX website is in the process of being updated to reflect the changes. Additional documentation regarding the changes for students and employees is outlined in NU executive memorandums for students and employees.
Title IX resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln are provided by the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. Learn more about those processes and the university’s commitment to addressing sexual misconduct here.