New handbook draft published
The draft of the 2014 to 2015 Rights and Responsibilities handbook was released this past Friday and is “expected to be finalized” within seven to 10 days of the draft’s release, according to an email sent to the student body by Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel on Friday. Dean of Students Jamele Adams, however, provided a broader time frame for completion of sometime within the next two weeks in an email to the Justice.
The most extensive changes, which Adams cited in an Aug. 23 email to the Brandeis community as the reason for handbook’s delayed release, are to University policies and procedures surrounding the issue of “sexual misconduct.” Major changes and additions include the introduction of a confidentiality policy for information learned during conduct processes, the addition of a victims’ bill of rights and the requirement that students found responsible for forcible, non-consensual intercourse be sanctioned by dismissal from the University. The handbook outlines specifically what sanctions a student may face depending on what category of sexual misconduct he or she is found guilty of.
The draft will be finalized, pending the completion of professional copy editing, according to a note on the Department of Community Rights and Community Standards’ webpage.
Reacting to the late release of the handbook, chairperson of the Student Conduct Board Matthew Chernick ’16 said in an interview with the Justice that “[a]s a department, we were upset that it was taking a long time. It’s necessary, and it’s unfortunate for the community, but it’s the only way to make sure the code is good for our community.”
In “Section 3: Sexual Misconduct, and other Forms of Interpersonal Violence” a list of definitions specific to sexual misconduct has been added. The definition of “consent,” for instance, states that it the person giving it must be “cognitively aware” and that it must be “explicit, affirmative, and free of coercion, force, or intimidation.” It does not accept silence as a mode of consent and does not require resistance to communicate lack of consent. The updated definition also does not allow for previous consent to be valid over time.
The introductory terms in Section 3 also include a provision for the University to take “interim measures” for students who are accused of sexual or gender-based misconduct. The term does not give an exhaustive list of interim measures that may be executed but does say that students “will be suspended from” any “roles in which they have a power dynamic over others, or are charged with responsibility for representing the University” while their cases are being adjudicated.
A “Victims’ Bill of Rights” is appended to Section 3, and lists services for survivors of sexual assault, including options for counseling services and notifying law enforcement, as well as the rights of both parties in the conduct process to have “others” present during Special Examiner’s Process proceedings and for both parties to be informed of outcomes along the way.
There is not a time limit under which the survivor must be notified of his or her options as listed in the Victims’ Bill of Rights, according to Adams.
If a victim’s rights as defined the new bill of rights are violated, he or she may “seek any of the resources listed in the Survivor’s Resource Guide and/or the Title IX officer,” and contact the Dean’s office, Adams wrote in an email to the Justice.
The definition of the special examiner’s role itself, however, has also changed. The new edition of the handbook states—in detail that was not included in two years since the role of the examiner was created—that the special examiner “may be a University employee or a contracted, external expert.”
When the Special Examiner’s Process was first introduced in fall 2012 to investigate and generally handle cases of sexual or gender-based violence separately from the Student Conduct Board, then-Director of Student Rights and Community Standards Dean Gendron told the Justice for a Sept. 4 article that the special examiner could be someone within the Brandeis community but did not necessarily have to be. In a June 30 email to the Justice this year, however, Ellen de Graffenreid, former senior vice president of communications, wrote that “generally outside consultants were employed for the complex investigations of sexual misconduct.”
According to Adams, a University employee has acted as a special examiner in only one case to date.
Asked about potential conflicts of interest that could arise with a University employee acting as a special examiner, Adams wrote that there would be no conflict of interest “as long as there are no direct reporting lines shared between the Examiner and the ‘Decision Maker/DOS or designee.’”
The April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague" Letter on policy surrounding sexual violence and harassment in schools and universities, issued by the office of the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, stipulates that schools’ investigations should be “impartial” but does not expand upon this requirement for internal investigations.
The role of “co-examiner,” also new as of this year’s edition of the handbook, is defined as a “member of the faculty or staff, named by the Title IX compliance officer, who is present at all interviews ... held by the Special Examiner.” This co-examiner, according to Chernick, “will be double-checking and following the process to make sure the code is followed and to help the outside person understand our community as it works and lives.” He described that he believes the co-examiner’s influence is “none, if any.” The role replaces, and is intended to be similar to, the role of “Observer” in the previous two years’ handbooks, according to Adams.
In terms of sanctions for sexual assault or gender-based violence, the handbook has been changed this year to place “forcible non-consensual intercourse” in a class of its own. It is the first and only violation of sexual conduct that has a required punishment of dismissal from the University should a student be found guilty, according to the updated handbook.
The code’s new confidentiality policy, introduced in Section 17 (Identifying Concerning Behavior and Initial Procedures), requires “[a]ny Brandeis student who is involved in any informal or formal adjudication process ... is required to respect the privacy of any person about whom information is learned during the process” and forbids them from openly discussing “new information about [the facts of a case] that is learned in a conduct process.”
Information “discussed or provided in” the conduct process can be shared only on a “need-to-know” basis, excluding all but those with a “familial, legal, or medical” relationship with either of the students, according to the updated handbook.
However, parties to a case may speak publicly about the conduct process itself, according to Adams. Involved parties may also openly discuss “the facts or their personal opinions about those facts as they came to know them prior to the participation in a conduct process.”
According to Adams, the confidentiality policy applies to all types of cases, including regular conduct board hearings and those under the Special Examiner’s Process.
The conduct code states that the confidentiality policy “is not intended to discourage a Brandeis student from seeking advice or redress from oversight or judicial entities external to Brandeis.”
Asked about the potential of a situation arising in which it may be necessary for a student to breach confidentiality in order to seek redress, Adams acknowledged the possibility and wrote that “we will rely on the spirit of the policy, which [is] keeping our students safe and protected.”
“Section 4: Maintenance of Academic Integrity” introduces an office that is new to Brandeis as of this past February: the Department of Academic Integrity—headed by Erika Lamarre, former director of Community Living and the director of Student Conduct prior to Gendron. The section also outlines the characteristics of new “infringement[s] of academic integrity.”
Specifically, section 4.1 advises students against selling exams, reports or course information or sharing course materials from a previous course “for use other than for study assistance in a current course.” A specific penalty for this violation is not listed, but general “infringement of academic honesty” may result in automatically failing an assignment or course or suspension from the University.
Section 2 now includes the Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy, which has been moved up from Section 12, and an amnesty provision has been added. The provision states that students who report behaviors in Section 2—titled “Respect for the Health, Safety, and Rights of the Community”—“will not be subject to disciplinary action for minor code infractions discovered as a result of contacting University officials or support staff.”
The entire handbook is prefaced with a definition of terms and conditions, such as “accuser,” “accused,” “amnesty” and explanations of formal versus informal adjudication.
Throughout the entire text, the handbook also reminds students that University records of conduct proceedings are always subject to court order.
This year’s Rights and Responsibilities handbook is almost 30 pages longer than last year’s version, amounting to 87 pages, compared with the 2013 to 2014 handbook’s total of 58 pages.
According to the DSRSC web page, revision of the handbook is conducted with the feedback of the “Rights and Responsibilities Committee,” as well as faculty, students, the Dean of Students and other administrators.
“I will say for this year there was a significant, larger portion of student feedback through surveys and just individual or email feedback to Dean [Gendron] ... when he was drafting the code,” said Chernick.
“I think the code is the best code we can have possible,” he said when asked whether the draft released this weekend reflects student input.
—Marissa Ditkowsky contributed reporting.