Princeton Eyes Revamped Policy on Campus Sexual Assault

A Princeton University committee has proposed policy changes for responding to sexual assaults on campus, following Harvard University and Dartmouth College, which have issued new directives.

Under the revamp, Princeton would use trained investigators to look into alleged assaults and would change the standard of evidence used for finding students responsible for attacks, according to a statement today.

Colleges across the U.S. are closely examining their policies and procedures for preventing, investigating and reporting sexual assaults as students have filed complaints against their schools for improper responses. Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth are among dozens of schools under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for alleged violations of Title IX, which bars gender discrimination in education.

“In conversations over the summer with OCR about its pending review of Princeton’s practices in these areas, it became clear that we needed to modify our sexual-misconduct policies and procedures to become fully compliant with current Title IX requirements,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in the statement.

OCR began investigating Princeton in 2010 after Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at New England School of Law in Boston who specializes in violence issues, filed a complaint against the school in Princeton, New Jersey. Murphy also filed a complaint against Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard Law School the same year.

Federal Investigation

“It’s not a good sign that Princeton officials claim they only realized ‘this summer’ that they had major policy problems considering that Princeton has been under federal investigation on this issue for almost four years,” Murphy said in an e-mail.

In 2011, the Education Department issued guidance for colleges -- known as the “Dear Colleague Letter” -- regarding sexual assault. The school has made “adjustments” to its policy since then, according to a memo to faculty today from the university’s Faculty Advisory Committee, which issued the draft policies.

Michael Caddell, a Princeton spokesman, declined to comment further.

Since 1995, the Education Department has said that campus sexual-assault investigations should be decided by a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which means that the charges are more likely than not to be true. Under the draft, Princeton would move to a preponderance standard from the one in current use, “clear and persuasive” evidence.

Evidence Standard

Murphy said she raised the issue of the evidence standard in her complaint and was pleased to see the proposed change.

“The preponderance standard ensures that the word of a woman will be accorded the same weight and value as the word of any other student reporting or responding to allegations that a student’s civil rights were violated,” she said.

Princeton also will form a Committee on Sexual Misconduct composed of faculty and students that will help ensure that students know their rights under federal rules and university policy, according to the statement. Deborah Nord, an English professor, and Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, will serve as co-chairs.

The draft plan will be presented to the faculty on Sept. 15 and, if approved, will move up to the Council of the Princeton University Community.

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