Changes in approach to sexual misconduct take effect July 1

Three important changes to the University’s approach to unlawful discrimination and sexual misconduct will take effect July 1. These changes are the latest step in the continuing effort to prevent sexual misconduct on campus, and to address problems quickly and effectively, taking into account both the particular needs of this community and the best practices nationally.

“Sexual misconduct and unlawful discrimination are unacceptable and antithetical to the University’s core value of open inquiry,” said Provost Eric D. Isaacs. “We remain committed to allowing our students and scholars to participate fully and freely in our academic community. Taken together, we believe these changes in policy, disciplinary process and staffing represent an important milestone in the University’s continuing efforts to fulfill that commitment.”

At the recommendation of an ad hoc faculty-student-staff committee, chaired by Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the College, two existing policies addressing these issues will be joined into a single Unlawful Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct Policy. The revised policy will be posted July 1 on the Faculty Handbook site and other locations online. It will help clarify and unify the institution’s stance on these issues, as well as delineate new categories of sexual misconduct as defined by the federal government.

Also effective on July 1, for the first time, disciplinary processes for allegations of student sexual misconduct and unlawful discrimination will be handled by a University-wide Disciplinary Committee. Isaacs will appoint faculty members from all schools and divisions of the University to serve on this committee, along with staff and student members. Committee members will receive training to prepare them for the specific complexities and sensitivities of sexual misconduct and unlawful discrimination cases.

Any allegations reported on or after July 1 will be governed by the new policy and new student disciplinary process. Any allegations reported on June 30 or before will be handled by existing policies and processes.

In a related development, the University is conducting a national search for an associate dean of students in the University for Disciplinary Affairs, who will bring specialized expertise to investigate allegations of student sexual misconduct and unlawful discrimination, and advise leadership on best practices for prevention and discipline.

Filling that role on an interim basis while the search is underway, and effective July 1, Kenyatta Tatum Futterman has been appointed special assistant to the dean of students in the University. Futterman, who serves as an adviser in the College during the academic year, is trained as a lawyer and has experience in private practice family law, providing legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence. She represented criminal defendants as an assistant federal defender, and has worked with students in the College since 2010.

“Through ongoing examination and deliberation by our deans, faculty, students and staff, with particular attention to the experiences of those involved in sexual misconduct incidents and the resulting disciplinary processes, we believe we continue to improve the University’s approach to such incidents. In particular, these three changes help focus our efforts and bring a new level of expertise to bear,” said Karen Warren Coleman, vice president for Campus Life and Student Services. “At the same time, we will continue to examine all of our efforts to prevent and address sexual misconduct, and we will seek every opportunity to improve the University’s climate of mutual respect.”

The University of Chicago has addressed sexual misconduct and other forms of harassment and discrimination in a number of other ways over the years, including the creation of student support programs such as the Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call, the Bias Response Team and Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention.  

The current changes in policy and process have been under consideration for more than a year, in a process outlined by University leaders in February. They build on the work of faculty-student-staff committees that established the Sexual Assault Policy in 2006 and reviewed policies and student disciplinary structures in 2006 and 2010.

In 2011, the disciplinary process was further modified to align it with requirements set out by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Coleman said the University will reach out directly to the University community at the beginning of the autumn quarter to highlight the latest changes and provide updates.