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The Faculty-Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct released its fourth annual set of University policy recommendations on Thursday morning. This year’s 22-page report is larger and more extensive than reports from past years — reflecting the committee’s new tactics to gather more widespread sources of input — and touches on sexual misconduct policies including training, transparency, penalties, and power differentials. 

Throughout the academic year, the committee gathered feedback from a variety of sources on campus, including from We Speak survey data, smaller groups such as the Undergraduate Student Life Committee, and opinion pieces in The Daily Princetonian. The committee received written input from students and faculty and held town hall meetings where members of the University community could voice their concerns about current sexual misconduct policies.

“The committee has made a set of recommendations every year, but they have typically been based more on the We Speak survey data or on other factors around campus,” said Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter, one of the committee’s two co-chairs. “The committee has never used a process like this year’s, which involved holding open meetings and actively soliciting input from the community. This was an intensive process of collecting information.”

Minter co-chairs the Faculty-Student Committee with psychology professor Nicole Shelton. The 10-person committee serves as an advisory body to the University president and provost, focusing on Title IX and Title IX-related sex discrimination and sexual misconduct policies and procedures. The group also includes Kathleen Deignan, the dean of undergraduate students; Jacqueline Deitch-Stackhouse, director of the Sexual Harassment/Assault, Advising, Resources, and Education office; and two professors, two graduate students, and two undergraduates. 

The committee's report is sent to President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Provost Deborah Prentice. In addition, specific recommendations call for a number of University offices — the Dean of the Faculty, Human Resources, as well as the Title IX office itself — to discuss and potentially implement suggested changes. 

The report addressed relationships between individuals of different University status, such as faculty members and students. Rules for these relationships do not fall under the Title IX office, but under other University policies such as the Consensual Relations with Students Policy, a part of the Rules and Procedures for the Faculty. Current policy states that “no faculty member, researcher, graduate student, visiting student, or undergraduate course assistant” may initiate a romantic or sexual relationship with a student who is subject to their academic supervision or evaluation. 

Earlier this academic year, the ‘Prince’ reported how Title IX investigations found that electrical engineering professor Sergio Verdú was guilty of sexually harassing his advisee, violating the University's policy on sex discrimination and sexual misconduct.

The Faculty-Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct received feedback from some members of the University community that all relationships between individuals where a power differential exists should be defined as sexual misconduct, even if the relationship is consensual. The report states that faculty, staff, and graduate students have the right to consensual relationships even where a power differential is present, but notes that consent can be hard to establish in these situations and can evolve into sexual misconduct. 

“We were not prepared to take away from people their right to make their own decisions about their relationships or to define their relationships. We felt that personal agency was important,” Minter said. “The Title IX Policy addresses unwelcome conduct. So we were not willing to tell someone that the relationship they felt was welcome, and that they chose to be in, was unwelcome.”

Some recommendations, such as redesigning faculty training and changing the content of annual reports on disciplinary outcomes, can go into effect as soon as the beginning of next school year, according to Minter. 

Recommendations regarding faculty training include an expanded orientation for new faculty, redesigned faculty and staff training, “booster” training sessions within departments, and supplemental training for department chairs and directors of graduate studies.

Other, more complicated issues will require a longer period of discussion over the next academic year. 

“[The recommendations] are going to require thought, in some cases really significant thought before decisions can be made about whether they could be implemented,” Minter said. “Some of them involve complicated topics where figuring out exactly what is feasible will still take a lot of work.” 

The report also addresses conflict of interest issues, acknowledging that feedback from the University community reflected concern and confusion over the current policy. The committee recommends orientation and sexual misconduct training sessions that will make current procedures more explicit. 

In a series of further recommendations, the report speaks to a “desire for greater clarity” regarding penalty and appeal processes for sexual misconduct cases. The committee confirms that in cases involving faculty, factors such as rank, seniority, and grant funding are not considered in penalty decisions. 

The report also addresses the role of the dean of the faculty, who is the sole administrator who determines sanctions for a faculty member found responsible for violating sexual misconduct policy. In response to suggestions that a larger group decide sanctions, the report states a number of reasons to keep the process limited: the necessities of extensive training, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act confidentiality policy, maintaining privacy on a small campus, and the time-consuming nature of making such decisions. 

The report notes that while the dean of the faculty is currently permitted to informally consult with other administrators during the decision-making process, the University should consider formalizing these interactions.

Further recommendations deal with questions from the community about the level of transparency in sexual misconduct procedures. Transparency is important, but can come into conflict with maintaining individuals' privacy.

“We got a lot of questions and concerns related to transparency. It’s quite a complicated topic, so there was no one point of view,” Minter explained. 

Under current policy, the full penalty for a respondent found responsible for sexual misconduct is not shared with the complainant in the case. The report recommends the University should consider creating new protocol for informing the complainant about the respondent's full penalty.

Other recommendations related to transparency included appropriately expanding the number of people who receive information about a given sexual misconduct case, providing the University community with more details on the types and consequences of sexual misconduct that have occurred on campus, and creating a more centralized and standardized background- check process.

To arrive at these recommendations, the committee worked with the Offices of the General Counsel, Human Resources, and the Dean of the Faculty, as well as the SHARE Office, Minter said.

“We thought a lot about the University’s values,” Minter said. “[We] tried to come up with recommendations that we thought were appropriate, and to write something that reflected why these topics are so complex.”

Because these policies are not under the purview of the committee, the report recommends that the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy increase the clarity regarding alleged violations of the consensual relationship policy, the distinction between these matters and sexual misconduct, and how investigations are conducted.

The report concludes with an invitation for further feedback. Suggestions to the committee can be sent to facultystudentcommittee@princeton.edu.

“We were very grateful for all of the input that we received,” Minter added. “These are emotional and challenging issues for everyone to be thinking about, but what we most want is for the campus to be a safe place and one where people are really able to thrive.” 

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