University of Alaska to update protocol for sexual assault, harassment cases

(University of Alaska graphic)

The University of Alaska has entered into an agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights to address problems with its handling of sexual assault and harassment cases. UA was one of dozens of universities around the country singled out by the OCR for a compliance review in 2014.

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Speaking at a Monday press conference, UA President Jim Johnsen said some improvements have already been made since the review started, but it’s not enough.

“We’re still working to improve how we respond and how we investigate and how we resolve campus sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Johnsen said. “In short, we are committed to promote a culture of safety on all of our campuses.”

The Title IX agreement with the OCR covers numerous areas, including the hiring of Title IX coordinators at each UA campus as well as a statewide overseer.

”We’re gonna add more positions across the campuses to provide training for our students and for others on our campuses,” Johnsen said. “And also, we’re strengthen our investigation capacity.”

The agreement also stipulates annual campus climate surveys, the creation of student review committees and the clarification of reporting, response and adjudication processes. UA will also coordinate better with local law enforcement.

“We’ve already done some of this, but we’ll continue to, to reassess and take corrective action in cases that did come up between 2011 and 2015,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen added that under the agreement, more than 300 incidents reported in the past two years will also be reviewed. The university attributes the increase in cases to more people reporting, and University of Alaska Southeast chancellor Rick Caulfield called that a positive.

”We think now because of the training that’s been provided to all of our employees in those settings — the clarity about the process that students can use to bring forward their concerns — we’re now getting better reporting.

Laura McCullough, Dean of Students at University of Alaska Fairbanks thinks that “the reason these [cases] are getting more reports is because our efforts are educational, so we’re teaching students and our community what behavior is acceptable and what’s not.”

McCullough said the university has developed response and adjudication procedures aimed at balancing due process and safety.

The University of Alaska is awaiting a letter from the Federal Office of Civil Rights containing a detailed assessment of its handling of the Title IX cases reported since 2015.