Board of Trustees Approves New Policy on Sexual Misconduct

The Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a new and comprehensive CUNY Policy on Sexual Misconduct, which brings definition, clarity and University-wide consistency to the rights of victims who experience campus-related sexual violence, harassment and misconduct.

The new policy, which applies to all members of The City University of New York community, was developed by a University working group during a year of review, revision and community input. Drafted amid nationwide attention — including federal and state initiatives — to how campus sexual assaults are addressed, the revised policy defines both prohibited conduct and consent, clarifies confidentiality and establishes a streamlined reporting process and framework for investigation of complaints.

Chancellor James B. Milliken praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “leadership and involvement” in focusing the responsibilities of New York’s colleges and universities regarding sexual assault and harassment complaints.

The new policy, which was approved by the Board on December 1, states, “Every member of the CUNY community, including students, employees and visitors, deserves the opportunity to live, learn and work free from sexual harassment, gender-based harassment and sexual violence.”  The policy also provides a list of rights for victims, and new training requirements for employees.

The Board also approved the University’s $3.311 billion budget request for 2015-2016 – $2.394 billion at the senor colleges and $917.3 million at the community colleges. The request prioritizes the hiring of 500 additional full-time faculty members and seeks increased support for initiatives to enhance academic excellence, help students move quickly toward degrees, expand research, augment workforce development and meet energy sustainability goals.

The budget includes additional funding of $85.1 million for baseline needs and $122.6 million for an investment plan over 2014-2015 adopted budget levels. It continues the University’s innovative partnership approach to financing, the CUNY Compact, which includes a modest increase in public funding, continuing budget restructuring and efficiencies, philanthropy and tuition revenue.

The Board’s action on the new sexual misconduct policy caps a year of intensive efforts by the working group, whose “good work” was praised by Chancellor Milliken. He acknowledged the efforts of Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Frederick P. Schaffer, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Frank D. Sanchez, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Management Gloriana B. Waters, Deputy General Counsel Jane Sovern, Deputy to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Paulette Dalpes and University Dean for Recruitment and Diversity Jennifer Rubain.

The working group, with assistance from outside counsel, launched the comprehensive revision of University discipline procedures and policies on sexual assault and harassment amid nationwide reports of campus incidents that have prompted action on the federal and state levels. President Obama has advocated for stronger campus prevention initiatives and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand this year cosponsored bipartisan legislation to combat campus assaults and strengthen institutional practices.

University officials said new discipline procedures, contained in revisions to the CUNY Bylaws governing all alleged infractions, are designed to be sensitive to student accusers while safeguarding the rights of the accused.  The policy gives them the right to file a criminal complaint and seek an order of protection with the college’s assistance; to make a formal complaint at the campus as the first step in the disciplinary process and to have it investigated in a prompt, impartial and thorough manner by appropriately trained individuals.

The policy also gives complainants the right to report sexual harassment or violence they experienced while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, without being disciplined for the alcohol or drug use, subject to certain conditions, and to have the same opportunity as the alleged perpetrator(s) to participate in a student disciplinary hearing before a faculty-student disciplinary committee, including the right to receive notice of the charges, be represented by a person they choose including an attorney, to present evidence, call and cross-examine witnesses, to receive notice of the outcome and to appeal.

The policy also includes provisions requiring college Title IX coordinators, in coordination with other offices, to be responsible for:  training the college employees who are required to report sexual or gender-based harassment or sexual violence; ensuring  that designated offices provide “appropriate educational programming” to “all incoming and transfer students, residence hall students, athletes, fraternity/sorority groups, student leaders or any student group”  the college determines could benefit from education about sexual and gender-based harassment and sexual violence, and ensure that “designated offices promote awareness and prevention…among all students and employees.”

It defines consent as “an informed, voluntary and mutual decision to engage in agreed upon sexual activity.” Consent, it says, “can be given by words or actions as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) the sexual activity.  Silence or failure to resist does not, in and of itself, demonstrate consent.”

The Board of Trustees vote followed a Nov. 24 public hearing on the new policy and many months of consultations, outreach and community comment that the working group had sought. Senior Vice Chancellor Schaffer thanked respondents for “helping CUNY to craft a policy which will advance CUNY’s goal of having an environment free from sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

In other action, the Board welcomed and congratulated Cynthia Jones, a longtime lecturer at Hostos Community College, who has been named the 2014 New York State Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and Phil Klay, who earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College in 2011 and won the 2014 National Book Award in Fiction for “Redeployment,” his debut short-story collection.

Jones has taught English as a Second Language for more than 37 years and has worked in Hostos’ Early College Initiative since its inception, developing expertise in high school-college collaboration, developmental education and racial and social issues. She served as an Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) Faculty Fellow from 2011 to 2014, chairs the General Education Committee, codirects the Honors Program, codirects the Center for Teaching and Learning on an interim basis and coordinates the Quantitative Reasoning Fellows Initiative, among other activities. Provost Carmen Coballes-Vega says Jones “has made an indelible mark on the Hostos community. Her dedication to providing students with the skills and tools necessary further their education has affected the lives of countless students,” while her “diligence and inspired action have often been the force behind positive change on campus.”

Klay’s stories, based partly on his service with the Marines in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, take “readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters … struggle to make meaning out of chaos,” according to the National Book Award website. Among those Klay thanked in his emotional award acceptance speech were Hunter MFA Professors and acclaimed writers Peter Carey, Colum McCann, Patrick McGrath and Nathan Englander.