Lisa Anderson, founder and executive director of Atlanta Women for Equality, wants policy revisions on investigating allegations of sexual assault on Georgia campuses to include a timeline for the investigative process.
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

Georgia policy on investigating campus sexual misconduct may change

The Georgia Board of Regents may approve revised guidelines next month on how it investigates sexual misconduct at the state’s four-year public colleges and universities.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a draft of the student sexual misconduct policy. The draft largely mirrors the current rules but includes changes that some experts say could give University System of Georgia administrators greater oversight over the investigative process.

The draft reviewed by the AJC says, for example, the USG’s director for equity and investigations would “have the discretion to retain oversight or transfer oversight to the particular campus where the alleged misconduct took place.” Another change may be requiring additional training for those who review complaints.

USG officials stressed the draft is not the final version of the plan. Officials have been in meetings with administrators on its campuses in recent weeks to discuss potential changes.

“In working with our institutions, we are always looking for ways to improve campus safety, ensure consistency and quality in our student conduct investigations and ensure due process,” USG spokesman Charles Sutlive said in an interview. “We’re working with our campuses so we have a systemwide policy that provides uniformity and consistency in the application of federal and state laws across all 28 of our colleges and universities.”

Some advocates for sexual assault victims are pleased that the system is updating the policy but want “interim protective measures” that are in the current policy but not in the draft, to separate those accused from their alleged victims during the investigative process.

“There is work to be done” with the policy, said Matt Wolfsen, chairman of Georgia Tech’s student government association’s sexual violence advisory board.

How campuses investigate sexual misconduct allegations has been more closely scrutinized in recent years due to changes in state and federal guidelines and concerns from victim-rights advocates that many complaints haven’t been thoroughly investigated. A series of AJC articles found that while many campuses pursue cases prosecutors decline to investigate, the review process was often confusing to accusers, the accused and parents.

The board approved several changes in March 2016 aimed at creating uniform guidelines after a task force discovered variations in how colleges handle such cases.

USG administrators have since reviewed the policy and decided to see how they can improve it, Sutlive said.

The potential changes come as U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suggested to reporters earlier this month changes to Title IX guidance materials, the federal law aimed at preventing discrimination in education programs. Some department officials have said the Obama administration frequently overreached in civil rights investigations, at the expense of colleges and universities.

In Georgia, lawmakers and sexual assault victim advocates have clashed in recent years over the most appropriate ways to investigate sexual misconduct claims. Legislation proposed earlier this year that would have prevented campuses from investigating rape or sexual assault unless police were also involved passed the House but did not make it out of the Senate.

The bill’s author, Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, welcomed the federal review and is hopeful the USG’s revisions will be fair to both parties.

“It seems like they’re committed to getting it right,” said Ehrhart, who has expressed concern that some accused offenders don’t get due process.

Ehrhart said he’d like to see student orientation at USG campuses that explains sexual misconduct.

Some victim advocates, like Lisa Anderson, executive director of Atlanta Women for Equality, worries the revisions are not Title IX compliant. Anderson wants the policy to include a timeline for the investigative process.

“It’s important to have a timeline to ensure the proceedings move along and students know what to expect,” she said.