By Darby Murnane Assistant Editor
The administration is seeking to amend policies within the Student Code of Conduct on the investigation of sexual misconduct, as part of the ongoing collaboration with students, faculty and campus organizations.
The Administration Campus is working with organizations such as Look Us In The Eyes (LUITE) and the Campus Violence Prevention Coalition (CVPC) to foster a conversation about sexual assault in the community. An “Open letter to the Students of UMF,” written by Dr. Karol Maybury in cooperation with the Diversity and Inclusion Action Team, also called for a greater effort to provide education on sexual consent, health, and wellness, Title IX training and more readily accessible information on these matters.
The Code of Conduct, which applies to the University of Maine System as a whole, was revised in July 2018, but there is a push from the community to amend it further- specifically, a revision of how final appeals are heard during investigations of misconduct.
Interim President Dr. Eric Brown has proposed an amendment to section VII. A. of the Code which would prevent the president from making the final decision on a final appeal during investigations. “The addendum we would make in house would direct a president of our university, as standard practice, to choose a review panel rather than a single individual to hear a final appeal,” Dr. Brown says.
As the Code currently stands, the president has the authority to choose -or have a designee choose – a single faculty or staff member to review a case as part of a final appeal. They president can also choose a review panel of three.
The purpose of such a change is to bring more perspectives with which to review case information and keep the power of decision-making dispersed. “It protects both sides [in an investigation] because you don’t want to be a single person making that decision, I think if you can help it,” Brown said, “but I think that it’s tricky with a smaller campus because we have a smaller pool to draw from of trained individuals to serve on those appeals boards.”
To combat conflicts of interest that arise from a small population like that of UMF, Brown hopes to expand the pool of individuals from which investigating committees and panels are chosen to a system-wide search.
The Code provides flexibility for individual campuses to make such changes, as Section V. states: “Each University campus may adopt procedures for carrying out the provisions of the Code within the guideline set forth by the Code as described below and consistent with the Code.”
“So that suggests that there is some leeway for each campus to make some procedural choices for themselves as long as it doesn’t contradict the guidelines of the code,” Brown said.
As these changes are made, it is important to remember that the UMaine system only has authority in restructuring administrative policy, not the Title IX procedures as that is federal law. “There is a misperception that UMF wrote the policy and we did not,” Chief Brock Caton of Campus Police said in an email interview. “So a systematic change needs to be done and we are doing our part to improve/effect that change.”
Within his own department, Chief Caton has increased training requisites for his officers and opened up a Police Sergeant’s position. “I have required my officers to complete the UMS Academy Mandatory Training which covers, basic safety, information security, Sexual Harassment, FERPA and Title IX training,” said Caton via email.
Looking to the future, Brown intends to keep the community conversation on sexual misconduct going strong. “One immediate concern I have after talking with the student leaders of the campus of CVPC, LUITE, is that I want to make sure that all the good being done by those groups and others continues past this semester,” Brown said. “You don’t want to return to a comfortable status quo, and particularly with an issue like this, there’s going to be a lot of pull for that to happen.” He intends to keep up what he calls, “a productive level of disruption.”