By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff
Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy, Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson and Staff Attorney Amal Bass, lawyers with extensive experience working with Title IX, the civil law that prohibits discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, have written an open letter responding to University of Pennsylvania professors’ criticism of their school’s new system for adjudicating sexual assault complaints.
The background: Last month, in response to ongoing criticism and national debate regarding how schools should appropriately handle accusations of sexual assault, the University of Pennsylvania announced a new disciplinary system designed to improve adjudication of rape allegations. The changes went into effect on February 1.
Penn joins a growing number of schools around the country that have examined their practices in the wake of increased scrutiny over the handling of sexual assault and harassment on campus. More women are coming forward to lodge complaints, and men who are accused of assault in some cases are suing universities for disciplinary action taken against them. More than 90 universities around the country — Penn is not one of them — are under review by the U.S. Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault.
Last week, 16 of the University’s 49 tenure or tenure-track law school faculty members (16 of 67 full-time law school staff, according to the school’s website) signed an open lettercriticizing the new system. The dean of the law school did not sign the letter.
On Wednesday, 26 students at University’s law school responded to their professors’ criticism and defended the new system.
“[Your] letter perpetuates the harmful myth that survivors of sexual violence should be disbelieved, silenced and denied non-criminal relief unless they seek and obtain criminal conviction of their assailant.”
Specifically, the law students accused the professors of “conflating” the rules, scope and evidentiary standards applicable to courtroom trials of criminal defendants with the actual issues at hand, which are the rules, scope and evidentiary standards of the school-based adjudication process for identifying student misconduct.
“[The professors’] Open Letter must be seen for what it is: a disagreement with Title IX’s mandate that sexual assault survivors not be made to struggle through grievance procedures that specially insulate those accused of sexual assault,” wrote the students.
Attorneys at the Women’s Law Project with extensive experience working with Title IX also responded to the professor’s letter.
With all due respect, the 16 law professors who have objected to the new disciplinary procedures for sexual violence have it wrong… Our decades of experience working directly with victims of sexual misconduct and with Title IX, the civil law that prohibits discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, informs our view that the new procedures appropriately attempt to correct injustices inflicted on victims while safeguarding fairness for all parties involved.
Read the rest of the letter here.
WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy teaches part-time at the University of Pennsylvania, where she attended undergraduate school. In 1973, as a sophomore, Tracy led a sit-in protesting the administration’s handling two gang rapes. In 1982, while working at the Women’s Center, Tracy was the whistle-blower in an alleged gang rape that took place at Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house.
Tracy, a national expert regarding institutional response to sexual assault, makes a cameo appearance in The Hunting Ground, the new documentary examining the problem of sexual assault on college campuses released in select cities today.
To arrange an interview with a Women’s Law Project attorney about Title IX, the Penn policy or institutional response to sexual assault, contact Tara Murtha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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