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UNC-CH faces new federal investigation over campus crime

CHAPEL HILL UNC Chapel Hill has responded to one government investigation even as it learned that it’s under a separate and new federal probe.

The new investigation aims to determine whether the university complies with federal law regarding the reporting of campus crime. The university was notified Thursday that it is under review by the U.S. Department of Education’s Clery Act Compliance Division. It stems from a complaint filed Feb. 20 about the university’s handling of sexual assault cases.

A letter from the division says the complaint alleges that the university is in violation of several provisions of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The law requires universities that receive federal funding to maintain and disclose crime statistics and security information.

Investigators will visit the campus April 2 to begin to determine whether the university is properly disclosing crime statistics and adequately handling sexual assault reports. Federal officials asked to see daily crime logs and crime reports from 2009 to 2012 but said they may review other years as well. It’s unclear how long the probe will take.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said the latest review was expected. He said the university is committed to complying with the Clery Act and will cooperate fully.

“I’m not aware of a problem, but I’m also aware that other universities have gone through these kinds of audits and had to make changes in the way that they account for things,” Thorp said. “And if (the federal government) makes recommendations for changes we need to make, we’ll do them.”

Meanwhile, in a 36-page document sent Thursday to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the university explained that it had revamped its process for dealing with sexual assault cases since the federal government issued new directives two years ago.

The new process aims to comply with the law and federal guidelines, the response said, but also “best meet the needs of all UNC-Chapel Hill students.”

The response, made public Friday, was redacted to remove some names.

The university has done a complete overhaul of its procedures for handling sexual assault cases, the document states. Before early 2012, sexual assault cases were handled by a student-run honor court. In 2012, to comply with the federal guidelines, the university implemented an interim procedure in which hearings were conducted by a judicial board made up of two students, two faculty members and one staff member.

The new policy provides both formal and informal processes for handling student complaints. Victims always have the option of going to the police instead of or in addition to the campus process.

The university has said its rewritten policies and procedures were undertaken with the intent of being a national leader on the issue.

Instead, the campus has been in a negative spotlight as a result of the federal complaint filed in January by three students, a former student and a former administrator, who say the university has violated students’ rights under the Title IX gender equity law by mishandling sexual assault cases.

The university then hired a prominent consultant on sexual misconduct cases, Gina Smith, and launched a campuswide conversation to address the issue. Smith has been to the university six times since early February to conduct open sessions with students, staff members and faculty, the university said in its response.

Thorp said Smith will make recommendations to the school in the next few weeks, and he expects to make an announcement about changes. He said they would be improvements but not a dramatic shift in the overall procedure.

“This is an issue that goes directly to the safety and security of our students and their ability to succeed academically,” Thorp said. “If they’re experiencing the kind of stress that comes from these things, then that’s going to compromise their ability to succeed in school. So we take our responsibilities under this seriously, and I think we’ll make progress on this and be better and stronger going forward.”

The university’s response stated that “despite steep budget cuts and declining legislative appropriations,” it has created and filled two new staff positions to implement the newly overhauled policies. One is an investigator who looks into reports of sexual misconduct, and the other is a deputy Title IX officer who explains procedures and available resources to students.

The university also said it publicizes its policies and provides training to faculty, staff members and students on how to respond to complaints of sexual violence. The response includes pages of documentation of specific training sessions, including what was covered, who conducted the training and who attended.

Stancill: 919-829-4559
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