Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional information about the review of UNC's Clery Act compliance.
The year 2020 has been marked with consequences from Clery Act violations, a change to Title IX policy and a verdict four years in the making at UNC.
Confidential support is available for those affected by sexual violence.
From UNC being found in violation of the Clery Act at the end of 2019, to the University’s petition to have the Supreme Court review the case for releasing sexual assault records, 2020's events will have implications for years to come.
Closing out 2019
On Nov. 18, 2019, then-interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz shared UNC’s violations of the Clery Act, found by the U.S. Department of Education, in an email to the campus community.
The investigation, which began in April 2013, resulted in a report that found UNC in violation of the act, based on a review of the University's safety and crime reporting between 2009 and 2017. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics if they receive federal funding.
In June, the University entered a settlement over the violations, which included a fine of $1.5 million.
“The fine is significant, but the more important piece is the programmatic improvements and the ongoing monitoring,” said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safe Campuses, LLC.
In addition to the fine, UNC will participate in a post-review monitoring program over the course of three years.
“It's a matter of high public priority to understand the level of transparency of campus crime information and safety procedures,” Carter said. “And I think ultimately that's what the Clery Act is about. It's about ensuring the involvement of the campus community in a comprehensive campus safety framework through transparency.”
Carter said the important takeaway is that UNC is safer and students are more informed about campus crime as a result of this process.
“And it's also a reminder that institutions need the policies, procedures and necessary bandwidth to carry out these responsibilities,” Carter said. “And that's a much larger issue. This is, you know, not just an issue for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
A four-year decision
The DTH Media Corporation filed a lawsuit — DTH Media Corp. v. Folt — with several other news companies against UNC in 2016 for the release of records documenting sexual assault at the University. The N.C. Supreme Court reached a verdict on May 1, ordering the release of the records.
Hugh Stevens, the attorney who represented the DTH Media Corp. in the lawsuit, said if these sexual assault cases were handled outside of the university setting, they would be public proceedings and the public would have a better understanding of their circumstances and punishments.
“It's a kind of a netherworld, you know, for these cases go through the system, and it's clear to me that some schools work very hard to keep them under the radar,” Stevens said.
While students came back to campus early for the fall semester, UNC’s release of the records of sexual assault on-campus was delayed. The records — ordered by the North Carolina Supreme Court to be released May 1 — finally came out August 6.
There are 15 records in total, dating back to 2007.
“The records release I think garnered a lot of attention around Title IX and how UNC had mishandled it for years,” said Kayla Pope, a member of Coalition Against Violence at UNC.
Adrienne Allison, director of Title IX compliance, defended the University's push to not release the records.
“The University maintains that the release of records related to the University’s investigation and adjudication of sexual assault will lead to an increased risk of the identification of survivors, many of whom chose to engage in the University’s Title IX process because it affords greater privacy than the public criminal process," Allison said in the statement.
New Title IX policy
On Aug. 14, UNC adopted a new Title IX policy: The Policy on Prohibited Sexual Harassment under Title IX.
Federal guidelines by the U.S. Department of Education issued in May set standards for universities during Title IX hearings in reference to procedures and definitions. Additionally, the guidelines narrowed the scope of offenses categorized as Title IX violations.
Allison said in the statement that the University will maintain the preponderance of the evidence standard, permitted by the U.S. Department of Education's 2020 federal regulations, and outlined by the new policy. Allison said this standard of evidence has been used since the the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct — which is still effect — was first adopted in 2014.
"The University also retains the ability to investigate reports of off-campus sexual assault, also permitted by the 2020 federal regulations, by continuing to enforce the University’s umbrella Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct," Allison said in the statement.
Allison said in the statement that sexual misconduct outside of the new policy is included in the umbrella policy.
End of monitoring program
A federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights deemed UNC in violation of Title IX in 2018.
Allison said in a statement that the OCR formally closed the investigation and monitoring of UNC's Title IX program in September of this year after they found the University fulfilled the resolution agreement requirements.
The investigation began with a complaint in 2013 by former University administrator Melinda Manning and four former UNC students.
"The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened a case against the University in 2013," Allison said in the statement. "In 2014, the University made changes to its policies and procedures, and OCR subsequently found the University to be generally compliant."
What happens next?
Almost two months after the records release, the University petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling of DTH Media Corp. v. Folt.
On Sept. 28, UNC filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which is a request for review. Among the University’s reasons for review are the safety and well-being of students.
"The public release of records has the potential of depriving survivors of a private, student-centered avenue of recourse through the University, which is why we continue to advocate the records should remain private under federal law," Allison said in the statement.
In reference to the University's petition for review, Pope said this will not necessarily change anything because the records have already been released. She said this would only change the future, possibly for precedent.
“But I think the important part of this came out, which is that not enough people are disciplined and UNC has not been transparent and did break a lot of Title IX standards," Pope said.
The petition is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Stevens, filings are in from both sides, so now the parties are waiting to see if the court grants or denies the petition. Stevens said the court grants approximately 80 petitions per year.
“One of the things this case and the Clery Act situation and others have at least taught me is that universities generally are very, very ill equipped to handle these types of cases,” Stevens said. “They’re just almost peculiarly ill-suited to, you know, do a good job of preventing and responding to sexual misconduct like that.”
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