Discrepancies in handling of sexual misconduct cases at UC Davis, Berkeley, UCLA, state auditor says

MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE

UC Davis among campuses that took longer to discipline certain faculty members

A California State Audit published in June recommended steps to address problems in the handling of faculty sexual misconduct within the UC system, with specific focus on UCLA, Berkeley and Davis.

The audit, prepared by State Auditor Elaine Howle, identified three key issues: a discrepancy between how investigations and discipline are handled among faculty and staff, the length of time to complete an investigation and adjudication of faculty sexual misconduct cases.

Additionally, the audit requested the statewide Title IX office standardize practices for handling sexual misconduct cases. The audit set a July 2019 deadline for the implementation of changes.

A response letter issued by UC President Janet Napolitano stated that the UC accepts all the recommendations issued by the state auditor’s office.

“The three campuses we reviewed — Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles — took much longer to discipline Senate faculty than staff and non-Senate faculty,” the report stated.

In its review of 23 cases, the audit reported that, on average, “staff received discipline in 43 days, non-Senate faculty in 74 days and Senate faculty in 220 days.”

The audit mentions one 223-day case at UC Davis in which a respondent was placed on

“involuntary leave with pay shortly after the campus office received the complaint. This
involuntary leave lasted until the respondent’s separation from the campus.”

UCLA, Davis and Berkeley also did not “retain adequate case files to demonstrate how they resolved cases through the informal process, with Davis and Los Angeles performing especially poorly.” According to the audit, Davis “does not retain
all communications with individuals or notes from discussions because its campus coordinator believes that university policy does not require the office to do so.”

 

Because of existing Academic Senate processes, the handling of faculty misconduct takes “longer to determine discipline as it involves many steps and does not always specify time frames for completion,” according to the audit. The report also mentioned inconsistencies in the implementation of disciplinary measures.

For UC Berkeley and UCLA, cases often exceeded the 60-day time frame established by the universities and, in some cases, did not obtain the necessary approvals for extensions. The audit also said UCLA “inappropriately closed some cases.”

Wendi Delmendo, UC Davis’ chief compliance officer, spoke about the cases at UC Davis where extensions had taken place.

“We did pretty well at meeting the 60 day deadline, and in the two cases where we did not, we issued extensions,” Delmendo said. “We monitor the timelines very carefully at Davis. We try not to issue extensions if we do not have to. Of course, things happen. Sometimes the parties need more time. Sometimes investigator workload is such that we need to give them a little bit more time to finish the report.”

The audit also reported a systemwide lack of “a clear mission that would enable it to ensure that the university’s response to sexual harassment is coordinated and consistent. At a minimum, the systemwide office should play a central role in setting university policy, analyzing complaint data and overseeing the campus offices.”

At this time, the UC campuses do not communicate about approaches to handling cases of sexual misconduct, Delmendo said.

“We are very much focused on what is happening at our campuses,” she said. “We have not had a requirement or a means to look at what the other campuses are doing. So that might be some work the system will take up.”

Robert May, the systemwide chairperson of the Academic Senate and a professor of philosophy and linguistics, spoke about the Academic Senate’s role in the handling of faculty sexual misconduct cases. “The process for managing cases can be time consuming and complex,” May said, adding what he says is an issue with the state’s findings.

“The cases that were being investigated by the California State Auditor were done before our current guidelines were put into place,” May said. “Those contain a number of time-based milestones that needs to be met [in] various parts of the procedure which are rather more complicated than are represented in the audit.”

A Title IX officer must establish probable cause before disciplinary action can be taken, May said. The Title IX officer presents the investigation to the privilege and tenure committee within the Academic Senate, who then makes their findings known to the Chancellor.

“We, the [Academic] Senate, are absolutely firmly committed to ensuring that these processes will [happen] as quickly as possible while respecting due process,” May said, adding the audit recommendation that no more than 60 days pass before a hearing is scheduled and no more than 30 days pass before findings are reported to the chancellor.

“We are currently working on implementing that and will do so as quickly as possible,” he said. “If there was an infraction, then discipline should be […] settled upon as quickly as possible. We want to make sure that process is done fairly and with appropriate due process. No one wants this process to drag on longer than it should.”

In a transcript addressing the state audit taken from a teleconference call on June 21,  Suzanne Taylor, the UC interim systemwide Title IX coordinator, offered the UC Office of President Title IX office’s responses to questions from an audience.

One speaker asked about the inconsistent discipline imposed in similar cases at UCLA, Berkeley and Davis and whether the disciplining process should be standardized at the systemwide or the campus level.  

“The frameworks do require that every campus have peer review committee that advises the chancellor on faculty discipline,” Taylor said. “We also have a systemwide peer review committee that advises on cases against senior university leaders. My office, the systemwide Title IX office, was created in part so that the person in this position would have broad perspective and, that should contribute to consistency. We do have a number of measures in place at the systemwide level to actually improve consistency across the campuses throughout the system.”

The speaker also asked about discrepancies in the length of time it took to investigate and discipline.

“What is prompt and equitable really depends on particular circumstances of the case,” Taylor said. “For example, in our investigation, in our … policy we have a guideline that says we expect cases would typically be resolved within 60 days, but it is always dependent on the particular circumstances. If you have, for example, a large number of witnesses, that could extend the time taken to resolve the case.”

The cases involving senate faculty take longer because it is a much more complex process, UC Davis’ Delmendo explained.

“In the staff world, we finish our investigation report [and] it is sent to Human Resources and the manager of the accused,” she said. “Then HR and the manager will talk about discipline, and a discipline is imposed. It is a much more streamlined process in the staff realm.”

Although the UC has accepted the recommendations, Delmendo said she is not sure, at this time, what the changes will look like — “the system is still in the process of figuring it out next steps.”

Delmendo spoke about the increase in the number of cases reported alleging sexual misconduct by faculty and staff.

“I would speculate that increase is due to the increased outreach that the university has done,” Delmendo said. “We had a lot of changes in the Title IX arena in the past decade. We have a task force on sexual violence and sexual harassment […] and we have done a lot of communicating with our students staff and faculty.”

 

Written by: George Liao — campus@theaggie.org