CU-Boulder defends motives in handling of sexual misconduct cases
|By Sarah Kuta, Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Some have criticized CU as it moves to fire a tenured philosophy professor accused of retaliating against a sexual assault victim, saying the administration is overreacting in light of recent scrutiny around Title IX, the federal gender equity law that prohibits sexual harassment and sexual assault.
CU officials, however, say they've always acted appropriately when investigating sexual misconduct cases, and that the public's renewed interest in Title IX has had no fundamental effect on the university's policies and procedures.
In May, the
In interviews with the
That's a position shared by Barnett's attorney.
"My perception is that the university administration is trying to either improve their reputation or insulate themselves from further damage to their reputation by demonstrating that they're taking the harshest possible action," attorney
Barnett has been accused of retaliation, which is prohibited under Title IX and under CU's sexual harassment policy, an allegation he strongly denies.
She said she believes that CU has not been influenced by recent attention to Title IX, except to be compliant with any new recommendations.
CU was an early leader in enforcing all laws and policies around sexual misconduct, Erwin said, and in educating students, faculty and staff.
"Because I think the fundamentals have been there for a very long time, I don't think we're changing in fundamental ways," she said. "I think what is evolving is the state on college and university campuses around Title IX and all the new (regulations), all the new reports that are coming out that we need to be following. And we're taking all of those very seriously and making sure that we're staying up to date and current with all of that."
"But I don't think it's changed fundamentally who we are."
'As the pendulum begins to come back'
Much of the renewed interest around Title IX can be attributed to more guidance from the U.S.
Lewis, who's also a partner with the
Schools have been criticized in recent years for not doing enough to make victims of sexual misconduct feel safe on campus and for questioning victims' character, sexual behavior and drinking habits, among other things, Lewis said.
It's possible that some schools are overcorrecting now for past mistakes, he said.
"For a long time, the pendulum was swung very heavily to the due process rights of the accused, at the expense of the victim at times," Lewis said. "So as the pendulum begins to come back to the middle, and we have good impartial decisions made by investigators, there are some schools that have swung that pendulum a little far."
Some campuses -- including
"Finding each of the accused in violation of sexual misconduct is sex discrimination," he wrote. "We are making Title IX plaintiffs out of them."
'They are facing bad publicity'
Earlier this month, CU paid a female graduate student
Barnett is accused of retaliating against the woman while conducting his own investigation into the sexual assault. The woman says he spoke to others in the philosophy department about her sexual history, an allegation Barnett denies.
Barnett claims that his investigation focused on the
Moore said CU's administration is using Barnett as a pawn in some larger game that may be motivated by politics, fear of another federal Title IX investigation or a lawsuit from a victim.
"Certainly, they are facing bad publicity at the very least in connection with Title IX issues, and certainly the history of the philosophy department itself suggests they may have been lazy in certain respects in the past and they're trying to make up for it by holding up a scalp and saying, 'Look how aggressively we respond,'" Moore said.
In January, the university made public an independent report that summarized sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct within the philosophy department. Many faculty members said that instead of ridding the department of bad actors, CU punished everyone by releasing the independent report, which does not name specific offenders.
While he couldn't comment on Barnett's case, CU spokesman
"Any personnel actions we take are based on the facts of that case and are in no way related to criticism of any past action or inaction on other cases," Huff said.
'We want to be a leader among our peers'
In contrast to claims CU is cracking down on sexual misconduct, some feel the university could be doing more.
Gilchriese, who has agreed to be identified publicly, said it took four weeks for her assailant to be removed from campus, and during that time he went against an order to have no contact with her several times.
In the end, she sought help in the form of a permanent protection order.
The university paid Gilchriese more than
"The focus in investigations, when assailants are found guilty, should be on making sure the survivor is safe," Gilchriese said. "The university did not do this for me, and I wish they had focused on both my emotional and physical safety more. They did not do enough."
Around the country, students, alumni and advocacy groups have called on colleges and universities to do more around sexual misconduct.
Huff said CU is doing that, and pointed to Chancellor
The university recently hired
The campus is contemplating a reorganization of the two offices that investigate allegations of sexual misconduct, and has scheduled several campus-wide discussions on social climate issues.
"While there is no perfect solution to eliminate gender discrimination and sexual harassment on college campuses, we want to be a leader among our peers in addressing the issue," Huff said.
She said her office is always trying to educate more people on campus about university policies, how to intervene if they see discrimination or harassment and what resources are available to them.
Erwin said she feels trust in her office is very high, despite criticisms in recent months about situations in philosophy and involving now-retired sociology professor
"I know that there's a backlash of people out there suggesting that it's different, but I also know that I get reassured from lots of people across campus all the time," Erwin said of her office's work amid heightened Title IX awareness.
"They thank us, they believe in what we do, they support us."
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