By DONOVAN HARRELL
Pitt is set to implement an interim Title IX policy this week to make sure the University is in compliance with federal law by Aug. 14.
These new regulations will be the first Title IX guidance since 1997 from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that will have the force of law.
The regulations will require a live hearing where alleged victims and perpetrators can be cross-examined, among many other changes. The department set the compliance due date to Aug. 14
University leadership has spoken out against the new regulations, saying that the deadline is unrealistic and can discourage people from using the Title IX process.
Pitt also supported an injunction, filed in June, that sought to delay the implementation of the new regulations, but it is still going through the legal process. It’s unclear if a decision will be made before the deadline.
Since May, the Office of Title IX and Civil Rights, the Office of Policy Development, and the Office of Legal Counsel have worked to create an interim policy that would make sure the University is in immediate compliance with federal law. This policy will join Pitt’s existing Sexual Assault and Misconduct Policy. Orientation sessions and trainings on the new regulations will begin this month.
Under the new regulations, each institution has to develop its method for conducting the hearings. And if someone decides that they do not want to participate in a live hearing, their statement or portion of the investigative summary would be struck from the process.
For Pitt, during an in-person hearing, third-party advisors will cross-examine the parties and interview witnesses. The final decisionmaker on cases will be from outside the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Pope said. The advisors are mostly lawyers who have worked Title IX in some capacity, Pope said.
When in-person hearings are conducted, the parties will not be in the same room together.
Pope said it’s already difficult to talk to someone in crisis about one policy. This poses new challenges for the office, Pope said, and they will have to learn and develop best practices as they go.
So far, the office has been working with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape to develop better ways to communicate with people who reach out to the office, she said.
Pope has been speaking with Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center, about additional support for people involved in the hearing process.
One idea being discussed would allow for an advocate or support person to be with them during the cross-examination, so they could assist the victim during the process, Pope said.
“It’s going to be, I think, a very challenging situation,” Pope said. “And certainly, much different from the way we’ve tried to build our due process under this current sexual misconduct policy.”
So far, Staff Council, student government leadership, the Council of Deans and other University groups have been briefed on the interim policy.
At the Aug. 5 Faculty Assembly meeting, Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said a committee will be created to draft a new permanent policy sometime in the fall. This policy will go through the traditional shared governance process with a public comment period.
Pope said members of the Pitt community may have a challenging time with the new regulations, but she’s avoiding being pessimistic.
“We don’t know yet; we haven’t seen it in action,” Pope said. “But just know that we’re here to continue the work we’ve been doing, and we’ve worked hard to make sure that this process, while different, will be as accessible and transparent to campus as we can make it.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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