By Martin Mascias Jr.
LOS ANGELES – University administrators are falling short in their responsibilities to swiftly hold accountable staff and faculty named in sexual violence complaints and align disciplinary policies with federal guidelines, according to a state audit released Thursday of three University of California campuses.
Campuses did not consistently follow federal guidance intended to protect survivors of sexual violence, and failed to effectively analyze complaints data to identify and address trends, the audit found.
State auditors said Thursday that three UC campuses – Los Angeles, Berkeley and Davis – took much longer to discipline faculty in the Academic Senate than they did to discipline staff.
On average, the three campuses disciplined staff within 43 days after the conclusion of an investigation compared to 220 days for faculty in the Academic Senate.
In addition, the audit reported that the three campuses disciplined faculty inconsistently, especially faculty members who were the subjects of multiple sexual harassment complaints.
A 2015 campus climate report prepared for the Association of American Universities surveyed 27 universities and found 21 percent of senior undergraduates had been the victims of non-consensual sexual contact while attending college.
Over the past 10 years, and in 2015 and 2016 in particular, the number of recorded complaints from students claiming sexual harassment by faculty and staff has increased, according to state auditors.
“From 2014 through 2016, the number of these complaints increased from 100 to 205,” the report found.
Part of the increase is due to increased training for university staff and faculty, outreach to students and improved methods for recognizing and reporting sexual violence on campus.
“University students who experience sexual harassment or sexual violence suffer harm to their emotional and physical well‑being, which can also impact their academic performance,” the audit said.
Title IX law requires the university to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment.
“Campus Title IX coordinators, if they had a role in deciding discipline—which they currently do not have—could help the university gain consistency in the discipline it imposes.”
The audit found that the campuses inconsistently followed Title IX guidance in their informal and formal processes to address sexual harassment complaints.
“The three campuses frequently exceeded investigation time frames without obtaining approved time extensions and they often did not send all required information to the complainants and respondents,” the audit said.
In a statement to Courthouse News, UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said the university is working to implement all recommendations made by the California State Auditor.
“We share UC’s and CSA’s commitment to combating and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence on our campus,” Vazquez said. “We will also encourage the Academic Senate to do its part to address the concerns expressed in the audit to ensure that these matters are handled in a timely manner.”
Kimberly Hale, a UC Davis spokesperson said the university has a “strong” Title IX program that is the result of continuous improvements implemented over the past decade.
“We appreciate the feedback and recommendations from the state auditor, which will help us continue to make improvements in our process,” Hale said. “We have been and remain committed to taking immediate and appropriate corrective action when we receive reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said there more work to be done on campus to improve safety and hold faculty, staff and students accountable regarding campus sexual violence.
“We are committed to fostering a campus community where sexual harassment and sexual violence are not tolerated,” Gilmore said, adding that the CSA review period – between 2007 and 2016 – did not account for recent changes in policy at Berkeley.
“The campus has made a number of important changes since 2016 including the creation of the campus Peer Review Committee to help ensure greater consistency in faculty disciplinary cases and the launch of the MyVoice survey to further guide our prevention and response efforts,” Gilmore said.
An estimated 5.7 million Californians experience intimate partner violence annually, according a April 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report offered a series of solutions to sexual and intimate partner violence such as teaching young couples about forms of abuse, teaching bystander intervention training to interrupt sexual violence in public and normalization of boys and men as allies against sexual violence.
“The intent is to make the prevention of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence everyone’s concern rather than solely a women’s issue,” the report states.
Social service groups and state health agencies should embrace a “trauma-informed” approach to care, the CDC report said, which factors in the ways that a child’s exposure to violence and abuse can shape their behavior as adults in negative ways.
A February 2018 report by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault found that college students have the highest self-reported rate of rape and other forms of sexual assault.
Government spending on healthcare and other services for college survivors of sexual violence was much less compared to other categories of survivors.
In 2012, 5.1 percent of college students were raped or sexually assaulted in California, and government spending was $1,070 per college student survivor, the report found. Five times as much was spent per incident of sexual violence against military personnel.
This is critical, the report said, since not all health effects are immediately apparent, such as deteriorating mental and emotional health, which may “arise many years later, and may occur across the lifespan.”
The report also found that the tangible costs of sexual violence in California, including medical and mental health care, prevention, investigation, treatment and lost work productivity totaled over $140 billion.
“This translates to an average of $3,700 for each resident of California per year,” the report said. “Prevention programs would lead to substantial cost savings.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s website lists resources for survivors of sexual violence as well as a summary of relevant campus sexual violence prevention legislation and relevant training materials for university staff and police.
The University of California Office of the President established a systemwide Title IX office in February 2017 with a goal to implement a consistent and coordinated response to complaints of sexual harassment.
To make the office more effective, the state auditors said, it needs to define consistency in the accountability process and provide the office the necessary authority to achieve it.
“The systemwide office should play a central role in…setting policy, analyzing applicable data, and overseeing the campuses,” the audit said.
The report states that although university administrators have been aware of issues with delays in responses to sexual harassment complaints, it must do more to “stop, prevent, and remedy sexual harassment” at its campuses.