This review was initiated as a result of the Audit, Compliance and Risk Committee's request on behalf of the Board of Trustees. Recent media reports allege mismanagement by the university of sexual harassment and sexual assault investigations involving faculty, staff, and students. Based on these reports, we conducted a review of the University’s procedures for managing claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault for the Columbia campus. Also, Former President Bob Caslen established a Title IX Task Force to conduct a comprehensive review of the entire system related to acts or threats of sexual harassment or interpersonal violence. A third-party consultant, Cozen O’Conner, was engaged to support the work of the task force and to perform a comprehensive review of the systems surrounding interpersonal violence.
Scope of Review
The scope of our review included the following:
- Reviewing the management of four cases associated with the Columbia campus recently covered in media reports or as part of Freedom of Information Act requests for adherence to University Policy EOP 1.01, Equal Opportunity Complaint Processing Procedures. This review included determining if the process followed the steps required by the policy at the time the complaint was received.
- Evaluating University Policy EOP 1.06, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Violence (Interim) established in 2020, to determine if it contained all the steps required by the Department of Education’s new regulation, 34 CFR Part 106 – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance. Our review did not include evaluating EOP 1.06 for clarity or coherence, since this was included in the scope of Cozen O’Connor’s review.
- Assessing protocols followed during the intake, investigation, and reporting stages of the complaint investigation process performed by the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) to identify potential process improvements for future cases. Our review did not include evaluating whether the complaints were properly adjudicated.
Overall, procedures required by University Policy EOP 1.01, Equal Opportunity Complaint Processing Procedures were followed during the investigations of the cases included in our review. However, there are opportunities to enhance the processes associated with managing reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and interpersonal violence that will better serve individuals involved in complaints, as well as the university community.
Our narrow review of University Policy EOP 1.06, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Violence (Interim), determined that the university’s policy complies with the Department of Education’s new regulation, 34 CFR Part 106 – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.
1) Case File Documentation
AAS reviewed files for four cases investigated during the 2016 to 2019 time frame by the Columbia campus EOP Office to determine if the appropriate supporting documentation was maintained within the Title IX system of record, the Maxient system. We noted one of the cases, which was investigated in 2016, lacked some of the required formal documentation. The case involved a complex chronology of events from the initial incident to the filing of a formal complaint. The investigation was further complicated by a delay in obtaining a formal statement from the respondent and difficulties in establishing academic accommodations for the complainant. More frequent and detailed communication with the complainant and respondent could have mitigated the issues and created a more positive experience for the parties involved.
Maxient software has been used by EOP since 2015 to store information related to investigations of discrimination and harassment. EOP has worked toward improving its use over time in documenting the details of investigations during each step in the process. These improvements include the development of documents, a tool for initial assessments, additional forms to track communication with the complainant and respondent, and the creation of an investigator checklist used as a guide during the investigation process. These process improvements were evidenced by enhanced documentation and expanded use of the notes section within the Maxient system for the more current cases.
The Maxient system is not being used by every system institution. For the university system to capture and share information to analyze trends and patterns across the system, the current environment would require an intentional, manual process.
EOP should continue to focus on improving documentation within Maxient for all steps throughout the complaint resolution process, including completing all necessary forms and sections within Maxient to accurately capture relevant information and decision rationale, as well as using the system to ensure regular communication with the complainant and respondent to keep them apprised of the status of the investigation.
The university should evaluate the need and feasibility of an enterprise license for the Maxient system to provide a centralized and comprehensive repository for trend analysis and decision making. If this is not feasible, system institutions should develop a process to share relevant information across institutional boundaries.
The university should establish a holistic intake and outreach process for receiving complaints, communicating with the complainant, and dispensing information. The objectives are to ensure all available and relevant information for cases is considered and shared with appropriate personnel and to minimize the impact of the process on the complainant. This will also assist the university in aggregating information to identify potential concerns and/or patterns.
2) Addressing Inappropriate (non-Title IX) Behavior
Three of the cases we reviewed involved formal investigations and resulted in “no cause” findings by the assigned investigator regarding the allegations submitted by the complainants. The fourth case was not investigated by EOP; the complainant did not submit a formal complaint. Every case involved a faculty or staff member as the respondent. In accordance with university procedures at that time, Letters of Determination and Investigative Reports were sent to the complainant and respondent, then the cases were closed. Further actions were not part of the process.
Under the procedure effective February 2021, a group of university personnel regularly meet to discuss cases that are brought to the EOP Office and are closed—either for findings of “no cause” or because the complainant did not submit a formal complaint—to determine whether further evaluation is needed. While this is an improvement to the process, there remains no formal procedures ensuring inappropriate behavior by a faculty or staff member is addressed consistently.
University Policy HR 1.39, Disciplinary Action and Termination for Cause provides guidelines to address and correct inappropriate behavior of staff and ensure discipline is consistently applied. Disciplinary actions range from an oral warning to termination, and the policy includes a chart explaining the recommended, uniform consequences for examples of misconduct and inappropriate workplace behavior. If inappropriate behavior is found involving a faculty member, the university does not have a faculty disciplinary policy or process to address the behavior unless it rises to the level of tenure revocation.
The university should develop formal procedures to examine and address incidents involving inappropriate behavior not found to be Title IX violations. The procedures would include analyzing trends in incidents that are not formally investigated by EOP, and incorporate communication with appropriate university personnel to identify steps to take when the Title IX investigation results in a “no cause” finding and ensure consistent disciplinary action for similar behaviors.
In addition, the university’s Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Professional Conduct, convening in the Fall of 2021, should develop a formal disciplinary process to address faculty involved in inappropriate behavior.
3) Applicable University Policies
Prior to the release of the Department of Education’s new regulation in August 2020, 34 CFR Part 106 – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, University Policy EOP 1.01, Equal Opportunity Complaint Processing Procedures, was the sole policy providing requirements for processing all complaints related to discrimination and harassment. After the new regulation became effective, University Policy EOP 1.06, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Violence (Interim), was developed effective Dec. 21, 2020, to address changes made with the new regulation. EOP 1.06 sets forth procedures for managing Title IX-related complaints while EOP 1.01 provides procedures for governing non-Title IX complaints of discrimination and harassment.
EOP 1.01 does not explicitly state that it does not apply to Title IX complaints, nor is it clear how to delineate when one policy or the other applies. The existence of multiple policies for managing complaints of discrimination and harassment is confusing and may discourage or be misinterpreted by a complainant or respondent involved in the process.
The university should conduct a comprehensive review of policies related to discrimination and harassment for completeness, consistency, relevance, and coherence. Policies should be revised as necessary and the EOP website should be updated to provide a clearer understanding of the current policies and procedures to administer the complaint process. If two policies will remain, clarification must be given as to the circumstances in which each policy does or does not apply.
4) Travel Policy Revision
University Policy ACAF 2.08, Faculty/Staff-Led Overseas Programs for Students, was revised on May 5, 2017 resulting from a case included in our review. Part II B of the policy was updated to address faculty and staff traveling with students outside of university-approved programs. It states:
“University faculty and staff are not authorized to hire or travel with USC students overseas without the approval of the Overseas Program Approval Committee. Faculty, staff and students who participate in faculty/staff led overseas programs without approval of the Committee do so entirely at their own risk and in their individual capacities and not within the course and scope of any approved or sanctioned university activity. Faculty or staff who hire or travel with university students without the approval of the Committee must inform the students that the work or travel is not sanctioned or supported by the university and that all risks related to the work or travel is borne individually by the student and involved faculty or staff member. Any faculty, staff, or student working or traveling overseas in a faculty/staff led overseas program without the approval of the Committee must exercise their own due diligence and good judgment in evaluating their overseas activities. The university expressly disclaims any and all responsibility for any problems that may arise regarding faculty/staff led overseas programs not approved by the Committee.”
Although the updated policy is designed to alleviate the university’s legal liability related to travel outside of university-sponsored activities, it does not adequately prohibit this type of travel or establish subsequent disciplinary action for violations of the policy.
Policies regarding international travel should be strengthened to explicitly prohibit university faculty and staff from traveling internationally with students without first obtaining university approval. Appropriate disciplinary action for violations should be included in the policy.
5) Communication Enhancements
The Clery Act requires institutions to prepare an annual security report that incorporates procedures victims should follow if a crime of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking has occurred.1 The procedures must include: the importance of preserving evidence; how and to whom the alleged offense should be reported; options for notifying law enforcement; assistance by campus authorities in notifying law enforcement; declining to notify authorities; the rights of victims; and the institution’s responsibilities for orders of protection.
The EOP website currently includes information about training, policies, available resources, and contact information. The website and online reporting forms could be enhanced to include information required by the Clery Act in the event of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The policy page also includes a vast amount of material regarding policy updates and the applicable protocols for governing complaints. This information could be streamlined to offer guidance that is more understandable to the user.
University websites used to inform the community and provide forms for submitting complaints of harassment, discrimination and violence should be updated to include information required by the Clery Act to augment guidance for individuals involved in these incidents.
The EOP website also should be updated to provide a clearer understanding of the current policies.
 34 C.F.R. 668.46(b)(11)(ii)
Our review was conducted in accordance with the Institute of Internal Auditors’ International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. We believe our audit provides a reasonable basis for the results summarized in this report.
Audit & Advisory Services (AAS) appreciates the courtesies and assistance we received from the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs administration and staff. This report reflects AAS’s desire to continuously serve the Board of Trustees, University Administrators, and the broader University community.