Appendix B: Procedures for Handling Complaints against Virscend Students Pursuant to the Sexual and Gender-based Harassment Policy

Appendix B - Procedures for Handling Complaints against Virscend Students Pursuant to the Sexual and Gender-based Harassment Policy

B1. Procedures for Handling Complaints Involving Students Pursuant to the Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy

 

Viscend students, faculty, staff, other Virscend appointees, or third parties who believe they are directly affected by the conduct of a Virscend student (collectively “Initiating Parties”) may: request information or advice, including whether certain conduct may violate the Policy; seek informal resolution; or file a formal complaint. These three options are described below. Initiating Parties are encouraged to bring their concerns to the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or Administrative Council, but may, if they choose, contact another School or University officer, who will refer the matter as appropriate.

 

As set forth below, interim measures designed to support and protect the Initiating Party or the University community may be considered or implemented at any time, including during a request for information or advice, informal resolution, or a formal complaint proceeding. Consistent with School or unit policy, interim measures might include, among others: restrictions on contact; work-schedule alteration; changes in work locations; leaves of absence; or increased monitoring of certain areas of the campus. These interim measures are subject to review and revision throughout the processes described below.

 

Requests for Information or Advice

 

Anyone seeking information or advice can expect to learn about resources available at the University and elsewhere that provide counseling and support. They also will be advised about the steps involved in pursuing an informal resolution or filing a formal complaint. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning has information about any companion policies or procedures that may apply at the local School or unit. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or Administrative Council may discuss with Initiating Parties whether any interim measures are appropriate at this stage.

 

Requests for Informal Resolution

 

Initiating Parties may make a request, either orally or in writing, for informal resolution to the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or Administrative Council. The request should identify the alleged harasser (if known) and describe the allegations with specificity. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or Administrative Council  will assess the severity of the alleged harassment and the potential risk of a hostile environment for others in the community to determine whether informal resolution may be appropriate.

 

Upon determining that informal resolution is appropriate, the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or any member of the Administrative Council will consult further with the person initiating the request, inform the person who is the subject of the allegations, and gather additional relevant information as necessary from the parties and others, as indicated. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or Administrative Council also may put in place any appropriate interim measures to protect the educational and work environment. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, any member of the Grievance Committee, or Administrative Council will attempt to aid the parties in finding a mutually acceptable resolution. A matter will be deemed satisfactorily resolved when both parties expressly agree to an outcome that is also acceptable to the School or Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning.

 

When the allegations, if true, might constitute criminal conduct, the party against whom they are brought is hereby advised to seek legal counsel before making any written or oral statements. Those facing allegations may wish to obtain legal advice about how this process could affect any criminal case in which they are or may become involved.

 

At any point prior to such resolution, the Initiating Party may withdraw the request for informal resolution and initiate a formal complaint under these Procedures.

 

Ordinarily, the informal resolution process will be concluded within two to three weeks of the date of the request.

 

B2. Procedures for Formal Complaints

 

Initiating a Complaint

 

An Initiating Party may file a formal complaint alleging a violation of the Policy. A complaint of sexual or gender-based harassment against a staff member should be filed directly with the Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee will inform the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning(s) for the Complainant and the Respondent that a complaint has been received, and, if indicated, Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning will put in place any appropriate interim measures.

 

A formal complaint must be in writing and signed and dated by a Complainant or a third party filing on behalf of a potential Complainant (Reporter). It should state the name of the alleged harasser (if known) and describe with reasonable specificity the incident(s) of alleged harassment, including the date and place of such incident(s). The complaint must be in the Complainant or Reporter’s own words, and may not be authored by others, including family members, advisors, or attorneys. Attached to the complaint should be a list of any sources of information (for example, witnesses, correspondence, records, and the like) that the Complainant or Reporter believes may be relevant to the investigation. However, a complaint should not be delayed if such sources of information are unknown or unavailable.

 

The Grievance Committee will not investigate a new complaint if it has already adjudicated a formal complaint based on the same circumstances or if the parties and the School or Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning already have agreed to an informal resolution based on the same circumstances. Whether or not a complaint is filed with the Grivance Committee, any person may file a complaint of discrimination with California Commission Against Discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, or any other state or federal agency having jurisdiction.

 

Timeframe for Filing a Complaint

 

The University does not limit the timeframe for filing a complaint. The University encourages complaints to be filed as soon as reasonably possible following an alleged Policy violation because the University’s ability to gather adequate information may be limited where a significant length of time has elapsed between an incident and the filing of a complaint. Further, the University’s ability to complete its processes may be limited with respect to Respondents who are no longer employed by the University.

 Initial Review

 

Once a complaint is received by the The Grievance Committee, Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning will begin an initial review. Virscend may designate an additional individual to work jointly with the Investigator (collectively, the “Investigative Team”). Investigators will have appropriate training, so that they have the specialized skill and understanding to conduct prompt and effective sexual and gender-based harassment investigations.

 

The Investigative Team will contact the Complainant or Reporter in an attempt to gather a more complete understanding of the allegations, as well as any related conduct that may implicate the Policy. When a complaint is brought by a Reporter, the Investigative Team will endeavor to meet with the person identified as the potential Complainant both to gather information and to discuss his or her interest in participating in an investigation.

 

Based on the information gathered, the Investigative Team will determine whether the information, if true, would constitute a violation of the Policy such that an investigation is warranted or whether the information warrants an administrative closure. The Investigative Team will convey this determination to: the Complainant (and the Reporter, if there is one); the Grievance Committee, the President of Virscend, and the Director of Academic Programs. The Investigative Team will work with the Grievance Committee to implement any appropriate interim measures to be put in place by the School pending the completion of the case (or to revise as necessary any measures already in place).

 

Ordinarily, the initial review will be concluded within one week of the date the complaint was received.

 

Investigation

 

Following the decision to begin an investigation, the Investigative Team will notify the Respondent in writing of the allegations and will provide a copy of the Policy and these procedures. The Respondent will have one week in which to submit a written statement in response to the allegations. This statement must be in the Respondent’s own words; Respondents may not submit statements authored by others, including family members, advisors, or attorneys. Attached to the statement should be a list of all sources of information (for example, witnesses, correspondence, records, and the like) that the Respondent believes may be relevant to the investigation.

 

If the decision is made to begin an investigation in a case where a Reporter filed the complaint, and the Complainant is unwilling to participate but the School has assessed the severity of the harassment and the potential risk of a hostile environment for others in the community and has determined to proceed, then, for the purposes of these Procedures, the School or Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning (or a designee) will be considered the Complainant.

 

The Investigative Team will request individual interviews with the Complainant and the Respondent, and, as appropriate, with other witnesses, which may include those identified by the parties as well as relevant officers of the School or University or others. When identifying potential witnesses, the parties should understand that the purpose of interviews is to gather and assess information about the incident(s) at issue in the complaint, not to solicit general information about a party’s character.

 

When a complaint involves allegations that, if true, also might constitute criminal conduct, Respondents are hereby advised to seek legal counsel before making any written or oral statements. The investigation process is not a legal proceeding, but Respondents might wish to obtain legal advice about how this process could affect any criminal case in which they are or may become involved.

 

After the collection of additional information is complete but prior to the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigative Team will request individual follow-up interviews with the Complainant and the Respondent to give each the opportunity to respond to the additional information.

 

Personal Advisors

 

In cases of alleged domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, both the Complainant and the Respondent may bring a personal advisor to any interviews with the Investigative Team. A personal advisor may not be related to anyone involved in the complaint or have any other involvement in the process.

 

In cases where the Respondent is also a member of a collective bargaining unit and requests a union representative, in accordance with a union member’s right to request representation during investigatory interviews that may reasonably lead to discipline, the Complainant may bring a personal advisor to any interviews with the Investigative Team.

 

Personal advisors may view a redacted version of the complaint or other documents provided to the parties, offer feedback on their advisee’s written statements, and provide general advice. During interviews, personal advisors may not speak for their advisees, although they may ask to suspend the interviews briefly if they feel their advisees would benefit from a short break.

 

Confidentiality

 

The Grievance Committee, personal advisors, and others at the University involved in or aware of the complaint will take reasonable steps to protect the privacy of all involved. Once a complaint is filed, the Complainant or Reporter, the Respondent, and any witnesses will be notified of the potential for compromising the integrity of the investigation by disclosing information about the case and the expectation that they therefore keep such information – including any documents they may receive or review – confidential. They also will be notified that sharing such information might compromise the investigation or may be construed as retaliatory. Retaliation of any kind is a separate violation of the Policy and may lead to an additional complaint and consequences.

 

The parties remain free to share their own experiences, though to avoid the possibility of compromising the investigation, it is generally advisable to limit the number of people in whom they confide.

 

Coordination with Law Enforcement Authorities

 

In all cases, the Investigative Team will have completed the initial review without delay and, as appropriate, will have proposed interim measures to the School. In the event that an allegation includes behavior or actions that are under review by law- enforcement authorities, the Investigative Team will, in light of status updates from law-enforcement authorities and the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, assess and reassess the timing of the investigation under the Policy, so that it does not compromise the criminal investigation.

 

Conclusion of the Investigation and Issuance of Final Report

 

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigative Team will make findings of fact, applying a preponderance of the evidence standard, and determine based on those findings of fact whether there was a violation of the Policy.

 

The Investigative Team will provide the Complainant and the Respondent with a written draft of the findings of fact and analysis and will give both parties one week to submit a written response to the draft. The Investigative Team will consider any written responses before finalizing these sections of the report and the final section of the report, which will outline any recommended measures to be taken by the School or unit to eliminate any harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning and the School or unit will work jointly to put in place such measures as they determine are appropriate. Consistent with School policies, measures imposed at this stage might include, among others: restrictions on contact; work- schedule alteration; leaves of absence; or increased monitoring of certain areas of the campus.

 

The investigation will be completed and the final report provided to the Complainant, the Respondent, the School, Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning, and the appropriate officer in the School or unit, ordinarily within six weeks of receipt of the complaint. The imposition of disciplinary sanctions will be considered separately by the Board of Trustees and the President of Virscend.

 

B3. Special Circumstances

 

Request for Anonymity

 

If a potential Complainant asks to remain anonymous, then the Investigative Team, as appropriate, will consider how to proceed, taking into account the potential Complainant’s wishes, the University’s commitment to provide a non-discriminatory environment, and the potential Respondent’s right to have specific notice of the allegations. The Investigative Team may conduct limited fact finding to better understand the context of the complaint. In some circumstances, a request for anonymity may mean an investigation cannot go forward, or the Investigative Team may determine that further investigation is necessary, in which case the potential Complainant will be informed that his or her identity will be disclosed as necessary for the investigatory process. In other circumstances, the Investigative Team may determine that the matter can be appropriately resolved without further investigation and without revealing the Complainant’s identity.

 

Administrative Closure

 

If, after conducting the initial review of a formal complaint, the Investigative Team finds that the allegation, if true, would not constitute a violation of the Policy, then the Grievance will administratively close the case and notify the Complainant (and the Reporter, if there is one), the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning and the Grievance Committee.

 

Where the Complainant is unwilling to participate in further investigation, the Grievance Committee will assess the severity of the alleged harassment or the potential risk of a hostile environment for others in the community and will determine whether administrative closure is appropriate or whether the University should proceed with an investigation.

 

Within one week of the decision to close a case administratively, the Complainant or Reporter may request reconsideration on the grounds that there is substantive and relevant new information that was not available at the time of the decision and that may change the outcome of the decision. The Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning will consider requests for reconsideration and inform the Complainant or Reporter of the outcome, ordinarily within one week of the date of the request.

 

In cases where the Grievance Committee concludes that the alleged conduct, while not a violation of the Policy, might implicate other University conduct policies, the Grievance Committee may refer the complaint to the appropriate School or University official.

 

Request to Withdraw the Complaint

 

While every effort will be made to respect the Complainant’s wishes to withdraw a formal complaint, the University must be mindful of its overarching commitment to provide a non- discriminatory environment. Thus, in certain circumstances, the Grievance Committee may determine that investigation is appropriate despite a Complainant’s request to withdraw the complaint or failure to cooperate. Other circumstances also may result in a request to withdraw the complaint being declined, where, for example, a request to withdraw is made after a significant portion of the investigation has been completed and terminating the investigation would be inequitable.

 

Request for Informal Resolution After a Complaint has Been Filed

 

Once a complaint has been opened for investigation and before the final report has been provided to the parties, a party may request informal resolution as an alternative to formal resolution of the complaint, but that disposition requires agreement of the Complainant and the Respondent and the approval of the Grievance Committee.

 

If such a request is approved, the timeframes will be stayed, and the Investigator or a designee will take such steps as he or she deems appropriate to assist in reaching a resolution. If the parties cannot reach an informal resolution within two weeks from receipt of the request, then the Investigative Team will resume the investigation of the complaint in accordance with the formal complaint procedures.

 

Appeal

 

Both the Respondent and the Complainant may appeal the decision of the Investigative Team to the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning or designee based on the following grounds:

 

  1. A procedural error occurred, which may change the outcome of the decision; or

  2. The appellant has substantive and relevant new information that was not available at the time of investigation and that may change the outcome of the decision.

 

Disagreement with the Investigative Team’s findings or determination is not, by itself, a ground for appeal.

 

Appeals of the Investigative Team’s decision must be received by the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning within one week of the date of the final report. Likewise, appeals of decisions to administratively close a case or to deny a request to withdraw the complaint must be received by the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning Within one week of the date of the decision under appeal. Ordinarily, appeals will be decided within two weeks and the parties will be informed of the outcome in writing.

 

B4. Student Disciplinary Proceedings Following the Resolution of a Formal Complaint of Harassment or Misconduct That Results in a Finding of a Policy Violation

  

Whenever the final report concludes that a student has violated this Policy, the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning shall forward the report to the Administrative Council. The representative of the Administrative Council shall notify the Respondent and the Complainant that the final report has been received.  Both the Respondent and the Complainant will be notified about the nature of the Administrative Council’s disciplinary process; they will, furthermore, be informed about the speed with which the Grievance Committee will act following the disposition of any appeals.  The representative of the Administrative Council will meet with the Respondent to explain the disciplinary process and the range of sanctions. The Complainant will be invited to meet with the Administrative Council representative, but is not required to do so.

 

If either party invokes the right to appeal a decision contained in a final report, granted by the University Procedures, the Grievance Committee will notify the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learning.l. In accordance with University Policy, the Grievance Committee will allow one week for the Complainant and Respondent to lodge an appeal of the finding before it begins any deliberations. 

  • If an appeal is filed, the Grievance Committee will wait until it is resolved. Within three calendar days of either the end of the appeal waiting period or the resolution of the appeal, as appropriate, the Complainant and the Respondent may each submit a written statement reflecting their views about suitable discipline. Neither is required to do so. Both the Complainant and the Respondent will be provided with instructions regarding the allowable nature, length, and format of the written statement. The representative of the Grievance Committee will furnish copies of each filing to the other party. A Complainant or Respondent who chooses to submit a written statement must keep the following in mind: 1) the written statement may not challenge the validity of the findings and conclusions contained in the final report; and 2) the written statement may not introduce facts that could have been presented to the Investigator or that conflict with any of the findings in the final report. In writing such a statement, the Complainant and Respondent should keep in mind that the Administrative Council’s function is limited to determining whether to discipline the Respondent and, if so, the form that discipline should take. 

 

Sanctions shall take into account the severity and impact of the conduct, the Respondent’s previous disciplinary history (based on consultations), any written statements submitted by the parties relevant to sanctions, and the goals of this Policy.

 

Any disciplinary action requires at least a majority vote and, in the case of a requirement to withdraw, at least a two-thirds vote of the Administrative Council members present and eligible to vote. Rules for eligibility are determined by each Administrative Council.

 

If the Administrative Council votes to impose discipline, it will notify in writing the Respondent and, as appropriate, the Complainant of the discipline imposed. Following an investigation of sexual violence, both the Complainant and the Respondent will be informed of the outcome and all the sanctions.  For cases of sexual harassment that do not involve sexual violence, the Complainant will be informed of the outcome and those sanctions that pertain to the Complainant, and the Respondent will be informed of the outcome and all the sanctions.

 

A degree will not be granted to a student who is not in good standing, or against whom a disciplinary charge is pending. A student on a leave of absence, whether voluntary or involuntary, is ordinarily not allowed to return and register until any pending disciplinary case is resolved.

 

The Administrative Council may take a number of disciplinary actions, including admonish; place on probation, with or without requirements or restrictions; and require to withdraw with or without a recommendation to dismiss or expel. The nature of the sanction will vary depending on, among other things, the severity of the violation. This Policy does not specify minimum or maximum sanctions, but a severe violation will ordinarily require that the Respondent observe some period of absence from the University. 

  

Conclusion of the Case

 

Once an outcome has been reached, the representative of the Administrative Council will notify the Complainant and Respondent of the decision. The proceedings and decisions are communicated only to those with a need to know, including the Respondent and the Complainant.

 

After the case has been decided, regardless of the outcome, a copy of the final report and the notice of decision of the Administrative Council and related materials will be placed in a separate envelope in the Deputy Director of Student Success and Distance Learnings files and in the file of the Complainant, if relevant. 

 

Ordinarily, the file will be redacted to protect the identity and personal information of those involved in the case other than the student in whose file the documents are placed. These documents are part of the Respondent’s and, if relevant, the Complainant’s educational record, as defined and protected by federal law. 

 

Appeals

 

Students may appeal the Administrative Council recommendation of specific sanctions, including the sanction of requirement to withdraw with a recommendation to dismiss or expel. The decision to dismiss or expel itself is made by the President himself and not the Administrative Council; it cannot be appealed.

 

Both the Complainant and the Respondent have the option to appeal disciplinary decisions made by the Administrative Council regarding violations of this Policy, including any decision not to impose discipline. Allowable grounds for appeal are:

 

  • The Administrative Council made a procedural error that may change the determination of discipline

  • Based upon a review of the Administrative Council annual disciplinary statistics, as available, the sanction imposed by the Administrative Council was inconsistent with its usual practices and therefore inappropriate. 

 

 

All appeals must be filed with the Grievance Committee, who will promptly respond to the appeal.  Appeals are then screened by the Secondary Administrative Council, a group of three unbiased faculty representatives (none of which are on the Administrative Council). The Secondary Administrative Council may grant or deny the appeal. In the event the Secondary Administrative Council grants the appeal, it will remand the matter to the Administrative Council for action consistent with its decision. There are no circumstances under which a student may appeal a decision made by the Secondary Administrative Council. Once a student has been awarded a degree, the option to reconsider a decision or to appeal is closed. 

  

Following the decision on appeal, documentation of the appeal decision and materials related to the appeal will be included in the sealed envelope in the Respondent’s and Complainant’s files. Ordinarily, student names and other private identifying information

This policy was adapted and modified from Harvard University.