The University of Notre Dame must improve how it responds to sexual assaults on its campus under an agreement announced with the U.S. Department of Education.
The school reached the resolution following a seven-month federal investigation, says a Chicago Tribune report.
In particular, the report says, the women and their families complained that Notre Dame’s campus police delayed interviewing suspects for weeks and that months passed before the university resolved cases.
Among the modifications, the nine-page agreement calls on Notre Dame to wrap up administrative reviews within 60 days and to base its ruling of guilt against a suspect on the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning the alleged attack more likely occurred than not, rather than the higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” criminal court threshold, says the report.
The education department’s investigation began last November after the Tribune detailed the case of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a Northbrook, IL teen who killed herself nine days after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexual battery. Seeberg's family has raised questions about the campus police department’s seeming reluctance to gather evidence, the lack of transparency in the investigation and a 15-day delay in interviewing the accused.
Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said Notre Dame promises to have procedures and practices in place to prevent sexual harassment and violence, to take steps to ensure students are comfortable reporting sexual assaults and to make “climate checks” to ensure that students feel safe, says the Tribune article.
“The university recognizes that we have some concerns. They came to the table to resolve those concerns,” Ali said.
Under the resolution agreement, Notre Dame promises to change its policies and procedures on sexual assaults and harassment. Besides speeding up the process and using the preponderance of the evidence standard in making a finding, the university agreed to:
• Make it clearer to alleged victims that they can pursue their case criminally, pursue it through the internal student disciplinary process, or both.
• Obtain written acknowledgments from alleged victims detailing whether they want the case to proceed.
• Notify the alleged victim, in writing, if the local prosecutor declines to press charges.
• Amend its policies to allow alleged victims the option of not being present in the same room as the suspect during student disciplinary hearings.
• Give the alleged victim the right to appeal a disciplinary finding based on a major procedural defect or the discovery of new evidence that could have affected the outcome.
The agreement ends the education department’s investigation and allows the university to avoid a potential finding of fault, says the report.