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Law School Examined Peer Title IX Policies When Crafting Procedures

By Andrew M. Duehren, Crimson Staff Writer

When a faculty committee at Harvard Law School convened to craft a new set of sexual harassment procedures for the school last fall, they examined existing processes at peer institutions, according to Law professor John Coates, who chaired the committee. The final product of their work closely resembles systems in place at other schools across the Ivy League, particularly Columbia.

The Law School’s new Title IX procedures, which break from Harvard’s central process for adjudicating sexual harassment complaints filed against students, were adopted by the Law faculty in December and will be soon implemented, according to administrators.

The changes came after faculty expressed discontent over Harvard’s approach to handling sexual harassment and Dean of Harvard Law School Martha L. Minow appointed Coates’ committee to create a new set of procedures for the Law School.

Coates said the committee reviewed the procedures of all other Ivy League schools specifically when writing the Law School’s new framework.

Several aspects of the Law School’s procedures, including the promise to provide attorneys to students involved in sexual harassment cases, mirror elements of Columbia’s process of responding to cases of alleged sexual harassment. Both separate the investigation and guilt determination processes, and involve hearings.

Under Columbia’s procedures, which apply to every school in the university, after the investigation process, a hearing panel generally consisting of administrators determines an accused party’s guilt. The panel holds hearings involving both complainants and respondents. If the panel determines guilt, designated “sanctioning officers” from individual university schools hand down sanctions.

This process resembles, in part, the new one at Harvard Law School. At the Law School, an independent adjudicatory panel consisting of non-Harvard affiliated experts will review the results of investigations of allegations of sexual harassment. The individuals tasked with investigating the allegations do not serve on the adjudicatory panel, which is wholly separate from the investigation process. If either the complainant or respondent in the case requests a hearing, the independent adjudicatory panel will hold one, although Harvard’s adjudicatory panel may not request to convene a hearing itself. Also unlike Columbia’s system, the Law School’s adjudicatory panel determines disciplinary action.

Harvard’s central set of procedures, which went into effect last year and created the central Office of Sexual and Gender-Based Dispute Resolution, differs significantly from both the Law School and Columbia’s set of procedures. Under Harvard’s central system, the same team both investigates cases and determines whether or not a policy violation occurred. Individual schools, then, hand down sanctions, which is similar to Columbia.

Harvard’s central procedures also make no guarantee that parties involved in a case will be provided legal counsel, instead advising students to contact an attorney if the case has criminal implications.

The Law School’s departure from Harvard’s centralized framework is also similar to a system formerly in place at Yale Law School. Although Yale has a university-wide committee that hears sexual assault complaints, its law school also gave its students the option to file a complaint with the school in lieu of the larger university committee until Feb. 18. That separate process, however, was largely unused and has since been phased out, according to Claire Priest, Yale Law School’s Title IX coordinator and a professor there.

When Yale created its University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct in 2011, she said, it “became the forum to bring the complaints. So we recently just chose to codify that.”

Approved by the Harvard Law School faculty in December, the new set of procedures received initial feedback from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights weeks after the government found the Law School in violation of Title IX.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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Central AdministrationHarvard Law SchoolUniversityUniversity NewsSexual AssaultTitle IXODR