April 10, 2018

Stanford’s resolution agreement with OCR

Dear campus community,

I am writing to share the news that Stanford has completed a resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education. This concludes an investigation that OCR has been conducting for the last three years regarding our response to sexual violence at Stanford and our compliance with Title IX.

This process has been extremely helpful for Stanford as an institution. It has identified ways of further strengthening our policies and processes for members of our community. We look forward to making additional improvements to the procedures by which we respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

OCR’s review was prompted by several individual complaints, but OCR also looked broadly at all complaints or reports of any kind about sexual harassment or sexual violence over a four-year period to draw conclusions about how Stanford handled those situations. In addition, OCR carefully reviewed our policies and procedures for addressing sexual violence, sexual harassment and other conduct prohibited by Title IX. OCR acknowledged the many proactive efforts Stanford has already made to end sexual violence.

We are posting OCR’s resolution agreement with Stanford for our campus community to read. We will post an accompanying letter from OCR as soon as OCR has redacted the personally identifiable information. In the letter you will find more detail on OCR’s views of our individual matters and policies, including where they found we were compliant with Title IX, concerns expressed that did not rise to the level of non-compliance and areas where they felt aspects of our policies were non-compliant. While I invite you to review the full agreement and the letter when it is available online, I also want to provide a brief overview of the findings:

Review of individual matters

Stanford provided OCR with information on every report of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including dating violence and stalking, involving at least one Stanford student from 2012 to 2016. This was a total of 437 reports. OCR reports that they reviewed at least 174 of the case files. OCR did not make any finding that laws were violated in the handling of the individual matters.

However, in two OCR complaints and one case from the broad review, OCR identified concerns and determined that it was appropriate to resolve them through a voluntary process where we agreed to do the following:

  • We will have a more formal process to coordinate with the disability office for students who require accommodations in a Title IX investigation.
  • We will ensure effective enforcement of our stay-away directives, including coordinating with residence staff and the Registrar’s office and having better communication with the complainants.
  • We have put in place a comprehensive document management system for Title IX matters to ensure we have easily accessible records of each step in the process.
  • We will make sure that our policy on evidence regarding sexual history and character is correctly implemented in all cases.
  • I will invite two of the students who filed complaints with OCR to meet with me to discuss these issues.

Review of University policies

OCR also raised concerns about some omissions and errors in our policies and determined that some of the provisions in our policies were not in compliance with Title IX. We have agreed to policy changes and committed to give training on those changes on a specified timeline. These changes include:

  • We will publish a summary of all procedures that address sexual harassment and sexual violence matters for faculty, staff, students and third parties.
  • We will identify “reasonably prompt time frames” (as defined by OCR) to issue a Notice of Concern and also for responsible employees to notify Title IX of any reports of sexual harassment or sexual violence.
  • We will ensure consistency among the Title IX policies and procedures and that they are all updated in a timely fashion. For example, although we have a policy that makes it clear that retaliation against anyone involved in a Title IX process is prohibited, to make it clearer and consistent, we will remove the word “reasonably” from the part of the student Title IX policy that says students have “the right to be reasonably protected from retaliation and intimidation.”
  • We will make sure that participants in the Title IX process have appropriate notice of all significant events in the process.
  • We will provide prompt time frames and similar rights for students and faculty in the faculty discipline process.
  • We will continue to provide data and other information related to our Title IX processes to OCR and seek their advice and comments. If and when further changes are made to our pilot Student Title IX Process, we also commit to providing those proposed changes to OCR for review, as we did with the current process.

OCR did not identify any concerns with Stanford’s definitions of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. OCR also did not identify any concerns relating to the Student Title IX Process’ three-person panel unanimity requirement to make findings of responsibility.

That said, I have heard concerns from members of our community on the issue of nomenclature used in our policies on sexual violence as well as concerns about the unanimity rule. Both of these issues are currently under review by my advisory committee. As noted above, any changes that the committee may recommend will need to be reviewed by OCR.

This process has been extremely beneficial. The improvements we made during the review and have agreed to make going forward, coupled with changes we have undertaken through our own initiatives (such as the development of the Student Title IX Process) will all work together to support our ongoing efforts to create a campus free of sexual violence and discriminatory conduct.

I want to thank the individuals who came forward to share their feedback with OCR, whether as complainants or as participants in OCR’s visits to campus to solicit input. Their courage in sharing their experiences was critical to obtaining a candid evaluation of what we do well, and more importantly the ways in which we can do better. OCR’s thorough review contributed to the awareness about the reality and pervasiveness of sexual offenses, both here at Stanford and across the country.

I appreciate the work of the Office for Civil Rights, and of the university staff members who have worked to be responsive to OCR’s requests throughout its investigation. I look forward to continuing to work tirelessly with the many committed people across our campus community who are pursuing solutions to eradicate sexual violence and harassment in our midst.

[Updated April 13, 2018, with link to OCR letter.]