Fee in­crease pro­posed at UM

Stu­dents are will­ing to pay to hire more sex­ual as­sault in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Col­lege Park

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com

Frus­trated by the slow pace of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park, the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion is call­ing on ad­min­is­tra­tors to raise stu­dent fees to hire more in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

While univer­sity of­fi­cials have not com­mit­ted to the stu­dents’ de­mand, univer­sity Pres­i­dent Wal­lace Loh will meet SGA mem­bers to­day to dis­cuss their pro­posal that all stu­dents pay an ad­di­tional $17 in fees per se­mes­ter. Loh has fi­nal say over the in­crease.

“He doesn’t want to im­pose any kind of fee for stu­dents,” said SGA Pres­i­dent Kather­ine Swan­son. “We’re talk­ing about the fee pro­posal and what they’ve of­fered, and how we can move for­ward.”

A univer­sity spokes­woman said Thurs­day it was pre­ma­ture for Loh to say whether he would sign off on the pro­posal.

Univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors re­sponded to the SGA’s de­mand by an­nounc­ing plans to hire two ad­di­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tors, a deputy di­rec­tor and a co­or­di­na­tor for the school’s Of­fice of Civil Rights and Sex­ual Mis­con­duct. The of­fice cur­rently is staffed by seven peo­ple, in­clud­ing the di­rec­tor and four in­ves­ti­ga­tors, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

“We com­mend the work of the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion to ad­vo­cate for this crit­i­cal is­sue,” a univer­sity state­ment said. “We all share the same goal, and work­ing to­gether wewill con­tinue to in­vest re­sources to work to­ward a cam­pus en­vi­ron­ment that is free from sex­ual mis­con­duct.”

The univer­sity will re­view its in­ves­tiga­tive and ad­ju­dica­tive pro­cesses for sex­ual mis­con­duct to en­sure fair and timely res­o­lu­tions, the state­ment said.

Nonethe­less, the stu­dents are press­ing for the fee in­crease to en­sure the new po­si­tions are filled. The in­crease would dou­ble the of­fice’s bud­get with about $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally. The SGA also wants the of­fice moved to the cen­ter of cam­pus.

The stu­dents de­cided to act af­ter learn­ing it took 140 days on av­er­age last year to in­ves­ti­gate most re­ports of sex­ual as­sault — far longer than the 60 days rec­om­mended by the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. Af­ter draft­ing the pro­posal, the SGA voted 32-1 on Sept. 28 to en­dorse the fee in­crease.

Swan­son learned about how long the in­ves­ti­ga­tions were tak­ing af­ter meet­ing ear­lier this year with Cather­ine Car­roll, di­rec­tor of the civil rights of­fice. Through a univer­sity spokes­woman, Car­roll de­clined to dis­cuss pro­ce­dures.

The stu­dents’ pro­posal, which would amount to $34 a year, will be con­sid­ered Wed­nes­day by the Stu­dent Fee Re­view Com­mit­tee, which will for­ward its rec­om­men­da­tion to Loh. Stu­dents pay about $1,000 a se­mes­ter in fees.

Mean­while, the pro­posal is draw­ing at­ten­tion from around the coun­try.

“I like the own­er­ship it shows,” said Daniel Swin­ton of the NCHERM Group, a cam­pus re­search, law and con­sult­ing firm in Philadel­phia. “For them to say, ‘We want to pay this. Here’s a pro­posal’ — that’s unique. I don’t know of oth­ers.”

Swin­ton said tak­ing 140 days to in­ves­ti­gate and re­solve sex­ual mis­con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions seems “re­ally high.”

“There are things that can de­lay it, but 140 days would be very slow, very im­prop­erly slow. Too slow,” he said. “Ab­sent mit­i­gat­ing or ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances, that would be a real prob­lem.”

The univer­sity opened the Of­fice of Civil Rights and Sex­ual Mis­con­duct in 2014. Its bud­get grew from $643,000 in fis­cal year 2015 to about $1 mil­lion in the cur­rent fis­cal year.

About 15 per­cent of cam­puses na­tion­ally last year em­ployed a full-time sex­ual as­sault in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Swin­ton said. But as aware­ness con­tin­ues to grow of sex­ual as­saults on cam­puses, univer­si­ties are in­creas­ingly hir­ing full-time in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“A school like Mary­land would need at least a cou­ple, just based on size,” he said.

One in five women are vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault or at­tempted sex­ual as­sault while in col­lege, ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice re­port cited by fed­eral ed­u­ca­tors. The re­port found about 6 per­cent of men were vic­tims.

Univer­sity of Mary­land ad­min­is­tra­tors re­ceived 112 re­ports of sex­ual mis­con­duct in the 2015 aca­demic year, ac­cord­ing to the univer­sity’s first pub­lished stu­dent sex­ual mis­con­duct re­port. Of those, 48 re­sulted in a com­plaint of sex­ual mis­con­duct against a stu­dent. Oth­ers in­volved an un­known as­sailant.

Thir­teen in­ves­ti­ga­tions had been com­pleted by the time of the re­port. Three stu­dents were ex­pelled for sex­ual as­sault. Oth­ers charged with ha­rass­ment and stalk­ing re­ceived sus­pen­sion, pro­ba­tion and coun­sel­ing.

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