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Carleton, is this how you want the faculty and staff sexual misconduct complaint process to work?

When I read this fall’s Carletonian article in which a former student describes her experiences with SOAN professor Jay/Jerome Levi (“Applegate ’17 comes forward about Levi incident,” October 11, 2019), I, like many others, was shocked and angered.

While the appallingly large number of Title IX cases brought against Levi had been reported on previously, this article was newly troubling due to its explicit description of the misconduct in contrast to (what seems to me) relatively lenient sanctions. Another detail that jumped out at me was the fact that a single administrator is responsible for adjudicating sexual misconduct cases against faculty or staff members.

In my opinion, the way Carleton handles sexual misconduct cases involving faculty and staff is flawed. I do not know all the details of the Jay Levi case. I trust that Dean of the College Beverly Nagel, adjudicator in this case, had to weigh many factors and made what was surely a difficult decision. Right now, I’m not raising issue with this particular case or the administrators responsible for making these decisions. Rather, I’m concerned by the fact that in each sexual misconduct case, the outcome is decided by a single individual (Dean Nagel if the complaint is against a faculty member, Vice President and Treasurer Fred Rogers if the complaint is against a staff member). As I understand it, Carleton faculty voted to approve this process and have the power to change it. I am urging you to consider doing so now.

Some background: When a student makes a report against another student and decides to go through the formal resolution process, the case is brought before a three-person subset of the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct (CBSM), which consists of one staff member, one faculty member and one student. The larger twelve-person board is composed of faculty, staff, and students who meet four to five times per term for ongoing trainings such as mock hearings, debriefs of recent cases, and discussions of bias and consent—all in addition to a longer, yearly training. The CBSM is facilitated by the College’s full-time Title IX coordinator. The three individuals on the panel are responsible for determining whether or not a student violated Carleton policy and for determining subsequent sanctions. Either person (the one bringing the complaint or the one responding to it) has the option to appeal the board’s decision to the Dean of Students.

In formal cases brought against faculty or staff members, the case is decided solely by the Dean of the College or the Vice President and Treasurer, who may consult with others as they see fit or appoint a designee to hear the case in their place. The person bringing the complaint forward cannot appeal the decision under any circumstances (which was the subject of a widely-circulated 2017 petition).

The College Council, which is composed of five faculty members, five students, two staff members, three senior administrative officers and the President periodically revises and approves this disciplinary policy. The procedures were most recently approved in May 2015. The reason we have this resolution process is because it reflects the decisions faculty have a large voice in, and they have some power to change it.

I understand that having only one administrator make the decision—as opposed to a faculty committee, for example—is efficient, requires fewer people to be trained, and avoids the potentially messy dynamic of peers disciplining one another. I also understand that protections such as tenure, no peer involvement in the disciplinary process, and the lack of an appeal process help ensure that Title IX complaints are not used as a tool to curtail faculty members’ academic freedom.

However, I also know that faculty members care deeply about the safety and wellbeing of their students and of the Carleton community as a whole. As I understand it, under the current system, the only time that any faculty members have any say in a faculty disciplinary issue is if the adjudicator (Dean of the College or the person they designate) recommends suspension or dismissal. In that case, the Faculty Judiciary Committee would be convened to decide if the violation was serious enough to warrant that sanction.

Even if 100 percent of the faculty (not to mention students and staff) thought that a faculty member deserved to be suspended or dismissed because of a Title IX violation, but the administrator in charge decided on a more lenient sanction, the faculty would have no institutional power to contest the adjudicator’s decision. No outlet for faculty input, and no appeal.

Any person or group of people making a decision in a Title IX case must evaluate many factors (protecting the college from lawsuits, protecting the career of the faculty or staff member, protecting the person making the complaint, protecting other students, etc.). This is an inherently subjective process. My concern is that in these difficult, subjective situations, the only person whose judgment has power is a single, high-level administrator.

I believe this process would be improved by including additional individuals with other priorities and perspectives, such as faculty, staff, students, or the full-time Title IX coordinator. While right now I am not advocating for a particular decision-making process, I want us to recognize that our current process is not the only option and to think critically as a community about how we make these decisions.

Faculty: It is important that you have the power to prevent another faculty member from being punished too harshly (e.g. losing tenure or getting fired), and therefore you have a committee that must approve these severe sanctions. Is it not also important that you have the power to do the reverse: to prevent a faculty member from being let off too easily, which could lead to further harm to Carleton community members? What if someday in the future we have a Dean or Vice President and Treasurer who consistently makes judgements that you think are too lenient, leading to an unsafe learning and teaching environment. In that scenario, wouldn’t you want to change the disciplinary process? If the answer is yes, then why can’t we improve the process now, before we reach that point?

If we were starting from scratch, is this the sexual misconduct complaint process you would advocate for? If so, I can respect that, and I would appreciate it if you would help me to understand why. If it’s not the exact process you would choose, then let’s consider replacing it with something better. I won’t pretend to have a perfectly thought-out system ready for you. However, based on some cursory research, some peer institutions incorporate an appeals process and/or faculty member panels in faculty and staff sexual misconduct cases.

You, the Carleton faculty, have the power to redesign this process, and I am urging you to do so. The rest of the Carleton community is invested in this issue too. Students have done a commendable job responding to the Jay Levi cases by advocating for harsher sanctions and by educating incoming classes about the topic. Staff, parents, and alumni have also been powerful voices in this fight. And ultimately, the responsibility to ensure a safe campus and just disciplinary processes rests with the Board of Trustees.

I am by no means an expert on this topic, and I am sure there are complexities and nuances to this issue that I am missing. Faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni: how do you think Carleton should handle sexual misconduct complaints against faculty and staff? I am willing to be persuaded that our current system is the best one out there, but right now I am unconvinced.

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