*This story has been updated to reflect how the university investigates sexual misconduct and how it relates to the timeline of criminal investigations.
COLUMBIA — Proposed changes to the way the University of Missouri System handles investigations of sexual assault on campus were unanimously approved Thursday.
The UM System Board of Curators voted to adopt the recommendations from the Sexual Assault and Mental Health Task Force, which was formed in January by UM System President Tim Wolfe in the wake of the 2011 death of MU student Sasha Menu Courey.
Here are some of the changes the curators made to UM's Collected Rules and Regulations student conduct chapter regarding Title IX and sexual assault:
- The word "rape" was changed to "nonconsensual sexual intercourse."
- The overall category of "nonconsensual sexual behavior" was changed to "sexual misconduct," which includes nonconsensual sexual intercourse, contact or touching, sexual exploitation and sexual harassment.
- A clear definition of "nonconsensual" was added to include any circumstance where "the alleged victim was incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, or other circumstances and, therefore, incapable of consenting."
Students who believe they have been discriminated against because of their sex can file a complaint directly to the Title IX coordinator. The current interim coordinator is Linda Bennett. This will now be a full-time position.
*Sexual assault investigations can begin immediately, rather than being delayed until criminal proceedings are finished. Although that has always been university policy, spokesman John Fougere said, it had never been explicitly written into the rules.
Additional changes were made to the hearing process in sexual assault investigations to be more in accordance with federal regulations and make campuses safer. Those changes are:
- Members will be appointed to the Student Conduct Committee, which will impose sanctions on students it believes have committed sexual assaults.
- The committee will be able to consider any previous disciplinary problems in a student's past.
The chair of the committee will have the power to divide the members of the student conduct committee into smaller hearing panels for each case and will designate a chair for each panel. The panel must have at least five members and no more than two students. The remaining three members will be chosen from faculty and staff members on the committee.
The complainant and accused will be prohibited from directly questioning each other. Questions will instead be asked through the committee chair.
A second vote was also unanimously passed by the curators, granting Wolfe temporary authority to pass executive orders relating to sexual assault or mental health until the curators' next meeting in October. These executive orders can be in conflict with, and will supersede, any current regulations.
In April, Wolfe granted Executive Order 40, requiring all UM System employees not bound by confidentiality to report any information regarding sexual assault or harassment of a student to the Title IX coordinator. Previous Missourian reporting found that employees had no guidelines on how to handle Title IX incidents before this order.
ESPN's investigation of Menu Courey's death shed light on MU's policies regarding sexual assaults. The Dowd-Bennett law firm, which was hired by the university to independently investigate how Menu Courey's case was handled, found that MU did not break the law when it did not investigate Menu Courey's allegations but was not in compliance with federal Title IX regulations.
Curator John Phillips said these changes are not a "cure-all," but will address some of the more pressing policy needs before students return in August.
The task force is continuing to develop systemwide recommendations for policy, resources and practices relating to sexual assault and mental health as part of a three-phase plan, said Deborah Noble-Triplett, chair of the task force.
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