After several months of research, and receiving input from campus, the college has decided to move away from the Grievance Panel model and hire a third party investigator to investigate and make a finding about any cases of sexual assault and misconduct.
Before the investigator makes their finding, they will put an initial report with their findings out to the parties involved to review the information. Then, the parties will address any issues they may have with the information such as a witness that was not interviewed or a statement being wrong.
Once the investigator has received feedback, they will do any further investigating they feel needs to be done based on the feedback from the contributors and then make an official decision. The decision will have many avenues of appeals available, just as in the current system.
The college will have a team of investigators who have the necessary training to handle these situations to find the most likely account of what has occurred.
The push to eliminate the Grievance Panel came from three things: a statement from the Office of Civil Rights, the sentiment of both staff, faculty and students and the time that it takes to find people free to serve on the Panel at the same time as the witness involved.
The Office of Civil Rights issued a statement last April not outright prohibiting students from serving on these panels, but making it clear that they believe it is inappropriate for students to be on a Grievance Panel. This statement is one of the things that started the conversation on campus to move to a new model.
According to President Teresa Amott and Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader, many members of the Knox community expressed concern over being a part of the Grievance Panel.
“There was a lot of sentiment that on a small campus you would not be able to avoid engaging very personally with people who were on your Grievance Panel,” Amott said. “It creates an awkwardness. It can even go so far as to be not just merely awkward, but painful.”
Lastly, the time for the finding to be reached will hopefully be less since the panel does not have to find time to meet with the witnesses during the investigation.
The investigator will come at a cost to the college, but one that both Amott and Schrader believed to be necessary.
“At the end of the day, I think that we care that it’s a thorough, equitable, timely process. The college has made a commitment to honoring the important pieces of this, and that’s what we will find a way to do,” Schrader said.
Schrader also wanted to make sure that students understand that the complainant will still have control in every part of the process.
Senior Devin Hanley had mixed feelings about the Grievance Panel.
“I think that with a small campus there can be compromised anonymity with a Grievance Panel, but I worry about the transparency there will be with an outside investigator. Who is this person? What are they doing? People don’t understand the Grievance Panel as it is. I worry this will cause even less transparency,” Hanley said.
Freshman Liz Fong said she thinks the change could be positive.
“I think it could be a positive thing. Faculty, staff and students may not have as much training in these situations, which should be handled as delicately as possible,” Fong said.
Hiring an investigator to deal with the investigation and adjudication of the case is a move many colleges are making around the country. According to a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, this is due to both the drain on the faculty and students who are part of the panel as well as a liability to the college which will lessen if the decision is coming from a trained, third party.
The new updates will go into effect as an interim policy as soon as it is presented to campus both on the website and an email to campus. Amott hoped to have them out by the end of this week or the beginning of next.
Both Amott and Schrader said that there will be forums to listen to student opinions on the changes to the Grievance Panel. Schrader also said that if students have any opinions or questions about these changes, to contact her.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to be reflective of our community, and we wanted to make our community safer for everybody. So it is important for people to weigh in on what they want,” Schrader said.
Students with questions or concerns should contact:
Kim Schrader, Title IX Coordinator
Old Jail, Room 12