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Hunter addresses sexual harassment issues

Hunter College and CUNY have agreed to revise and reexamine how they handle sexual harassment and assault allegations after a US Department of Education investigation found violations or concerns in the more than a dozen complaints emanating from the Upper East Side campus.

The federal investigation found that Hunter did not make sufficiently clear where to file complaints, did not promptly and equitably address some complaints and at times failed to provide interim measures to address possible hostile environments.

TITLE IX VIOLATIONS

Hunter College said in a statement that the settlement was reached “without any admission of liability.” It continued, “Hunter College and CUNY have always been committed to maintaining a campus environment free from discrimination, intimidation or violence of any sort.”

In a years-long investigation, the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) found that the college violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal assistance. A December 19, 2012, complaint filed with the OCR prompted the investigation. A Hunter undergraduate student alleged that the college failed to appropriately respond to a sexual harassment complaint against a faculty member and that the college retaliated against the student. OCR found that the college’s response was not prompt or equitable.

“The college took approximately four months to complete its investigation, and it did not deliver the outcome of that investigation to the complainant until approximately seven months after she filed her complaint, while the college immediately communicated preliminary investigation results to the professor,” wrote Timothy C.J. Blanchard, director of the New York Office for Civil Rights, in an October 31 letter to Hunter College President Jennifer Raab. The 25-page letter also stated that the college’s diversity dean looked into the matter, told the faculty member not to have any contact with the student and that ultimately the college and CUNY severed their ties to the professor. The OCR also did not find evidence that the college retaliated against the student as alleged.

INCOMPLETE INVESTIGATIONS

The federal office examined 12 other sexual harassment complaints at Hunter College over a two-year academic period. In one case, a student alleged that a Department of Public Safety employee grabbed her shoulder and breast while she was making photocopies in a college library. The college promptly started an investigation, but failed to complete it when the complainant failed to respond to the college’s request for interviews. In another case, the college found that an undergraduate was subjected to sexual harassment by a colleague in a lab where she worked, but there was no evidence that college officials investigated whether the complainant suffered from a hostile work environment, despite the fact that the college kept the two working together during the investigation.

Hunter College was among more than two dozen colleges in New York State that were being investigated for alleged Title IX violations, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Title IX Investigation Tracker.” As part of the settlement, the college and CUNY agree to revise CUNY’s policies on sexual misconduct, equal opportunity and non-discrimination and Article XV of CUNY’s bylaws, also known as grievance procedures (not to be confused with Article 20, the complaint, grievance and arbitration procedure in the PSC-CUNY contract). Initial drafts of these policies, as stated in the agreement, should be completed by the end of January 2017.

REEXAMINE CASES

The college also agreed to reexamine the 13 cases that the OCR investigated, and in many of those cases, determine whether the accuser suffered any harm because the college failed to provide interim support. The college will also review sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints that were filed in the past three academic years (cases that the OCR did not review), and take appropriate action to address any mishandling of the complaints.