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Editorial: Student Title IX board should guide how UC reacts to harassment allegations

By Editorial Board

July 1, 2018 8:26 p.m.

The dean of a top-10 law school. A University of California regent. And more than 130 faculty and employees.

The University of California’s list of sexual predators is frighteningly extensive.

Francisco Ayala, an acclaimed geneticist at UC Irvine, joined the list in late June after a Title IX investigation found he had sexually harassed four faculty members and graduate students. Ayala had a biological sciences school, a science library, fellowships, scholar programs and endowed chairs named after him.

As with many sexual harassment cases, the experiences of Ayala’s victims were institutionally silenced. A lawyer representing three of the victims said UC Irvine ignored years of complaints about Ayala, according to the Los Angeles Times. Faculty and students said he inappropriately touched them and made sexist comments. A professor even reported Ayala to the university three years ago, but Title IX officials failed to investigate or reprimand the geneticist.

Ayala’s fall from grace is only one in a long list of sexual misconduct cases that demonstrate the shortcomings of the UC’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policies. The University no doubt revises its policies from time to time, but addressing institutional deficiencies regarding investigating harassers and the adjudication of claims of harassment requires constant pressure on administrators – something the UC’s Title IX Student Advisory Board can provide.

The advisory board, which consists of undergraduate and graduate students from the University’s campuses, was formed in January to identify issues related to sexual violence and update students about the UC’s efforts to respond to gender discrimination and harassment. It has focused on collecting input from students and reporting findings to the UC Systemwide Title IX Office.

The advisory board, however, shouldn’t limit itself to just being the messenger. There are well-noted problems within the UC’s SVSH policies that the board can lobby against using its direct line to Title IX officials.

Take, for example, the University’s sexual harassment prevention trainings. The UC requires all staff to complete an online training module within 90 days of being hired and regularly repeat this module. However, Kathleen Salvaty, former UC Title IX coordinator, told the Daily Bruin that these employee trainings are provided via the module called “Think About It” – the same, bare-bones training module that admitted UC students mindlessly complete before coming to campus.

The University’s sexual harassment investigative procedures present an even more disheartening story. SVSH policies allow administrators to opt out of conducting formal Title IX investigations or sanctioning harassers by employing what are termed alternative resolutions, or informal administrative procedures, such as issuing warnings to alleged harassers or informally settling cases. The UC has been relying notably on these alternative procedures, once even in the case of an acclaimed UC Berkeley astronomy professor, who got off with little more than a warning despite a Title IX investigation having found that he sexually harassed students for nearly a decade.

These are the kinds of egregious policy concerns the Title IX Student Advisory Board should prioritize drawing attention to. Collecting and reporting student feedback is certainly a means to better campus Title IX resources, but the advisory board should not shy away from pushing for changes to policies that necessitate these services in the first place.

And while the advisory board is still in its nascent stages, that doesn’t discount its enormous lobbying power. Students proved as much when, after demonstrations two years ago, UC regents were required to undergo sexual harassment prevention training. Some have even urged their campuses into action via lawsuits. These are changes pushed by those who didn’t have institutional access to Title IX officials.

No one is expecting the student advisory board to fix the UC’s approach to addressing sexual harassment overnight. However, the board has something others do not: a seat beside the University’s policymakers. And it shouldn’t be afraid to leverage that.

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