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UCLA task force finds inadequate discrimination, harassment report systems

A report authored by the Joint Task Force on Investigatory and Judiciary Processes found issues with procedures for filing complaints at offices around campus, including the Title IX Office (pictured). (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Christopher Buchanan

Jan. 29, 2023 11:54 p.m.

The Academic Senate and UCLA administration found a range of discrepancies in university offices’ handling of student, faculty and administrative incident reports of discrimination and harassment following a lengthy investigation.

The report, authored by the Joint Task Force on Investigatory and Judiciary Processes – a committee formed by the Academic Senate and administration to ensure anti-discriminatory investigative conduct at UCLA – was announced in a campuswide email earlier this month. The committee was tasked with assessing investigative processes throughout university compliance and non-compliance offices, finding discrepancies in compliance processes and recommending where resources should be allocated for investigations.

The investigation was prompted by campuswide dissatisfaction with investigative services, said Clyde Spillenger, a law professor and co-chair of the joint task force.

The report found the total number of complaints involving harassment and discrimination rose as the committee conducted its investigation from 2018 to 2021. Instances of discrimination and harassment were the most reported incidents among students, faculty and administrators.

According to the report, nearly two-thirds of academic departments that responded were unsure about how to process these complaints and lacked the protocol that the Title IX Office and Discrimination Prevention Office utilize. However, both offices were still overwhelmed with referrals and inquiries from other university offices because of ambiguous procedures for investigating complaints, the report found.

When Eva Becker, a third-year philosophy student, went to file a complaint against a tenured professor for discriminatory conduct, she said her department and teaching assistants were unsure of how to investigate the claims due to her professor’s seniority.

“It didn’t feel like it was going to become a case at all,” she said. “They were just kind of shutting it down.”

Spillenger said the report’s recommendations will regularize communication between complainants and investigators to avoid lengthy investigations and confusion.

Jessica Cattelino, chair of the Academic Senate, said the university must ensure they are meeting the wide range of compliance issues on campus.

Survey respondents also said a lack of resources hindered compliance processes, including staffing shortages, inadequate funding and an absence of resolution procedures. The committee recommended additional staff and proper training so investigators can conduct their work within an allotted time frame.

The report concluded with a recommendation that the Academic Senate and administration create a subcommittee to act as a centralized source for various incident referrals and represent the wide range of needs on campus.

This central subcommittee would act as an online clearinghouse where students would be directed to the proper office for their particular case, Cattelino said, adding that until the subcommittee is formed, students have multiple destinations to which they can report a variety of incidents.

Becker said the university should be more empathetic when handling complaints.

“If a student is made to feel uncomfortable by something happening in class or on campus, and they respond apathetically to that, it’s very invalidating,” she said. “They should at least take the time to investigate the matter.”

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