New federal Title IX regulations; progress on NASEM recommendations

August 14, 2020

To the members of the MIT community:

In May, we wrote to inform you that a committee of expert and dedicated staff, faculty, and students would review the Institute's policies in light of the Department of Education’s (DOE) newly released Title IX regulations. DOE’s regulations go into effect today.

The regulations state that formal complaints of sexual harassment, as specifically defined under Title IX, must be resolved through a process that includes a live hearing, and that each side has the right to cross-examine the other party and any witnesses.

The committee, whose membership is listed below, worked rapidly this summer to make recommendations for implementing the new requirements in a manner that upholds the essential values of MIT's existing processes: responsiveness, fairness, and care for the needs of all involved participants.

We agree with the committee’s core recommendation – that MIT should apply the new Title IX procedures only where legally required, while continuing to address other forms of sexual misconduct under our existing processes. We write today to explain the changes you can expect from these developments and to update you on other ways we continue to combat sexual misconduct at the Institute.

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New Title IX Sexual Harassment policy

Our new Title IX Sexual Harassment policy aligns with the DOE’s more narrow definition of sexual harassment, including that Title IX only applies to incidents that occur within a school’s education program or activity, and within the United States. Our existing sexual harassment policy covers a broader range of conduct and circumstances than DOE’s narrow definition, and we will ensure it remains in place. This means that behaviors previously found to be in violation of MIT’s sexual harassment policy will continue to be prohibited, but allegations that fit into the narrower Title IX definition of sexual harassment will be addressed through new procedures.

New procedures for addressing complaints of Title IX Sexual Harassment

For cases that meet Title IX’s narrower definition of sexual harassment, we have adopted new complaint resolution procedures that comply with the new regulations. The Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) Office will continue to triage these cases. The Committee on Discipline (COD) will continue to resolve cases involving students, and the newly created faculty panel will resolve cases against faculty, senior research scientists, senior research engineers, and senior research associates. We will assemble a panel of human resources (HR) professionals to resolve other staff cases.

The new procedures for formal Title IX Sexual Harassment complaints will follow the following process:

  • Formal complaints of Title IX Sexual Harassment will be addressed through a live hearing.
  • Outside legal professionals will be engaged to serve as chairs or co-chairs at the hearings. These professionals will make evidentiary rulings during cross-examination and will assist in writing the detailed determination letter required by the regulations.
  • Cross-examinations will be live and conducted directly by the parties’ advisors.
  • For complainants and respondents who do not have their own advisors, MIT will provide advisors, who may be attorneys, to conduct cross-examination at the hearings.
  • IDHR will coordinate training for all investigators, hearing panelists, and those who decide appeals, and has developed a comprehensive guide describing the investigation process for complaints involving all forms of discrimination and discriminatory harassment, including Title IX Sexual Harassment.
     

Complaints of sexual misconduct that do not meet the definition of Title IX Sexual Harassment will continue to be resolved under our pre-existing procedures.

Current policies and practices will remain the same:

  • Off-campus sexual misconduct between two members of the MIT community continues to be prohibited by MIT policy.
  • Supportive interim measures such as No Contact Orders and academic and personal support will continue to be available – with or without a formal investigation or adjudication.
  • Our current, broad definition of responsible employees will remain in place.
     

Our commitment to creating an MIT community free of sexual harassment and assault

We also want to take this opportunity to share some brief updates about our interconnected response to the 2019 Association of American Universities campus climate survey and the 2018 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Report on the Sexual Harassment of Women in Academia. We last wrote to you about these topics in October and February, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Understandably, some of our plans – such as offering expanded in-person trainings and workshops – were curtailed in light of the public health emergency. We are, however, continuing to move forward on several key fronts:

Increased resources: President Reif announced last month that, despite the budget constraints presented by Covid-19, and in collaboration with the Institute Community and Equity Office, MIT is hiring senior officers to guide and gauge concrete progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion in each of our five schools and the College of Computing. With roles tailored to meet the needs of each unit, these officers will be integral to our efforts to address challenges identified by the climate survey and National Academies report.

We also committed to add staff to our support, advocacy, and education network. We are pleased to be able to share that, despite very real Covid-driven budget pressures, we have prioritized hiring for the coming academic year in these areas:

  • Violence Prevention and Response (VPR): A new director of student advocacy will be hired shortly, enabling VPR to focus concentrated effort on supporting survivors, while also dedicating staff to critical prevention and education efforts.
  • IDHR: A new alternative dispute resolution coordinator will create a new program featuring restorative practices to address reports of discrimination or discriminatory harassment. IDHR will now be able to offer an additional resolution pathway for community members who wish to resolve their concerns without participating in a formal investigation complaint process.
  • IDHR: A new education specialist will work with the manager of prevention, education, and outreach to develop and implement ongoing education in academic departments and to support initiatives for undergraduate and graduate students.
     

Expanded online sexual harassment prevention education: We are following through on recommendations from the Institute Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response (CSMPR) to require “booster” training for juniors beginning this fall. This will build on the education program that all first-years and sophomores now complete at the beginning of each academic year. In January, we will begin a phased rollout of required online education for all faculty, staff, and graduate students (third year and above) – an ongoing program that will build on the requirement put in place two years ago for employees and graduate students.

Professional development enhancements: HR is restructuring MIT’s management development training, increasing focus on managers’ responsibilities to be respectful and inclusive of all staff regardless of rank, function, and identity. These changes respond directly to feedback collected at last winter’s MIT Staff Conversations. In the fall, HR will share additional recommendations for change based on input from participants, and will be presenting to Academic Council.

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In closing, we are grateful to the committee members for their care and speed. As with the implementation of any new policy, we will be collecting feedback and monitoring implementation to make sure the new policies and practices are working as intended so that we can continue to meet our high standards for responsiveness, impartiality, and care for all parties involved.

We encourage all members of our community to become familiar with these changes, and to contact idhr@mit.edu if you have any questions. For anyone in need of confidential support, please contact VPR’s confidential hotline at 617-253-2300. More information about reporting an incident involving sexual harassment or assault can be found on the IDHR website.

Sincerely,

Ramona Allen, Vice President for Human Resources
Cynthia Barnhart, Chancellor
Martin A. Schmidt, Provost

Committee membership

Andrew Whittle, Chair; Faculty and current Committee on Discipline Chair

Munther Dahleh, Chair; Faculty and former Committee on Discipline Chair

Sarah Affel, Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office

Suraiya Baluch, Office of Graduate Education

Molly Bird, Graduate Student Representative, Title IX Student Advisory Committee and Graduate Women at MIT

Don Camelio, Residential Life Programs

Meg Chuhran, Violence Prevention & Response

Darcy Gordon, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow

Kelvin Green, Undergraduate Association Representative

Bianca Lepe, Graduate Student Representative, Title IX Student Advisory Committee

Sarah Lincoln, Undergraduate, Pleasure Educator

Tessa McLain, Office of Student Conduct

Anthony Moriello, Office of the General Counsel

Marianna Pierce, Human Resources

Sarah Rankin, Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office

Katharina Ribbeck, Faculty; Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response

Allison Romantz, Office of the General Counsel

Jay Scheib, Faculty; Committee on Discipline Sexual Misconduct Sub-Committee

Jaren Wilcoxson, Office of the General Counsel