Letter to the Editor: Sexual Misconduct Policy

By Marc Wais, Sr. VP for Student Affairs

To the Editor:

The University takes sexual misconduct in the NYU community incredibly seriously, and we are sympathetic to and deeply concerned with the well-being of all survivors of sexual assault.  The University is determined to prevent sexual misconduct, to establish a campus culture that actively discourages it, and to pursue violations of our policy.

Whenever there is an allegation of sexual misconduct on campus, the University sets out to achieve a just outcome for both the complainant and the respondent, including, of course, sanctions for those who are found to have committed acts of sexual misconduct.  It does so by offering a robust set of services to support those involved in sexual misconduct cases; by promptly and thoroughly investigating all complaints; by making sure victims are fully aware of their rights to involve law enforcement and by providing them with assistance from a special liaison to do so; by providing respondents with support and also guidance through the process; and by either making use of an alternate resolution process or by forming a panel composed of representatives of the NYU community or an external adjudicator to enforce our community’s strict standards of conduct.

That process was followed in this tragic case. The matter was thoroughly and promptly investigated.  The complainant was offered assistance in bringing in law enforcement.  A panel carefully heard the case (many of the details of which cannot be discussed by the panel or NYU because of confidentiality laws), and in April the respondent — the student accused of sexual misconduct — was suspended from the University for a year — the Spring, Summer and Fall semesters.

There are several elements that have come typically to characterize a case as mishandled: an allegation not being taken seriously; a university not following its own procedures; a university failing to offer to connect a survivor to law enforcement; a process was unduly lengthy; and/or a respondent that wasn’t punished.  Not one of those elements is true in this case.

NYU’s new policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct enhance our response in other ways, as well  — we have greater clarity about definition, more training for all students on prevention and intervention, and new, focused resources to support those involved in an incident of sexual misconduct.  You can read more about those policies at http://www.nyu.edu/life/safety-health-wellness/sexual-respect.html.

In any investigation or disciplinary procedure, there may always be disagreement with the end result.  While it is entirely legitimate for the WSN  to raise in its Dec. 4th editorial the question about whether the University should prescribe specific punishments for particular violations of our sexual misconduct policy, to suggest that the University (and its faculty, staff, and students involved in this process) are incompetent or unconcerned about student welfare is simply and completely incorrect.  The WSN and its readers should know those who serve voluntarily on disciplinary panels at NYU are fellow members of our community who agree to take on these difficult assignments, and do so with conscientiousness, sensitivity, and thoroughness – knowing that they are barred from discussing the details of such cases publicly.

We want to remind all students and other members of the campus community who wish to make a report of sexual misconduct that they can do so by following the link above, by contacting Public Safety, by contacting the Office of Equal Opportunity (our Title IX office), by speaking to a dean or residence hall staff, or — to discuss the matter confidentially — by speaking to a member of NYU’s Counseling Service.

Preventing sexual misconduct, establishing a campus culture that reduces sexual misconduct, and actively responding when it does occur will always be a top priority for NYU. We will continue working to ensure that our policies and procedures meet and exceed best practices — as well as changing local, state, and federal laws.  And, at the end of the day, our work will continue to be guided by one of NYU’s overarching core values: acting in the best interests of our students.

Marc Wais, Sr. VP for Student Affairs