SOUTH BEND - The University of Notre Dame has agreed to make changes in how it handles investigations of campus sexual assaults as a result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Specifically, the voluntary agreement requires the university to ensure that students and the public know how to report sexual harassment and what to expect from the university and law enforcement after making a report, the Department of Education announced Friday.
Notre Dame agreed to make clear that it will use a “preponderance of evidence” standard to evaluate sexual harassment allegations.
The agreement means the university agrees to:
Publicize resources and services available to complainants, accused students and witnesses;
Provide both parties equivalent notice of the process, opportunity to provide evidence, and access to peer support, information about procedures and written notice of the outcome;
Have discussions with the complainant to determine if adjustments in schedules or housing are needed and an explanation that any adjustments made will be designed to minimize the burden on the complainant’s education program;
Initiate and conclude Title IX sexual harassment and violence investigations within 60 days of a complaint, except in extraordinary circumstances.
In changes from past practice, Notre Dame has agreed to provide for alternative arrangements for complainants who do not want to be in the same room as the accused during a campus disciplinary hearing, and to give complainants the same rights to appeal the outcome of a disciplinary hearing as those provided to accused students.
Notre Dame also will provide in investigative reports 12 specified pieces of information, and it will invite victims of past sexual harassment to contact the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention - a coalition of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and community representatives - to offer recommendations for improving policies and practices.
The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights began a review of Notre Dame’s procedures after Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a 19-year-old Saint Mary’s student, committed suicide last September. Seeberg had filed a criminal complaint Sept. 1 with Notre Dame Security Police alleging that a Notre Dame football player had touched her breasts when they were in his dormitory room on the previous day.
Seeberg’s family complained about a police delay in questioning the player and Notre Dame’s handling of the case.
The Tribune generally does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault, but Lizzy Seeberg’s name and photo were widely reported when her parents gave news media interviews to air their concerns.
No criminal charges were filed in the case and the male student remains on the Notre Dame football team.
Russlynn Ali, the DOE’s assistant secretary for civil rights, was traveling Friday and unavailable for an interview.
Jim Bradshaw, a DOE spokesman, said the agreement with Notre Dame is a continuation of the focus on sexual harassment and assault at the college level by the Office for Civil Rights. In the past year, the office has reached similar agreements with Eastern Michigan University and Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. (Notre Dame College is not affiliated with the University of Notre Dame.)
Notre Dame administrators were not made available Friday for interviews regarding the agreement.
“We very much appreciate the thoroughness exhibited by the OCR staff who conducted the review,” the Rev. Thomas Doyle, Notre Dame’s vice president for student affairs, said in a written statement. “The review has confirmed for us that we have outstanding initiatives in place, while also providing direction for several areas in which we can make modifications for improvement.
“Sexual misconduct can have no place at Notre Dame, and we are committed to continuing to protect the safety and human dignity of every student,” he said.