Dartmouth College on Tuesday announced a new unified policy on sexual misconduct aimed at providing clarity and consistency for faculty, students and staff across the Ivy League campus.
The new policy, effective Sept. 1, is part of the school's broader effort launched more than a year ago to address sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement that has exposed abuse in politics, entertainment, academia, media and more. The announcement comes a week after the college said it would pay $14 million to former and current students to settle a federal lawsuit accusing it of ignoring years of sexual harassment and assault by former psychology department professors.
Kristi Clemens, the school's Title IX coordinator, said the new policy doesn't include significant changes but rather consolidates and clarifies policies that had been different for different people on campus.
"For students, we had a very clear procedure to follow when we had reports, but for faculty and staff, not so much," she said in an interview. "So really the big change here is, it's sort of one policy to rule them all."
The policy prohibits gender-based and sexual harassment, assault and exploitation as well as relationship and interpersonal violence, stalking and other behavior. It also offers protection from retaliation to those who report such conduct or participate in investigations, and sets up both informal and formal resolution procedures that include outside investigators.
While some of the prohibited actions are crimes, complainants don't have to pursue criminal charges in order to resolve their issues on campus. The school uses a lower standard — preponderance of evidence versus beyond a reasonable doubt — in deciding whether someone violates the policy.
"What we know about conduct of this nature, with sexual harassment and sexual assault, is that there are lots of reasons people may or may not report to the college or law enforcement," Clemens said. "Colleges and universities have the ability to say to their community, 'we're holding you to these particular standards.'"
The policy outright prohibits romantic, sexual or intimate relationships between undergraduate students and members of the faculty or staff, saying such conduct "creates a presumptive abuse of power that cannot be overridden." It also bans faculty or graduate students from having such relationships with any undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in their courses or otherwise under their supervision.
The lawsuit was filed by nine female students and alumnae who said they were harassed and touched inappropriately by professors William Kelley, Paul Whalen and Todd Heatherton. Kelley and Whalen were also each accused of assaulting a student after a night of drinking, attempting to seduce women under their supervision and punishing those who rebuffed their advances. Dartmouth was preparing to fire them when Heatherton retired and the two others resigned.
Through his lawyer, Heatherton has apologized for acting inappropriately at conferences but said he never socialized or had sexual relationships with students. Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear if they have attorneys.
The allegations sparked heated debate at Dartmouth and prompted alumni to demand greater transparency and accountability in the way the school handles sexual abuse claims. Some demanded the college president's resignation and others pledged to withhold donations.
A leader of an advocacy group that formed in the wake of the scandal, Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment & Sexual Violence, declined requests for comment Tuesday because she hadn't had time to evaluate the policy or discuss with other members.
In addition to the new policy, the school has promised a range of reforms including an outside review of all academic departments.
"Now we're being abundantly clear with our community that everyone is held to the same standard, we're being transparent for both complainants and respondents that this is the process that we will follow every time, and we're putting it out there for all to see," Clemens said.