Disciplinary sanctions not recorded on student transcripts

Disciplinary sanctions not recorded on student transcripts

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October 26, 2018

Sexual assault charges will not be recorded on a perpetrator’s transcript after a Title IX investigation concludes. Any record of disciplinary actions can only be found in a separate disciplinary file.

A Brandeis student and survivor of sexual assault spoke to The Brandeis Hoot about their experience with the Title IX office and their frustration that disciplinary actions will not show up on their perpetrator’s transcript.

This survivor spoke to The Hoot under conditions of anonymity, for safety and legal concerns, and will be referred to as they/them. The student detailed a difficult process throughout their Title IX investigation and appeal and spoke to The Hoot to shed light on how a respondent’s (also called perpetrator’s) sanctions will not appear on a transcript.

Under current administration policy, disciplinary or sanctioned violations do not appear on a student’s transcript. The Brandeis Rights and Responsibilities Handbook does not detail any explicit guidelines on transcript notation. This includes disciplinary suspensions and Title IX violations like sexual assault. Sanctions will appear on a respondent’s disciplinary file, separate from a transcript.

“I just want it to not disappear,” the student said. “Brandeis is responsible for who they [the perpetrator] go on to hurt.” Without sanctions or mention of Title IX involvement on a transcript, “It’s like it didn’t happen.”

Elizabeth Tierney, in the Office of Human Resources, is the acting Title IX Coordinator, taking over for Robin Nelson-Bailey. In an email with the student, Tierney said, “With regard to the transcript question, when students receive discipline, the student is documented in the disciplinary file, and not on the student’s transcript.”

Julie Jette, Director of Media Relations, reiterated this statement, saying that “Student transcripts do not identify disciplinary sanctions.”

The student asked repeatedly for a policy change, both to Nelson-Bailey and Tierney. Nelson-Bailey told the student that it’s “standard practices.” Tierney said the same.

The survivor told The Hoot that in their experience, the process was more oriented toward protecting the accuser than the survivor. They described their Title IX investigation as a long, bureaucratic process, where staff slowed down the investigation or halted complaints.

The student filed a No Contact Order against their perpetrator, but the order was initially not processed by Brandeis Police. The student discovered this after reporting a violation of the order.
The order was then processed, and after reporting several violations, a few months passed before consequences of the perpetrator’s violations were decided.

After one of the fact-gathering interviews about the broken No Contact Order, Anthony Sciaraffa, the investigation’s Co-Examiner, said the goal was to figure out if the perpetrator was “just being stupid.”

In this survivor’s case, Special Examiner Allyson Kurker—an individual hired from outside the school whose identity is not stated on Brandeis’ Title IX site—was joined by Co-Examiner Sciaraffa. Both examiners conducted interviews with the parties involved and any witnesses. Once this information was compiled, a report was written by the Special Examiner, and a decision for sanctions was reached by the Outcomes Administrator and sanctioning panel. The respondent was found responsible of the charges. There will be no record of the decision on the respondent’s transcript. It will appear on their disciplinary file, which can be requested by other educational institutions “who have a legitimate educational interest in the behavior of a student,” according to Brandeis’ website.

In New York and Virginia, state laws passed in 2015 require that college students found responsible for sexual assault retain documentation on their transcripts. Recently-loosened federal Title IX regulations don’t mandate this; a private university in Massachusetts is under no compulsion to add this notation to transcripts. Brandeis makes the decision on a case-by-case basis.

The complainant has the option to appeal the Special Examiner’s verdict, at which time the case is reviewed by the University Appeals Board, described by the Brandeis Rights and Responsibilities Handbook as including “three members of the faculty and/or staff.” The handbook details no requirement of qualifications for the Appeals Board.

In an email to The Hoot, Julie Jette said, “Student Affairs solicits volunteers from faculty and staff at the university who are interested in serving on sanctions panels. These faculty and staff are then trained, and become part of a list for sanctions panel participants. Then, when a case arises, the chief Student Affairs officer or designee appoints sanctions panel members from the available list, and screens for conflicts prior to assignment.”

This student appealed the sanctions that the perpetrator, who was found responsible, was given, judging the sanctions to be inadequate. The University Appeals Board reviewed it and did not rule in favor of the appeal. The student received a text message from Brandeis informing them that “an important letter” was emailed to them with the appeals decision. Officially closed, the investigation took months longer than the Obama-era federal guidance level of 60 days.

Brandeis’ Title IX website reads that the university is responsible for resolving complaints “promptly and equitably.”

The student told The Hoot that their experience has been the opposite: long wait times, bureaucratic procedures and a reluctance to proceed. In an initial meeting the student was repeatedly recommended by Paula Slowe, Brandeis’ Title IX case manager, to file an informal investigation, not a formal one. In the student’s initial conversations with Slowe, she informed them that they could not have their lawyer present—an advisor could only be present during meetings after they committed to an investigation format. At that time, the student had already retained a free lawyer from the Victim Rights Law Center.

The survivor explained that, in their experience, Title IX at Brandeis was practiced in order to protect the school and perpetrators, not the victims. “The problem is not that Brandeis doesn’t believe survivors—they do—it’s not wanting to help.”

According to the student, the university is so wary of a legal battle or poor publicity that they purposefully drag out Title IX investigations.

“I filed charges and they didn’t immediately or continually investigate. You have to ask them to investigate over and over or else the process will essentially come to a standstill,” said the student.

Slowe told the student that they could face disciplinary charges if they chose to file a formal investigation, “which is crazy to say to a victim,” the student told The Hoot. If the student in any way reveals their assaulter’s identity, they could face charges of defamation or retaliation.

The disciplinary process does not allow the student to reveal their perpetrator’s identity to anyone—not to their friends or to the press. “I can’t warn anyone of who [the perpetrator] is,” the student said. With this anonymity, they fear the perpetrator will go on to assault others.

The student’s goal is to have disciplinary or sanctioned actions appear on transcripts. They believe this would decrease the likelihood of repeat offenses by the same perpetrator, as their record would follow them to future schools, jobs or internships. It would also affect them transferring institutions or applying to graduate school. If Brandeis creates and enforces a policy for recording sanctions on transcripts in the future, the student feels “it would be all worth it.”

In a campus-wide email on Oct. 9, President Ron Liebowitz said that “Brandeis cares” about students who have faced sexual violence and that campus resources “can provide you with compassionate and timely assistance.” The email also noted, “The university is committed to responding promptly and effectively once notified of any form of discrimination based on sex and forbids retaliation against an individual who has filed a complaint.” There was no mention of a change to the policy of withholding information about Title IX offenders on transcripts.

Sexual violence, as the Brandeis survivor noted, is often a repeat offense. They emphasized the university’s role in possible repeat assaults by not mandating that transcripts report sanctions. “Right now, Brandeis is responsible for every person that a perpetrator goes on to assault at their job, at their internship, at their next school, at this school, at their grad school,” they said.

“Brandeis is just letting it all happen,” the survivor said. “But they have the opportunity to change this, and truly prove that they support survivors by getting ahead of the Massachusetts legislature and putting these violations on transcripts.”

Title IX was passed as part of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Its goal, according to the United States Department of Education, is to protect “people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.” In practice, this has historically meant university Title IX coordinators reviewing and administering sanctions under the law in order to police gender-based discrimination (such as sexual harassment or assault) on campus.

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