Sexual misconduct policy unchanged, Johns Hopkins administrators say, as U.S. Dept. of Education signals shift

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said last week that department will roll back landmark 2011 guidance on campus sexual assault

Johns Hopkins University's policy on sexual misconduct has not changed, university administrators said, despite an announcement Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education that it intends to roll back prior guidance on campus sexual assault.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday she would work to replace a "failed system," citing concerns that the current guidelines deny due process to those who are accused. She added that the process to rescind those guidelines is under way.

"We remain fully committed to a policy and a process that are fair, prompt, supportive, effective, and responsive to the complexities of addressing sexual misconduct on a college campus."
Kim Hewitt
Vice provost for institutional equity

"We will be following the developments closely," said Kim Hewitt, JHU's vice provost for institutional equity, "and we are always open to considering improvements to our approach. But we remain fully committed to a policy and process that are fair, prompt, supportive, effective, and responsive to the complexities of addressing sexual misconduct on a college campus."

The most recent major revision of university's policy took place in 2015 following consultation with students, faculty, and staff, including the Provost's Sexual Violence Advisory Committee. The process included an opportunity for comment from the entire university community.

The policy was also revised in part based on guidance in a 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter in which the Obama administration established guidelines for colleges and universities on how to handle sexual assault allegations. The letter, which reminded schools that they have a legal obligation under Title IX to address sexual violence on campus, came amid concerns that schools were not taking the issue seriously enough.

"We were mindful of the guidance of the 'Dear Colleague' letter when we revised our policies and procedures and will be following closely the efforts of Secretary DeVos," Hewitt said. "We want to emphasize, however, that the secretary's announcement does not change Johns Hopkins policy. Our current policy and procedures remain fully in effect."

Joy Gaslevic, the university's assistant vice provost for institutional equity and Title IX coordinator, said Johns Hopkins' policy is based on an array of federal and state laws that would be unaffected by the Department of Education's decision to undo the "Dear Colleague" letter guidance.

Any significant changes to the existing policy, she added, would be made based on a deliberative process, in close consultation with members of the university community, including students.

Johns Hopkins' current efforts to strengthen policies, programs, and training related to sexual misconduct date to 2014, when the Sexual Violence Working Group was established. That summer, as part of the process that led to the revised policy, the university created a website that includes clear, accessible, and consolidated information on sexual assault policies and available resources and support.

After revising its policy, Johns Hopkins conducted a survey of students—the results of which were released in January 2016—that affirmed that sexual assault remains "a serious and complex problem" on JHU's campuses, as it is on campuses across the country. The results of that survey, completed by nearly 4,000 students, continue to guide the university's efforts to improve its policies, raise awareness, and offer support to those affected.

"Our efforts to enhance policies, response, and education efforts continue," Gaslevic said. "The Office of Institutional Equity and all other institution partners remain fully committed to—and work on a daily basis to—not only continue existing efforts, but build upon them."