UNC will review sexual harassment policies

UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt, seen here on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016.
UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt, seen here on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. N&O file photo

UNC-Chapel Hill’s sexual harassment policy will be reviewed in light of the #MeToo movement, top campus officials said Tuesday.

In a letter posted online Tuesday as the spring semester begins, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and two of her top staff said they are taking “a fresh and critical look” at policies and procedures “to make sure we are doing everything we can to create an inclusive and respectful culture” on campus.

“As we begin 2018, we will continue to address many priorities and none is more important than protecting the safety of our campus community,” wrote Folt, Provost Bob Blouin and Felicia Washington, a vice chancellor who oversees workforce strategy, equity and engagement. “The issue of sexual harassment is on the minds of everyone, as we have watched thousands of women across the nation courageously come forward to tell their stories. The #MeToo movement has started a powerful and important dialogue in our nation and around the world, and it’s helping inspire a transformative and positive change in our society.”

Besides reviewing policies, the university will ramp up its prevention measures and staff training programs, officials said. Anyone who has experienced harassment or discrimination should report it to UNC’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance and go to a website called Safe at UNC.

“Discrimination and harassment are counter to our University’s core values and must never be tolerated, and yet we know that these serious offenses may happen anywhere, including on our campus,” the letter said.

“And we want to make sure our campus isn’t just a part of the conversation, but doing all we can to engage and create positive change right here,” the letter added. “This is more than a movement; it’s about creating a culture where all of us can feel free to pursue our passions and dreams without fear of harassment.”

Like many universities across the country, UNC has revamped its policies surrounding sexual misconduct in recent years to comply with federal guidelines surrounding Title IX, the federal law against gender discrimination in education settings. But the situation is now a moving target.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos announced it was formally withdrawing Obama-era guidance to universities about how to handle sexual violence cases. The decision was greeted with scorn by those who advocated more protection for student victims and praise by groups that say the previous guidelines endangered due process rights for the accused.

UNC came under federal investigation following a 2013 complaint by students and a former administrator for its handling of sexual assault under the Title IX law. Dozens of other U.S. universities, including Duke, were also investigated after similar complaints.

Last year, UNC was sued by a female faculty member, who claimed she was a victim of gender discrimination and retaliation. The complaint was filed by Altha Cravey, an associate professor of geography, who claimed she was denied promotion to full professor while male professors with similar credentials and experience were promoted.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill