Louisiana’s public colleges must follow a new statewide policy for handling sexual-assault allegations and bolstering prevention efforts, though the broad guidelines stop short of requiring a specific prosecution response.
The Board of Regents approved the state’s first “Uniform Policy on Sexual Misconduct” at its Monday meeting. The guidelines, prompted by legislative questions about the adequacy of campus sexual-assault policies, take effect immediately. Louisiana’s four college system management boards also are required to develop more campus-specific requirements.
The document says it was “designed to help public postsecondary institutions create and maintain safe learning, working and living environments for all individuals who participate in the institutions’ activities and programs.”
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, who has pushed for stronger campus responses to assault claims, on Tuesday called the Regents’ plan a good first step. But he described seeing it “more as a mission statement than as a resolution.”
“I don’t think by any means that policy is a panacea to solve the problem of sexual assault on college campuses,” said Morrell, D-New Orleans.
Under the guidelines, each school is required to offer sexual-assault education and prevention programs to students during their first semester and regularly after that.
Colleges must coordinate with law enforcement on response efforts to assault claims, and are required to conduct student surveys to gather information about sexual assault at least once every three years.
Campuses must prohibit retaliation against anyone who complains about sexual misconduct and must give the person options for changing housing, work or class situations to keep away from an alleged attacker.
They also must offer counseling and health services to anyone who reports an assault. And they are required to “take all reasonable measures” to keep the complaint confidential.
However, the new policy doesn’t spell out a detailed path of disciplinary action for how campuses should resolve individual assault claims, instead giving leeway to college leaders to make those decisions.
It says any administrative proceedings should be led by someone with training “in issues relating to sexual misconduct” and requires written notification of the proceedings’ results.
The Regents’ document doesn’t list when a disciplinary hearing should be held and says “sanctions may range from a warning to expulsion, depending on the behavior and its severity,” without offering further guidance.
Morrell said he wants to place the requirement for annual, anonymous surveys of college students about sexual assault into state law, with a requirement that the results be released publicly. He said he’ll introduce the bill for consideration in the legislative session that begins April 13.
He also wants to convene a task force to study disciplinary policy for when a sexual assault is reported, looking at what has worked and failed at universities around the country. He said when he asked higher-education leaders to submit their campus-by-campus sexual assault policies last year, it became clear that few schools had specific regulations in place.
“Right now, it’s like the wild, wild West. Every university does something different, and it’s all bad,” Morrell said.