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IOWA CITY, Iowa - The University of Iowa now feels more comfortable expelling students in egregious cases involving sexual assault after discussing with regents concerns about the appeals process.
Although the UI could have expelled students previously, administrators rarely did so due to concerns that Iowa Board of Regents rules didn't explicitly outline a role for victims in appeals – as is required under Title IX, said Tom Rocklin, UI vice president for student life.
But since the issue of sexual assault erupted on the UI campus last month, Rocklin said, UI administrators have had "productive talks" with regent staff regarding expulsion hearings.
"And we feel comfortable now that if we expel a student, the board will be able to hear the appeal in a way that is consistent with Title IX," Rocklin said.
Some UI students – through protests, online petitions, social media, and written letters – have asked administrators to take a "zero tolerance" stance on sexual violence and start expelling violators. The students also asked the UI to change the language in its "timely warning" emails about sexual violence on campus and to put more resources toward prevention and education.
The demands followed a string of warning emails about sexual assaults involving UI students this academic year and controversial comments from UI President Sally Mason on the topic. Mason told the student newspaper in February that ending sexual assault on campus was "probably not a realistic goal, just given human nature."
Students demanded Mason apologize, and she did repeatedly, holding a "listening post" on student concerns and presenting a six-point plan on ways the UI will step up its fight against sexual violence.
Mason first debuted that plan during a special meeting with the Board of Regents, at which regents expressed concern over Mason's communication with them on the topic.
Emails released through public records requests showed that Mason's office communicated with the regents office shortly after the protests made news Feb. 24 and throughout the week. But much of the correspondence occurred after an email from the regents' office, and one newly released email indicates Mason's office had "sketchy and third-hand" information that there might be a protest on Feb. 23 -- before the first one occurred.
Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said Wednesday that the board expects to be made aware of news-worthy happenings on the university campuses "as quickly as the presidents are."
Mason on Wednesday provided the regents with an update on her six-point plan to combat sexual violence. She said, for example, that she's approved funding for a second Nite Ride van, which offers safe late-night transportation for women, and she's forming a student advisory group on the topic.
The UI also has revamped aspects of its sexual misconduct website to make it easier to use. And staff have revised the UI's timely warning emails – in fact, one sent to the campus community on Tuesday included new language emphasizing penalties facing perpetrators.
"The only person responsible for sexual misconduct is the perpetrator," according to Tuesday's revised warning. "It is a violation of university policy to engage in sexual activities without affirmative consent from your partner. Someone incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs cannot consent."
Mason told regents Wednesday that her staff Tuesday morning already had received emails from students thanking them for the revisions to the warnings.
"So we are making good progress on the six-point plan, and we will keep you informed on this important work," Mason told regents.
The timely warnings – including Tuesday's report that a female student was sexually assaulted on Sunday by an acquaintance in a residence hall room – now are explicit in saying that violators can be expelled or terminated.
Even though the UI hasn't expelled many students in the past, UI Vice President Rocklin said, the UI did issue indefinite and five-year suspensions, which were "equal to an expulsion."
"I haven't had a student come back from a long suspension," Rocklin said.
In the last three calendar years – 2011, 2012, and 2013 – 21 students were suspended from the university. Of that total, 11 were suspended for sexual misconduct or domestic violence, according to UI Dean of Students David Grady.
Four of the sexual misconduct cases were indefinite suspensions, four were five-year suspensions, and three were one- to three-year suspensions.
"None of those 11 students have returned to the University of Iowa," Grady said. "During the suspensions, the students are banned from campus and a notation is placed on their transcript that reads, 'not permitted to register, dean of students.'"
Re-admission to the UI is not automatic, according to Grady. Suspended students have to meet readmission conditions that could include counseling, good citizenship and adherence to the no-contact order.
Regents President Rastetter said the board at its April meeting expects to hear more from all three regent universities regarding prevention of and response to sexual assault on campus. Rastetter said he expects to hear more at that time about Mason's six-point plan, along with any recommendations related to expulsions and policies around punitive action.