Proposed changes to the sexual misconduct policy at Buena Vista University are a potential source of controversy, but members of a recently formed task force feel the discussion will form a better educated campus community.
A task force was assembled of faculty, administration and students to examine the proposed changes. That group will compile a report of both majority and minority views on the changes.
The task force met for the first time on Thursday. Since not all members were present at the task force's first meeting this week, task force chair Peg Chown said some of the discussion will be revisited at this week's meeting.
"Basically what we're going to do is take a look at the recommended changes that came from the Student Senate and discuss them in the context of the (current policy) and their reasoning for them," she said.
"There aren't many proposed changes, but some of them are potentially controversial and in fact have been the subject to much discussion and debate," said Chown, who is a professor of criminal justice and political science.
Concern regarding the policy began earlier this year when a BVU student was accused of assaulting a female student on the campus. Those who have been pushing for the changes say the current policy is not fair to the accused student.
"The new sexual misconduct policy at Buena Vista University states that it is the right of the accused to be presumed innocent, however this statement is clearly contradicted by the steps of prosecution outlined by the policy," reads fliers that group circulated.
"We'll look at the changes and discuss them and determine whether or not the changes are in the best interest of Buena Vista University," Chown said. "The thing I hope everyone remembers is we're not making changes to address just a certain case or personality. Changes in the policy have to be in the best interest of BVU as an educational institution.
"We're taking great care not reacting emotionally off just one situation," she said.
Perhaps the biggest proposed change is the standard of proof in the hearing before the campus sexual misconduct hearing board. Currently only a preponderance of the evidence is required, which is typical in civil matters. Chown said it is the least burdensome standard of proof.
The proposal is to change that to "clear and convincing" evidence.
Another proposed change has to do with the use of intoxication as a mitigating factor in the alleged conduct, Chown said.
There is also discussion of putting in a policy statement regarding false accusations made maliciously. If a student is found to have made a false accusation knowingly then he or she could be subject to sanctions under BVU's code of conduct policy, Chown said.
Many members of the current task force were also members of the one that put together the current policy, Chown said. That could benefit the group by having people knowledgeable behind the reasoning in the current policy.
The task force hopes to settle on any changes by the end of the semester in two weeks. "I think we need to get this settled quickly," Chown said.
She said the group will need time to debate, but she does not want the process stretched out for a long period of time.
"I think the BVU community deserves some closure on this," she said. "Plus, we need to have a policy settled to use for other potential cases."
In proposing the changes, members of the BVU Student Senate have been reviewing sexual misconduct policies at other universities, most notably one from Ohio State University.
Jessica Knutson, who sat on the group that developed the current policy, said the new task force is running smoothly.
"I think everybody's voice is being heard, which I'm excited about," she said. "This group is dedicated to making sure it creates the best policy for the students and the campus."
The members are willing to spend the time necessary to research the changes and discuss the policy.
"As far as the changes, I haven't found anything I've disagreed with," Knutson said, though she said there will be compromises made. "I really think it's going to be a solid policy," she said.
The question of evidence will be the most important, she said.
Since many of the members of the original task force sit on the new one, they are revisiting many issues they have discussed before, Knutson said.
"I think it's good to have the opportunity to educate people and see where others are coming from and have that dialogue," she said. The discussions have not be argumentative. "It's really educational and I have the feeling people are willing to work together to work through this."
The group has been working well at its first meeting, but several were absent who have been supporters of the proposed changes.
"We want to make sure they have the opportunity to be heard," Chown said.
At the end of October approximately 100 BVU students gathered in front of the BVU president's office in support of reviewing the sexual misconduct policy.
Proponents say the burden of proof is solely on the accused. More than 25 percent of the student body signed a petition supporting changes to the policy.
Opponents of the changes have said they feel the proposals would cause victims to be less willing to come forward. They feel the current policy, which was just implemented last spring after 18 months of work, provides victims the security they need.