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Safety on campuses throughout the UNC system has long been a top priority for General Administration as well as leaders at the 17 constituent institutions.

Following a yearlong review of current safety practices at system campuses, the UNC Board of Governors on July 31, 2014, received the 2014 UNC Campus Security Initiative report, outlining 36 steps intended to enhance safety and well-being.

The initiative, launched last August by UNC President Tom Ross, was described as a big-picture review of what the UNC campuses already were doing and how to build on those efforts collaboratively in the context of what the law requires and in the face of constrained budgets.

Ross described the initiative as a proactive approach.

“Our campuses are already very safe,” he said. In fact, the crime rate on every UNC campus is well below the statewide average, he told the BOG, but it is important to continue finding ways to make the university campuses even safer.

The initiative brought together many people from across the system, including vice chancellors, law enforcement personnel, counselors, faculty and students, to explore the complex issues surrounding sexual assault and other violent crimes, campus security and crime reporting. The task force, which included Carolina officials spanning legal, Title IX and student affairs offices, was co-chaired by Chancellors Randy Woodson from N.C. State and Harold Martin from N.C. A&T. The group also coordinated with staff from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office on the shared goal of addressing alcohol and substance abuse.

The UNC system is the first in the country to comprehensively address safety on its college campuses, which are like small cities over which the university leaders have oversight, Woodson said. “We are way ahead of the curve because of this work we have done,” he said.

Key recommendations in the report address:
• Adopting a system-wide policy and informed practices to help prevent sexual violence and guarantee professional, compassionate responses when incidents of sexual assault occur;
• Offering system-level guidance on legal compliance and training;
• Setting standards for disciplinary proceedings that are clear, prompt and fair;
• In cases involving violent offenses, including sexual assault, ensuring student well being by staffing disciplinary panels with trained and experienced personnel rather than students;
• Combatting a culture of alcohol abuse that inflicts lasting harm on students, undermines the educational mission and threatens safety; and
• Acknowledging the increased expectations — and legal mandates — that campuses face with respect to student safety, and identifying the considerable resources needed to meet them.

Gina Maisto Smith, a former prosecutor, nationally recognized expert on campus safety regulation (particularly regarding issues of sexual violence) and a partner with Pepper Hamilton, LLP, praised the collaborative nature and holistic approach of the Campus Safety Initiative.

Since 2006, Smith has worked with 300 colleges, including Carolina, on these issues.

At Carolina, she was instrumental in leading the conversation to engage and educate the campus community about sexual assault. That conversation led to the formation of a 22-member task force to review and enhance policies and procedures for handling student-on-student complaints of harassment, sexual misconduct or discrimination.

“I have had the privilege of working under the leadership of Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp for the past year-and-a-half,” Smith said, “and I saw a shining example of what collaboration and listening with earnest intent can bring to a campus.”

Smith told the BOG she would serve as its “Rosetta Stone” in answering two fundamental questions surrounding the regulatory framework under Title IX to respond fairly to all sides in a sexual assault complaint: Why now? Why don’t these cases go to the police?

Title IX dates back to 1972, but with increased regulatory action and recent White House involvement in sexual assault issues, Smith said, “it is about time to enforce and put teeth into seeds planted under Title IX over several decades – but not without balance, fairness, respect for all parties and due process considerations.”

As to why all cases do not go to the police, she said that the standards for criminal investigations are different from the Title IX standards of proof. What makes up sexual harassment does not always make up a crime, she explained. And while prosecutors can choose whether to press charges, every known case in the college or university context has to have a response, Smith said.

In addition, the person bringing forward the complaint can decline to involve law enforcement, but universities are required to respond and to provide an avenue for pursuing sexual assault claims separate from the criminal justice system. (Read more about Smith’s report to Carolina’s Board of Trustees on this issue.)

Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, talked about the growing problem of alcohol and substance abuse among college students nationwide.

“It is no longer just a complementary part of the social compact or social action,” he said. “It is now the point in and of itself.”

He advocated moving to a public health model for dealing comprehensively with the issue, similar to the successful anti-smoking campaigns, instead of treating alcohol and substance abuse strictly as a disciplinary or criminal matter.

Seeing a culture change on the long-standing problem of alcohol abuse is a challenge, BOG members agreed, but they said universities had to continue working toward that goal.

The full report is posted on the Alert Carolina website.

Implementing all the recommendations in the report carries a $12.8 million price tag. The BOG voted to continue the discussion and support the initiative to the extent possible.

Ross said the report provided a clear understanding of what is required for the UNC universities to meet their responsibilities in protecting the people on their campuses. “It is important for us to figure out how we can support this initiative,” he said.

By Patty Courtright, Gazette.

August 4, 2014.