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The University of California
It Must Take Additional Steps to Address Long‑Standing Issues With Its Response to Sexual Harassment Complaints

Report Number: 2017-125



University students who experience sexual harassment or sexual violence generally suffer harm to their emotional and physical well‑being, regardless of who perpetrates the harassment. This harm often impacts their academic performance. A 2015 campus climate report prepared for the Association of American Universities surveyed 27 universities and found that 21 percent of senior undergraduates had been the victims of nonconsensual sexual contact while attending college. The psychological and physical effects of sexual harassment and sexual violence cannot be separated from students’ educational experiences. A 2006 study conducted by researchers at the universities of Michigan and Connecticut showed that female university students who were sexually harassed experienced psychological distress that often resulted in a decline in their grades. Sexual violence has the same effect—a 2016 survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at nine universities reported that in cases of rape, 31 percent of victims suffered an impact on their grades.

Congress enacted Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) to ensure that discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment, does not deprive any students of their educational opportunities. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires universities to comply with Title IX by establishing procedures to promptly and equitably resolve complaints of sexual misconduct on their campuses. State law also requires universities to undertake specific actions to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Ensuring that the Title IX process is fair and equitable to all parties grants legitimacy to the process and encourages the reporting of sexual misconduct. The media published accounts of cases involving University of California (university) faculty and staff accused of sexual harassment. In some of these cases, the harassment targeted students. For example, in 2016 students, faculty, and alumni protested the Los Angeles campus’s handling of a sexual harassment case involving a faculty member and student victims, alleging that the campus responded too leniently. Such cases raise concerns about the appropriateness and consistency of the discipline the university applies, as well as the university’s investigations of and responses to complaints involving faculty and staff.

The University’s Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Policy and Discipline

The university has a policy in place that includes procedures for preventing and addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence (university policy).2 The university’s procedures begin when a campus Title IX office (campus office) receives a report of an incident of sexual harassment. The university refers to a victim of alleged sexual harassment as a complainant and to the perpetrator as a respondent. In most cases, the campus office resolves the incident through an informal process. Although there may be some informal inquiry, because there is no formal investigation as part of this process to determine whether a policy violation occurred, it typically does not lead the campus to discipline the respondent. Rather, as Figure 1 shows, the informal process is more likely to include measures such as counseling or preventive education. As Figure 1 also shows, a campus office may administratively close a complaint or refer it to another office if the complaint does not involve prohibited conduct under university policy. Further, the campus office closes a complaint when it has insufficient information to proceed or when the complainant does not respond to communications.

Figure 1
The University’s Informal Process for Sexual Harassment Complaints From Receipt Through Resolution

A flowchart showing the informal process for addressing sexual harassment complaints, from receiving a complaint through case closure.

Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of university policy in 2006, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The university made no substantive changes to the process during this time.

* University policy defines sexual harassment as prohibited conduct.

A campus office can administratively close a complaint when it has insufficient information to proceed or when the complainant does not respond to communications.

Examples of Titles in the Four Classification Groups in the University’s Disciplinary Procedures for Staff and Faculty

Non-Academic Personnel Financial Aid Officer
Athletic Coach
Residential Assistant
Non-Faculty Academic Personnel  Teaching Assistant
Graduate Student Instructor
Assistant Researcher
Senate Faculty Professor
Associate Professor
Assistant Professor
Non-Senate Faculty Lecturer
Adjunct Professor
Clinical Professor

Sources: University of California Academic Personnel Manual APM‑110 and the University of California Title Code System.

In other cases, the campus office completes a formal process with an investigation to determine whether the respondent violated university policy. Figure 2 depicts the formal process. If the campus office determines that a faculty or staff respondent engaged in prohibited conduct and thus violated university policy, it submits the investigation report to the appropriate academic or human resources department to determine discipline. If the campus office determines that a student who is also a university employee engaged in misconduct in the university workplace, the campus can discipline that individual as a staff member and as a student. The procedures governing staff and faculty discipline depend on a respondent’s specific classification. The text box lists common positions within staff and faculty personnel classifications.

The university has two procedural frameworks in place for adjudicating cases involving faculty and staff. Figure 2 depicts these processes and identifies the steps the university added in 2017. One procedure governs staff and non‑faculty academic personnel. In this report, we use the term staff to refer to employees in both the non-academic personnel and non‑faculty academic personnel classifications (see the text box). For these employees, the disciplinary decision rests with an individual’s supervisor, subject to approval by the campus chancellor’s designee; the chancellor does not get involved in these discipline matters. A second procedure governs faculty. The university refers to those faculty who belong to the Academic Senate, including all tenured faculty, as Senate faculty, and it classifies other faculty titles, such as adjunct professors, as non‑Senate faculty. For non‑Senate faculty, as of a July 2017 change in policy, the chancellor or designee consults with a peer review committee or the academic personnel office and then decides on discipline. For Senate faculty, as of July 2017, the chancellor or designee consults with a peer review committee before making an initial disciplinary recommendation.

Figure 2
The University’s Formal Process for Sexual Harassment Complaints From Receipt Through Discipline

A flowchart showing the formal process for addressing Title IX complaints, from the receipt of a complaint through case closure.

Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of university policy in 2006, 2014, 2015, and 2016; University of California Staff and Non‑Faculty Academic Personnel Investigation and Adjudication Framework, 2017; University of California Senate and Non‑Senate Faculty Investigation and Adjudication Framework, 2017.

* Staff includes non‑faculty academic personnel for purposes of this report. A respondent who is both a student and a staff member may be subject to procedures applicable to both staff and students.

Staff represented by a union can file a grievance.

In cases of dismissal, the non‑Senate faculty member is entitled to a hearing before an Academic Senate advisory committee.

§ Authority to dismiss a tenured faculty member rests with the Regents.

The Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints From Students Against Faculty and Staff Has Increased Over the Last 10 Years

Over the past 10 years, and in 2015 and 2016 in particular, the number of recorded complaints from students claiming sexual harassment by faculty and staff has increased. As Figure 3 shows, campus data indicate that from 2014 through 2016, the number of these complaints increased from 100 to 205.3 We interviewed several campus Title IX professionals, and they attributed this increase in complaints to three key reasons:

In particular, this increase appears to be linked to university efforts to raise students’ and employees’ awareness of sexual harassment and train them in how to report it. In January 2014, a United States presidential memorandum established a White House Task Force responsible for making recommendations to better prevent and respond to sexual assault on college campuses. Referencing this national effort, the university Office of the President formed its own task force in July 2014 to improve the university’s processes to prevent, respond to, and report incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Over that same time period, the university also worked to implement recommendations from our June 2014 audit report, including conducting reviews to ensure that its campuses were complying with Title IX requirements.4 These efforts resulted in systemwide policy changes, including mandatory student and employee sexual harassment training implemented in 2015 and 2016.

Figure 3
Sexual Harassment Complaints by University Students Against Faculty and Staff
January 2007 Through December 2016

A line graph showing the annual number of Sexual Harassment complaints by students against faculty and staff from 2007 through 2016.

Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of data obtained from the 10 campuses for substantiated and unsubstantiated complaints made from January 2007 through December 2016.

* The increase in recorded complaints appears to be linked to a January 2014 White House Task Force and a July 2014 university task force, both focused on improving responses to sexual harassment.

Reviews of the University’s Sexual Harassment Responses and Resulting Changes

Since 2014 the Office of the President has received feedback from numerous internal and external reviews that all pointed to improvements the university must make to its responses to allegations of sexual harassment. The first report dates to 2014, which we released; most recently, OCR published a report in early 2018. Figure 4 lists each group that performed a study and the study the group produced.

Figure 4
Reviews of the University’s Responses to Sexual Harassment Complaints

A graphical depiction of reviews of the university’s responses to sexual harassment complaints. It includes six reviews, their titles, and the dates they were issued.

Source: California State Auditor's review of internal and external reviews of the university's response to sexual harassment complaints.

What is noteworthy about these reviews is that the results are consistent. They have identified the need for the university to address the length of investigations, to improve documentation for the informal process, to use data to monitor trends in sexual harassment, and to improve training in identifying and responding to sexual harassment, among other needed improvements. We raise these issues again, along with others, in this report. Thus, for several years, the Office of the President has been aware of weaknesses in the university’s response to sexual harassment allegations. Although the Office of the President has taken actions in response to these reviews, it needs to do further work, as this report details.

The Office of the President has taken steps to improve its response to sexual harassment. The university modified its policy, which took effect in 2016, to better comply with federal and state requirements. In 2017 the university implemented faculty and staff investigation and adjudication procedures to strengthen the university’s response to sexual harassment and ensure that the university treats faculty and staff involved in substantiated cases firmly and fairly. In addition, the Office of the President has taken action to address the recommendations we made in our 2014 report, which focused, in part, on the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses and included four recommendations for the Office of the President. The university has fully implemented our recommendation to perform routine Title IX reviews of campuses and partially implemented our recommendation to clarify the right of complainants to request formal investigations. In its interim 2015 sexual harassment policy, the university implemented our recommendation to document ongoing communication with complainants during the informal process; however, in the policy effective January 2016, the university no longer included this very specific language; rather, the university policy contains a general provision to maintain records of reports of prohibited conduct and actions taken in response. In addition, it has not implemented our recommendation regarding restricting extensions of investigations; therefore, we address this issue again in this report.


2 University policy defines both sexual harassment and sexual violence as prohibited conduct. Because the majority of the cases we reviewed involved sexual harassment, we use the term sexual harassment when referring to prohibited conduct throughout the report. Go back to text

3 As we discuss in the Other Areas We Reviewed section, we found errors in the campuses’ sexual harassment complaint data, and we concluded that the data were not sufficiently reliable for our purposes. Although this condition lessens assurance in the precision of complaint totals, we believe the upward trend in the number of complaints is valid. Go back to text

4 In June 2014, we issued a report titled Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence: California Universities Must Better Protect Students by Doing More to Prevent, Respond to, and Resolve Incidents, Report 2013‑124. Go back to text

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