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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



Our audit concerning the university and its responses to sexual harassment complaints involving faculty and staff harassers and student victims revealed the following:

University students who experience sexual harassment or sexual violence suffer harm to their emotional and physical well‑being, which can also impact their academic performance. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) requires the University of California (university) to address these problems by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment. The university has established a sexual harassment and sexual violence policy (university policy) that specifies that it will take appropriate action to stop, prevent, and remedy instances of sexual harassment.1 However, the media has recently questioned the leniency with which certain university campuses disciplined faculty members for sexual harassment. Such cases raise concerns about the appropriateness and consistency of discipline campuses have applied, as well as about the university’s investigations of and responses to student complaints involving faculty and staff.

Over the course of the past four years—2014 into 2018—federal and state oversight entities and internal groups have reviewed and made recommendations to the university for improving its practices and responses to sexual harassment. As Table 1 shows, the messages from these reviews, which includes this audit, have been consistent. The university is generally aware of the problems with its response to sexual harassment complaints and has taken steps to address them; however, it must take additional steps to fully resolve the concerns that reviewers have raised.

Table 1
The University Has Received Similar Feedback From Different Entities’ Reviews of Its Response to Sexual Harassment Complaints
Review Date and Entity Issue Identified
Discipline process:
lengthy or needs clarification
Complaint process:
does not meet requirements
underutilized or inconsistent
inadequate requirements
2014: California State Auditor
2014: University internal task force
2016: University internal committees
2016 and 2017: University campus reviews
2018: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights
2018: California State Auditor

Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of internal and external reviews of the university’s response to sexual harassment complaints.

= Issue identified.

The three campuses we reviewed—Berkeley, Davis, and Los Angeles—often imposed inconsistent discipline on faculty who were the subject of multiple sexual harassment complaints. Comparable cases within a campus and among the campuses sometimes resulted in stricter or more lenient discipline, leaving the university community uncertain of the response to repeated faculty misconduct. The three campuses also took much longer to discipline faculty in the Academic Senate—which includes all tenured faculty—than they did staff. On average, staff received discipline in 43 days compared to 220 days for faculty in the Academic Senate. Because those faculty play a role in governing the university, they have a right to a hearing process that can prove lengthy. In addition, although campus Title IX coordinators (campus coordinators) are responsible for the university’s overall effort to address sexual harassment, they did not have sufficient involvement in determining discipline in substantiated cases. We observed cases in which campuses imposed discipline that was neither appropriate nor effective, and the respondents—the term the campuses use for the people accused of sexual harassment—went on to repeat sexual harassment behavior. The campus coordinators’ expertise and knowledge of all sexual harassment complaints on the campuses make them uniquely qualified to consult on whether imposed discipline is appropriate, particularly in cases involving faculty and staff who are the subjects of repeated complaints. However, they do not have sufficient involvement in determining discipline in substantiated cases.

The campus Title IX offices can improve their adherence to university policy. Most often, the campus Title IX offices use an informal process to address sexual harassment complaints. This process typically does not result in discipline; instead, the faculty or staff member’s behavior is addressed through counseling or training, among other options. However, the campuses have not consistently ensured that individuals who file complaints involving sexual harassment—whom the university refers to as complainants—and respondents have agreed to follow the informal process as Title IX guidance requires. They also have not informed complainants of their right to end the informal process and request the formal process, which involves an investigation and may lead to discipline. Conversely, when the three campuses identified that preventive actions were necessary, they generally ensured that the counseling, training, or other action occurred. We also found that two of the three campuses did not consistently follow university policy or Title IX requirements when using the formal process. Although Davis generally met the requirements, Berkeley and Los Angeles did not, most notably with regard to the duration of the formal process. These two campuses must ensure that they either complete investigations within the university’s time frame of 60 business days or obtain extensions.

When establishing a systemwide Title IX office (systemwide office) in February 2017, the Office of the President’s stated goal was to implement a consistent and coordinated response systemwide. However, to make the systemwide office more effective, the Office of the President needs to define how much consistency it desires and provide the systemwide Title IX coordinator the necessary authority. Based on the university’s stated goal for the systemwide office, we identified three areas in which the systemwide office should play a central role in the university’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment: setting policy, analyzing applicable data, and overseeing the campuses. Currently, the systemwide office has responsibility for establishing the university’s policy; however, it must ensure that the campuses have all necessary guidance for consistently implementing that policy and address weaknesses in certain aspects of university policy. It must also build on its current data collection efforts by analyzing data for complaint patterns and targeting those patterns for further review. Finally, to achieve consistent campus responses to sexual harassment, the systemwide office must have the authority to hold the campuses accountable for operating in accordance with university policy.

Summary of Recommendations

To ensure prompt resolution of sexual harassment complaints against faculty, the Board of Regents of the University of California (Regents) should ensure the Academic Senate further defines its bylaws with written requirements to take effect June 2019 to establish time frames for faculty disciplinary decisions.

To make discipline more appropriate and effective, the Office of the President should modify university policy to take effect July 2019 to require that campus coordinators will consult with campus officials on the appropriateness of the discipline for respondents found to have violated the university’s policy by perpetrating sexual harassment.

To ensure that campuses administer the informal process correctly, the Office of the President should identify the required elements for capturing agreement to use the informal process from both complainants and respondents and for notifying complainants of their right to request the formal process to resolve their complaints. The Office of the President should share these elements with the campuses to use effective July 2019.

To ensure timely completion of investigations, the Office of the President should modify university policy to take effect July 2019 to make clear what good cause for a time extension would be, set a standard extension period, and require that a campus request and receive a time extension before the initial 60 business‑day period expires.

The Office of the Presideint should ensure that the systemwide office develops a strategic plan by December 31, 2018, that delineates how the systemwide office will approach achieving consistency systemwide. This plan should ensure that the systemwide office addresses policy weaknesses, explain how it will oversee campus Title IX activities, and include steps to improve its use of campus data on sexual harassment complaints. The Office of the President should grant the systemwide office the additional authority needed to enforce this plan.

Agency Comments

In its response to our audit, the Regents expressed agreement with our recommendation to ensuring the Academic Senate further defines its bylaws with written requirements for promptly completing the Senate faculty disciplinary process. The Office of the President stated that it shares our commitment to combatting and preventing sexual violence and sexual harassment and that it accepts all of our recommendations and intends to implement them. The Office of the President believes that our recommendations will further reinforce and improve its Title IX policies and procedures.


1 The university’s 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

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