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Princeton may change handling of sex assault investigations

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) — Princeton University announced Thursday it’s considering creating a team of trained investigators to look into campus sexual misconduct accusations, among several proposed changes to how the school handles sexual assault cases.

The recommendations, developed over the summer by a faculty advisory committee, come four months after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said it was looking into the handling of sexual assault cases at Princeton and 54 other colleges across the country. Since then, the number of colleges under investigation has grown to 76 as of Thursday.

The Ivy League university has been under investigation for its handling of student sexual misconduct since 2010.

Campus of Princeton University
Campus of Princeton University (Courtesy of Princeton Univeristy)

University officials said the changes would bring Princeton into compliance with Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits gender discrimination in education programs, and the Violence Against Women Act.

“In conversations over the summer with OCR about its pending review of Princeton’s practices in these areas, it became clear that we needed to modify our sexual misconduct policies and procedures to become fully compliant with current Title IX requirements, and that in the interest of fairness to all members of our community we should make these changes as promptly as possible,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber said in a statement.

The Princeton plan is scheduled to be presented to the faculty Sept. 15 and the Council of the Princeton University Community on Sept. 29.

A Department of Education spokesman declined comment, citing the pending investigation.

One of the key recommendations issued by the committee calls for the creation of a team of three investigators who would look into allegations of sexual assault. The university said the change would ensure proper training for those investigating cases of sexual misconduct.

Under the recommendations, Princeton also would change the standard of evidence for sexual disciplinary matters to a preponderance of evidence rather than “clear and persuasive.”

The committee also recommended allowing accusers and the accused to be accompanied by lawyers at disciplinary hearings, but a lawyer would not be allowed to speak for either side during interviews and meetings. Current procedures allow for an adviser, but that person is limited to a member of the university.

Eisgruber also announced he’s forming a faculty and student committee on sexual misconduct, tasked with recommending ways to improve Princeton’s resources and to make sure students understand their Title IX rights and the university’s policies.

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