New Rutgers policy: No sex harassment accusation too old to investigate
NEW BRUNSWICK — Time's up on a Rutgers University policy that limited investigations of sexual harassment or abuse to accusations that were less than two years old.
A report by NJ.com on Wednesday highlighted the policy, which applied even if the professor involved in the accusations is still on campus.
The school on Thursday said that will no longer be the case.
In a letter to the school community, Rutgers President Robert Barchi said it has "never been more important for universities to be proactive in addressing sexual assault and harassment."
Barchi's letter said it was also important "to provide support and closure for victims whenever possible."
"The #metoo movement has brought fresh light to these issues, and to the lasting scars sexual misconduct leaves on its victims," Barchi's letter said. "As a University, we must constantly reassess our policies and procedures to make sure we are providing the best support and resources we can."
The change comes as the U.S. Senate and FBI probes decades-old misconduct allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The NJ.com article focused on graduate student Kristy King who said a professor made inappropriate contact with her in his office 20 years ago. King later learned that other female students reported having similar experiences. King did not file a complaint with the school at the time but told a reporter that she was encouraged by the #MeToo movement to file a complaint in February.
NJ.com said she received a letter from the school's Office of Employment Equality that told her they don't investigate complaints more than two years old.
Professor Eric Bonner told NJ.com that he was never told of the complaint and had no memory of the incident in question. He did say he understands some of his comments made to women could be considered offensive.
"I admit I am not always super tactful," he said. "Some of my jokes miss the mark. But there was never any harm."
Barchi's letter said he directed a review of the school's Office of Employment Equality, which investigates complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct. The review was requested in September. The review is expected to be completed by the end of the month
Barchi said the office's policies have been revised to remove "the reference to a two-year period for pursuing investigations."
"Although the current practice has been to investigate claims that are more than two years old whenever possible, the policy still cites a two-year limit, consistent with state law," Barchi's letter said. "This language is inconsistent with both our practices and our values, and we must send a clear message of commitment to pursue any sexual harassment or misconduct for which evidence and witnesses remain."
The school is also forming a University Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Rutgers. The committee will include students, faculty and staff, and will look at ways to go "beyond legal compliance to emphasize culture, climate and prevention" in order to reduce incidents of sexual harassment.
Barchi's letter also lauded the university's work in the area of addressing sexual harassment and other related issues. He said thanks to a $2 million federal Victims of Crime Act grant, Rutgers has been "leaders in providing support services for victims of sexual violence and in working to end sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, and stalking on campus."
"For the sake of justice, we must continue making progress in sexual misconduct and supporting victims, and I assure you that our commitment is unwavering," Barchi said.