By Jane Stancill
August 1, 2014
CHAPEL HILL — A UNC system report on Thursday recommended 36 steps to respond to sexual violence, beef up law enforcement preparedness, and combat alcohol and drug abuse on the state’s public campuses.
The report was compiled after a year of study and discussion by a large task force of university police chiefs, lawyers, student counselors, medical professionals and others who routinely deal with crime, sexual assault and substance abuse.
Implementing all of the recommendations would cost $12.8 million, and it’s unclear whether the ideas will be funded or what they will ultimately accomplish. But there is little doubt that student safety is taking center stage nationally as Congress, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education seek new accountability from colleges and universities on the issue of sexual misconduct.
About 70 campuses are under investigation by the federal government for their handling of sexual misconduct or reporting of crime statistics, including UNC-Chapel Hill, which has had its own task force at work on a rewrite of the university’s policies.
This week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would require universities to publish the results of surveys about sexual assault online. Colleges that fail to comply with the bill’s mandates could face penalties up to 1 percent of their operating budgets.
The UNC Board of Governors vowed to continue the discussion and adopt recommendations that make sense.
“We will give this project all the support we can,” said John Fennebresque, chairman of the UNC board. “We’ll take it real seriously.”
Among the report’s recommendations are:
• A system policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence.
• Trained investigators and panelists, who are not students, to hear sexual assault cases.
• Better standards and competitive pay for campus police officers.
• Adequate staffing to comply with regulations, assess threats and implement safety plans.
• A crime records specialist for each campus.
• System-led training and coordination for campus personnel.
• More capacity to treat students’ mental health issues.
• Comprehensive, evidence-based programs to reduce alcohol and substance abuse.
The report will be reviewed in the coming months, with more specific implementation plans.
“We are out in front of this issue,” said UNC President Tom Ross, who ordered the security review last year. “We have a number of very significant recommendations that are going to enhance the safety of our campuses, which by the way, if you look at the data, are already very safe. But we learned tragically this week that there is still violence that can occur and can occur near campuses.”
Ross referred to the killing of Feng Liu, a research professor of pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill, who died July 24, one day after a daylight attack near campus where he was robbed and hit in the head.
On Thursday, the UNC board heard from Gina Smith, a national expert who advises campuses on sexual misconduct issues, and Mike Clumpner, a public safety consultant.
Both gave startling reviews of the difficulty of keeping students safe while operating open campuses that are increasingly under the watch of parents, the media and federal regulators.
Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs at UNC-CH, painted a picture of college students in the United States who increasingly abuse alcohol and prescription opioids and stimulant drugs. A pervasive culture of substance abuse challenges law enforcement and puts students at risk for academic failure, injury and even death, Crisp said.
The whole nature of campus drinking has changed, he added. It has become more dangerous, he said, with many students “pre-gaming,” a practice of drinking heavily early in the evening before going out to parties or bars.
“It is no longer just a complementary part of the social compact or the social action, it is the point in and of itself,” Crisp said of the drinking ritual. “And that is vastly different than what many of us may remember.”
Crisp said it makes no sense for universities to focus only on disciplining those caught for underage drinking. “We need to move to a public health model,” he said, similar to the anti-smoking campaigns that have been so successful.
Achieving culture change on the long-standing problem of alcohol abuse may be impossible, UNC administrators said, but universities have to try.
“We are long past the point where what we are seeing could ever be called a rite of passage,” said Tom Shanahan, vice president and general counsel for the UNC system.