Sexual Violence Legislation Proposed for Colleges and Universities in New York

February 28, 2015

By: John Gaal

As many of you know, on Wednesday, February 25, New York’s Governor Cuomo announced his support for new legislation in New York related to sexual misconduct on college campuses. There are a number of aspects of this proposed legislation which raise interesting questions, both about how it would work generally and its compatibility with Title IX and OCR’s enforcement of that federal mandate.  Over the course of the next week, we will be posting on specific provisions of this proposed legislation and what it may mean. Of some note, in explaining his belief that this legislation is needed, the Governor suggested that colleges and universities are currently incentivized to keep claims of sexual assault as “internal” matters and avoid their reporting to law enforcement authorities.  The Governor has been quoted as saying:

“The incentive, especially for private schools, is to handle the matter internally,” he said. “Why? Because the university doesn’t want the publicity in the newspaper of a rape. It’s not positive for the reputation of the school. So all the incentives are to handle it internally as an academic matter, as a campus matter, and the campus security will investigate, the school will convene a panel of professors.”

Frankly, this assertion is contrary to our extensive experiences with many private colleges and universities – who are quite genuinely concerned not with public relations impacts but with trying to handle matters for which they are not particularly well suited in a way that is fair to all involved.  It also seems to ignore OCR’s view, and the terms of legislation recently signed by Governor Cuomo himself, that the victim, not the institution, should determine whether incidents are reported to law enforcement officials. In any event, stay tuned next week as we go through the specific provisions of this proposed legislation and offer our thoughts.