Past year brings BYU sexual assault challenges, accreditation complaints

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BYU has faced challenges within the past year due to complaints of violating Title IX and discrimination complaints to BYU affiliated accreditation bodies. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
BYU has faced Title IX and religious discrimination complaints during the past year. The American Bar Association recently rejected a discrimination complaint against the BYU Law School. (AP Photo)

 

BYU President Kevin J. Worthen said a report is due soon related to the way the university deals with sexual assault.

Speaking to the collective faculty at the beginning of a new school year, President Worthen said BYU’s advisory council has “worked tirelessly” over the summer to identify better ways to aid sexual assault victims.

“It causes us deep sorrow to know that members of our community would be victimized in such a devastating way,” President Worthen said. “We are anxious to help them.”

The advisory council, created in May, is expected to present its recommendations to the President’s Council this fall. BYU will then address the topic more fully with the campus community, according to President Worthen.

A core issue is how, and whether, the university’s Honor Code office can exchange information with the campus’ Title IX office.

BYU administrators have also faced the challenge of discrimination complaints against its accreditation bodies this year.

FreeBYU, a group seeking Honor Code reform, has filed two complaints against BYU-affiliated accreditation organizations in the past year. The group has plans to file similar complaints in the future, according to Brad Levin, one of FreeBYU’s directors.

BYU recently learned the complaint FreeBYU filed against the BYU Law School has been closed by the American Bar Association.

The objective of the complaint was “to have the Honor Code reformed such that students who change their religion aren’t at risk of expulsion, termination and eviction,” according to Levin.

Barry Currier, the American Bar Association’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, sent a letter to BYU Law School Dean Gordon Smith declaring the matter closed on July 14, 2016.

“After discussion, the Accreditation Committee concluded that no further action on the complaint was merited,” Currier stated in the letter.

The Accreditation Committee is a committee of the bar association’s Council on the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which has declined commenting on the FreeBYU complaint as its procedures are treated confidentially.

The bar association did not explain why it rejected the complaint, according to BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.

Levin said FreeBYU was disappointed with the results of the complaint and the ABA’s “lack of transparency.”

“We feel that the ABA should have been transparent enough that we would have the reason why the Accreditation Committee came to the conclusion they did,” Levin said. “We also were interested in hoping that they would take more action, specifically that they would ask BYU Law to ensure that the honor code had protections in compliance with the standards that protect sexual and religious minorities at BYU.”

BYU made changes to its Honor Code policy about three weeks after FreeBYU filed its complaint with the ABA. These changes made “minor adjustments” to BYU’s existing process for students petitioning an exception to the school’s ecclesiastical endorsement requirement, Jenkins said.

One change gives students the option to choose whether to sign a release allowing university officials to communicate with students’ ecclesiastical leaders. Prior to this adjustment, students were required to sign this release. However, Jenkins said these changes were not a result of the ABA’s inquiry into FreeBYU’s complaint.

“The adjustments were approved and finalized before we received the ABA’s letter asking for a response to the complaint,” Jenkins said. “The university is constantly thinking through questions and making adjustments when warranted.”

FreeBYU filed a similar complaint earlier this year with BYU’s general accrediting body, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, on similar charges of religious discrimination against BYU students, which was also denied.

Levin said FreeBYU plans to continue furthering its cause by filing a similar complaint against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and a second grievance with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities to “document failings” of the appeals process.

“We know what the finish line is for us and that’s that students can openly declare their religious beliefs and religious affiliation without experiencing expulsion, termination and eviction. Right now, that’s not the case,” Levin said. “There’s still a cloud of uncertainty, so we’re not done.”

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