President Eric Kaler has agreed to postpone a new sexual-assault prevention policy at the University of Minnesota to give members of the Board of Regents time to debate it.
The policy would subject students to disciplinary action for having sex unless both parties give what’s known as “affirmative consent.”
On Wednesday, Regent Michael Hsu raised concerns about the legal implications of the proposal, which was poised to take effect at the end of a 30-day comment period next week. Hsu said he’d received numerous e-mails and phone calls in the wake of recent news stories about the policy, which critics say would stack the deck against the accused in any disciplinary proceeding.
“I think we need to make sure everyone knows what we’re doing,” Hsu said.
Kaler defended the affirmative consent rule, calling it an excellent policy. “I think there’s a crisis on college campuses around sexual assault,” Kaler said, adding that the U has been a leader in trying to address the problem. “This new policy was really brought forward by students. I think it’s well thought through.”
But Kaler agreed to delay implementation until September at the request of Board Chairman Dean Johnson, after a last-minute debate at Wednesday’s regents meeting.
Last month, Kaler’s administration formally proposed adopting an “affirmative consent” policy of the kind that has been spreading across college campuses nationally. It would, among other things, require students to express consent through “clear and unambiguous” words or actions before engaging in any sexual activity. Otherwise, they could face disciplinary action, including expulsion, for sexual assault.
Hsu said he wants to hear from the U’s legal counsel about the implications of the policy. Nationally, civil-liberties groups have argued that such rules are unfair in campus disciplinary cases, because they put the burden of proof on the accused.
Hsu proposed that the regents delay the implementation, sparking a heated discussion about whether the board should interfere with such an administrative decision. “This is a bad approach,” said Richard Beeson, the former chair.
Several regents, however, said they thought the concerns were worth discussing. “I think a couple of months [delay] won’t really make much difference,” said Regent Thomas Devine.
Johnson, in his debut as board chair, offered a compromise, asking Kaler if he would voluntarily postpone the rule until the board’s next meeting in September. Kaler agreed.
“I’d argue that this is a little bit of an overreach,” Kaler said later. “But the regents do have every authority to talk about things that affect the reputation … of the university.”