After displaying outdated information for months, the University of Oregon’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity has finally addressed problems with the accuracy of its website.
For the students and faculty at the University of Oregon, answering questions about sensitive topics such as reporting sexual assault and harassment had been made difficult by misleading information from the AAEO.
In May, current Senate President and outspoken blogger Bill Harbaugh began drawing attention to some of the holes on the AAEO website, namely links that led to PDFs with outdated contact information and booklets that communicated expired policies. Though some information had been updated, swathes of information were still unclear or incorrect until site construction began last week.
The most glaring inaccuracy concerned information about where students and faculty should report instances of prohibited discrimination.
A new emergency policy took effect in February when UO President Michael Schill saw a need to address the informal “responsible employee” policy, laid out by his predecessor, Michael Gottfredson, that effectively makes all university employees mandatory reporters, without any formal policy changes.
In the past, all cases of discrimination were dealt with by the AAEO. Under the new emergency policy, instances of sexual harassment are dealt with by the Title IX office or Crisis Intervention Center, not the AAEO.
“[The AAEO] is still responsible for investigating situations [depending] on who is the victim, not who is the perpetrator,” Harbaugh said.
The changes to the reporting policy stating that cases of sexual harassment involving students should be directed to the Title IX Coordinator or Crisis Intervention Center were ratified in 2014; however, the revisions concerning prohibited discrimination weren’t made effective until February 18, 2016.
Concerns about the timeliness and effectiveness of the AAEO office isn’t new. A 2014 report from the ombuds office, which offers impartial conflict resolution, found that, “Classified staff report high levels of distrust […] in the fairness, competence and responsiveness of the University’s AAEO function.”
The ombuds office did not investigate the AAEO itself and only makes notes of patterns of perception, according to the report. Former ombudsman Bruce McAllister did note that, “Perception does not necessarily equate to fact, but patterns are important to the acceptance and long-term efficacy of any particular program.”
Until site reconstruction last week, there was no mention at all of the ombuds office, an integral piece in the murky mandatory reporting debate on college campuses. The ombuds office is one of the few truly confidential outlets for survivors of sexual assault, which is a key part of the debate surrounding mandatory reporting.
The Office of Intervention and Sexual Support Services is another resource available to students, unless a “responsible employee” reports an instance to them. As soon as a faculty member files a report, the OCISSS is required by the policy to take that report to the administration.