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UNM speeding up handling of sexual harassment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico is set to hasten the process for investigating allegations of sexual assault and harassment involving an employee or student.

UNM administrators said the change follows the release earlier this year of a Department of Justice report that broadly found that UNM had failed to comply with federal gender anti-discrimination laws. Among numerous complaints, federal investigators said specifically the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity takes too long to investigate complaints regarding sexual misconduct.

“The grievance procedures do not ensure prompt and equitable resolution of students’ complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, and have impeded the University’s ability to take remedial action against the discrimination,” federal investigators wrote in the 37-page report presented to the university earlier this year.

The federal investigation comes at a time when nationally more students are reporting sexual crime claims, according to a report from the Washington Post.

UNM president Bob Frank said the university would comply with the Department of Justice while saying some portions of the report don’t represent the university as a whole.

The UNM administrators who are overseeing the change in investigations, Francie Cordova and Heather Cowan, told the Journal on Thursday their efforts to revamp the system were underway before the release of the DOJ report. But they did say the alterations would address the complaints raised by it.

“Our old discrimination claims procedure was really traditional and had been needing to be updated,” Cowan said. “It just took it a little while.”

The changes will take place for investigations that start after June 15 pending a review by Frank’s office.

In the old system, a person would file a complaint and investigators would compile that information into a letter. The investigators would then give the letter to the person filing the complaint, and that person had two weeks to review the letter.

Under the new system, Cordova said, the accuser will have five days to review the letter.

The office will also try to reach the person accused of malfeasance at an earlier stage in the investigation, Cowan said.

UNM officials also plan to share more of the details of the case with both the accuser and the accused in attempt to keep both parties informed of the investigation’s status. This sharing of information, Cowan said, also allows both parties to raise questions about the investigation.

For example, an accuser might ask why a witness’ testimony wasn’t included in the investigation, and the investigators can respond accordingly.