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UNM reports progress on accord with DOJ

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Justice are coming closer to an agreement to remedy federal investigators’ assertions that the school improperly handled cases of sexual assault and harassment, the president said Monday.

UNM President Bob Frank said that he and department officials spoke last week and that a formal agreement is likely within months.

“UNM continues to be dedicated in our focus on not only campus safety, but creating an environment that is welcoming to and supportive of our students. I’m pleased that our conversations with the DOJ have been going so well, and we are optimistic for a final agreement by early fall of this year.” Frank said.

The Department of Justice investigation, launched in December 2014, found that UNM had failed to comply with federal gender anti-discrimination laws.

Frank has said the university would comply with the DOJ while saying some portions of the report don’t represent the university as a whole.

A letter responding to the DOJ, signed by university counsel Elsa Cole, echoes those earlier sentiments from Frank while saying UNM is not alone in its struggle to provide a “safe campus and fair processes for all.”

“As I’m sure the Department (of Justice) knows, colleges and universities across the country have been struggling to achieve these same goals.” Cole wrote in the letter, dated June 2.

The university’s 18-page response details many of its efforts to address DOJ criticisms.

The letter says the university plans to eliminate redundant policies and update others to be consistent with current policies regarding sexual misconduct. The DOJ wrote that some of the university’s policies were “labyrinthine.”

And the university said it hired more staff to conduct university investigations of sexual misconduct. UNM also recently told the Journal it would hasten its process of investigating sexual assaults. The DOJ criticized the university’s investigators and lengthy investigations.

Federal investigators criticized the UNM Police Department’s ability to investigate sexual assault. The university said its 41 officers receive training from the Albuquerque Police Department in responding to “sexual assault, domestic violence and hate crimes.”

Among other reforms, UNM soon will require its students to take online training regarding sexual assault and harassment. The university also conducted a survey meant to gauge students’ read on sexual misconduct on campus. The survey is done, and the findings should be available by mid-July.