The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents discussed its COVID-19 response, approved further Title IX changes and voted to make no cuts to Student Services Fees at a special meeting Thursday.
The board discussed COVID-19 testing for the upcoming year, but no new substantive plans were approved. Jill DeBoer, a member of the University’s Testing and Tracing Advisory Team, shared the “MTest" plan, a comprehensive strategy to manage the spread of the coronavirus as students return to campus. A proposal to purchase testing kits will likely be presented to the board before their next meeting, but the University will not mass test students as they return to campus in the fall.
Student Services Fees
University President Joan Gabel and Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson asked that the regents amend a current policy, which states that students are only charged for SSF-funded programs if they are taking six or more in-person credits. The board passed a resolution to charge students the fees in full in the case that courses amounting to six or more credits are in-person or would traditionally be in-person.
They argued that Student Legal Services had a 22% increase in usage from this time last year and that there are many valuable resources available to students outside of the classroom that make full SSF funding a necessary resource this upcoming year.
The fees were calculated into the University's budget that the board approved in June. Not requiring SSF from students would create about a $4 million hole in that budget. The University collects about $35 million in SSF annually from the Twin Cities campus alone.
One point of contention was that bills go out to students Aug. 1, and some regents said they felt that they had no choice but to approve the full fees. The fees include money for sports and services that will not be offered this upcoming year. Board members were not provided with a breakdown for the cost of those services.
Regent Michael Hsu suggested amending the fee to be 10% less than its current value to account for services students will not be able to use due to the pandemic, but it did not pass.
Title IX changes
The board approved several changes to the University’s Title IX policy amid ongoing conversations about ensuring its compliance with new federal standards. Some of these changes include who sits on volunteer investigation panels for misconduct cases, how many people participate and the standard of evidence used to make a decision.
In a policy change approved at the meeting, there must be a faculty member sitting on any misconduct investigation panel involving another faculty member. The panels will also consist of five volunteers instead of three. Volunteers may be students, faculty or staff from the University.
The University is also now providing advisers who may be appointed to both the complainant and the accused party to be in compliance with the new rules. Every case may have one or two advisers who give opening statements, perform cross-examinations and give advice to the parties involved in misconduct cases.
With the new changes comes an increased need for staff to work through the investigations. There will be an estimated 15-25 systemwide hearings over the coming year. Staff members in the University’s disciplinary offices, Student Advocate Services and the Aurora Center will all take on more work to facilitate the process. However, the board will also allocate another $80,000 to $160,000 to hire outside staff to manage the process.
These new rules will only apply to misconduct cases filed after Aug. 14. Complaints filed before this deadline will be governed by the earlier set of rules so as not to affect current investigations.
The University also plans to update the timeline for appealing a decision. If a person chooses to appeal the decision, they will now have 10 days to notify the panel and another 10 to file the paperwork. Panels will also have 21 days to make a decision regarding sanctions from an investigation.
Another new addition to the process is that parties may ask to bypass the full disciplinary meeting and let the hearing officer directly make the decision.
While the board updated most of the Title IX policies, it opted against updating the definition of sexual exploitation in the new document. Regent Darrin Rosha said waiting to update the policy would give the board more time to determine a definition to best serve the campus community.
The new Title IX changes will go into effect Aug. 14.