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A task force at the University of South Carolina charged with reviewing the university’s effectiveness in addressing sexual harassment and violence issued a report Thursday that recommended increasing the frequency of education and training activities, including through mandatory annual training programs for faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students, as well as through additional specialized training programs for individuals with direct responsibilities related to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based harassment in education.

The task force, which is made up of South Carolina faculty, staff and students, also made a number of other recommendations related to improving procedures and policies in a number of other areas including those related to reporting, investigation, adjudication and discipline, and advocacy and support.

Among its findings, the task force found that “the current reporting system is difficult to navigate, and the process of reporting is an adverse and potentially re-traumatizing experience, creating significant barriers to reporting and pursuing a complaint.”

“Few reported cases are formally investigated, with a large proportion of complainants opting out,” a summary of the task report findings state. “Further, cases against faculty are less likely to result in a reasonable cause finding than those against [students] and staff.”

“There is no faculty-governed process for disciplinary action short of termination for faculty,” the summary continues. “Further, there is inconsistency in documentation and execution of discipline for faculty and staff. There is a lack of guidelines regarding handling conduct that falls short of policy violation but is nonetheless inappropriate.”

The task force also found a need to focus on “staffing, job scope, reporting structures, and coordinating mechanisms.”

“There is a lack of centralized information management and public reporting,” the task force concluded. “The culture of the institution and students does not reflect a shared commitment to addressing SHV [sexual harassment and violence].”

In addition to the task force report, the University of South Carolina also commissioned an audit of the handling of select prior cases, the results of which were presented to the university’s Board of Trustees.

Interim president Harris Pastides wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff that both documents point to areas where the university can make improvement to its processes, and he said he has “assembled a group charged to create an action plan based on the results of these reviews.”

The State, a newspaper based in Columbia, S.C., reported that the university initiated the task force after a series of lawsuits and an investigative report by the paper about allegations that the university failed to properly respond to sexual harassment claims.

Inside Higher Ed