Important Title IX Update

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

As the fall semester gets underway—with so many changes in procedures for living and learning on campus—we would like you to be aware of important changes in the way Syracuse University must handle complaints of sexual harassment. These changes are required of all U.S. colleges and universities as part of new federal Title IX regulations published by the U.S. Department of Education in May 2020.

First, be aware that Syracuse University and Chancellor Kent Syverud took a formal stand against some of these new regulations during a public comment period in 2019. We did so because we believe that some of these mandated changes may discourage survivors of sexual assault or sexual harassment from coming forward. However, we are required to carry out the new procedures as mandated by federal guidelines and will do so with the balance, fairness, equity, seriousness and justice that is warranted by any complaint of sexual harassment or sexual violence.

Some examples of the new procedures, which are published in full on our policy page, include:

  • A complaint must be heard in a live (in-person or virtual) hearing at which both parties (the complainant and the respondent) each have an advisor who may cross-examine the other party and witnesses.
  • If either party attends a hearing without an advisor, the University must provide one for them free of charge.
  • If either party or witness refuses to participate in a hearing and be subject to cross-examination, the University may not consider any of their prior statements in reaching a determination on responsibility.
  • The University must offer an opportunity to appeal the outcome of the case on specific grounds.
  • The University cannot informally resolve a case unless a complainant first files a formal complaint and all parties agree to informal resolution.

Formal complaints of sexual harassment will be investigated by the Title IX team in the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services (EOIRS), with a hearing conducted by an external hearing officer who makes a finding of responsibility. More specifically:

  • In complaints against students, if there is a finding of a policy violation, the case goes to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities for sanctioning. Parties may appeal the outcome to an appeals panel.
  • In complaints against staff, if an individual is found responsible for a policy violation, the case goes to the senior human resources business partner for sanctioning. Parties may appeal the outcome to the senior vice president and chief human resources officer.
  • In complaints against faculty, if an individual is found responsible for a policy violation, the case goes to the Academic Freedom, Tenure and Professional Ethics Committee of the University Senate to recommend sanctions to the associate provost for faculty affairs, who issues a decision. Parties may appeal the outcome to the vice chancellor and provost.

One important area that remains unchanged is the definition of “Responsible Employees”—people who are obligated to report incidents of sexual harassment should they become aware of them. This means that all faculty and staff, except those who are designated as privileged resources (e.g. counselors, chaplains, medical professionals), must report incidents of sexual harassment to me, as Title IX officer, and my office.

As a University community, we remain committed to resolving complaints of sexual harassment or sexual violence in a manner that is fair and even-handed and respects the rights and interests of all parties. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the updated University policies and procedures on sexual harassment and contact me with any questions you may have.


Sheila Johnson-Willis
Chief Equal Opportunity and Title IX Officer