In summer 2011, the University of Virginia completed a six-month review and revision of its Student
Sexual Misconduct Policy, looking to best practices elsewhere, seeking guidance from national experts in
the field, offering an opportunity for public comment, and taking into consideration guidance issued by
the U.S. Department of Education in April of that year. We are very proud of the steps we have taken
with this new policy, which has been requested for use as a model by several other colleges and
universities. The new policy can be found at www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence.
Sexual misconduct on college campuses is a serious issue, filled with understandable tension and
emotion. In recent days, a U.Va. case that was adjudicated last spring has been the topic of discussion on
attorney Wendy Murphy’s Facebook page.
Under federal law protecting the privacy of student education records, known as FERPA, the University
is not permitted to disclose the facts of any case alleging sexual misconduct without a signed release from
both the complaining and accused students. Because we have no such releases in the case referenced by
Ms. Murphy, we are unable to publicly discuss the details that resulted in the finding handed down in that
case. Moreover, it is our sense that public comment on our part not only violates expected privacy rights,
but it also may contribute to the suffering of the students and families on both sides. We can simply state
that Ms. Murphy’s Facebook posting contains multiple misstatements and omissions of facts that are
material to that case.
In every case brought under our new policy, we follow a prescribed procedure, which is also published
and available to our community for review. An Associate Dean of Students explains to a complaining
student in detail how to make a report of sexual assault to the Charlottesville, Albemarle County or
University Police Department, depending on where the alleged assault occurred. The student is also
informed on how to make a complaint to the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board and is provided with
information on the many support options provided by the University. If the complaining student does file
a report with local authorities, then the police initiate an investigation and the local criminal prosecutor
makes an independent determination whether to file criminal charges.
Whether or not criminal charges are filed by the local prosecutor, the complaining student still has the
option to file a formal complaint of sexual misconduct under the University’s policy with the University
Dean of Students, who refers such complaints to specially trained investigators in the office of the Vice
President and Chief Student Affairs Officer. These two investigators may have access to the evidence
collected by the police and also conduct independent interviews of the complainant, accused student, and
any other fact witnesses identified by the evidence or the parties. When the investigators recommend
such action, the case is referred for a formal hearing before the Sexual Misconduct Board (SMB), a panel
of five students and faculty members who receive special training by a nationally recognized expert in the
field of sexual misconduct on college campuses.
Prior to and during the board hearing, each party is assisted by a specially trained staff member who
advises and supports each party. Each party is afforded extensive procedural due process protections
pursuant to our procedures. An option of testimony via closed circuit television is offered when a party
feels uncomfortable being in the same hearing room with the other party. Following the hearing, the
panel deliberates and makes an ultimate finding by a preponderance of the evidence. When the
complaining student is dissatisfied by the finding of the SMB, that student has a right of appeal to the
Judicial Review Board (JRB), an independent panel of two faculty members and one student (currently
chaired by an experienced attorney on the faculty of the School of Law). The JRB conducts a review on
the record for error by the SMB hearing panel.
All of the procedural steps and protections outlined above were observed in the case that is the subject of
Ms. Murphy’s Facebook posting. The Facebook poster, Ms. Murphy, is a private attorney who has filed a
complaint in this case with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
The University of Virginia has cooperated fully in the OCR’s investigation, including providing the full
case file and making available for interview all persons involved in the adjudication and hearing of this
case. Many professionals are involved in these cases – University Student Affairs staff, hospital and
Student Health personnel, Women’s Center staff, University and Charlottesville police, and local
prosecutors. All of them carry the safety of our students and the prevention of sexual misconduct at the
forefront of their minds. As should be expected by our community, they also are committed to
adjudicating these very difficult cases within the bounds of due process for both the complainant and the
We are concerned that Ms. Murphy’s Facebook posting omits key facts and contains misleading and
inaccurate information about this case and how our procedure works. We urge victims of sexual
misconduct to continue to come forward and seek the University’s assistance. We remain committed to
working with the University and larger community to improve and strengthen our response to sexual
misconduct. We welcome constructive dialogue on this issue.