CURBING SEXUAL ASSAULT

University to focus on compliance, sexual assault

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10

Mary Ann Lochner, general counsel for Western Carolina University, repeatedly has characterized higher education as “the most heavily regulated industry in the United States.” Take the Americans with Disabilities Act, as one lone example. Including the text of the act itself, design standards for local and state government, and proposed regulations under development, that single piece of legislation totals 716 pages. And that’s just one of the literally hundreds and hundreds of laws, regulations and policies with which WCU must comply, Lochner said.

To ensure that WCU remains in accordance with that ever-expanding menu of federal and state requirements, the university recently hired its first chief compliance officer, J. Wesley “Wes” Chancey. A combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps infantry, Chancey worked for four years in the president’s office and general counsel’s office at West Virginia University, followed by a two-year stint in private practice representing claimants in the civil and family law court systems.

Among Chancey’s first tasks is to design and implement a comprehensive employee training program for all WCU faculty and staff on the subject of Title IX, focusing specifically on the issue of campus sexual assault. Those training sessions will begin during the fall semester. In addition, Shea Browning, WCU’s associate legal counsel, has been assigned the responsibility of serving as the university’s Title IX coordinator. In that role, Browning, who is training in victim outreach and compliance with Title IX, is the go-to person for faculty and staff who suspect gender-based discrimination.

Chancey points to the numerous national media headlines – the Penn State child molestation case, the Rolling Stone magazine article on allegations of rape at the University of Virginia, best-selling author Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction account of sexual assaults at the University of Montana – as ample evidence of the need for taking action at WCU.

“Campus sexual assault is very real and deserving of our attention and efforts. We must ensure that our institution takes adequate steps to protect students and employees from this disturbing trend,” he said, citing national statistics indicating that one-fourth of women are sexually assaulted while attending an institution of higher education.

As part of the university’s increased focus on compliance, WCU leadership recently approved revisions to University Policy 10, which provides guidance on nondiscrimination and equal opportunity practices at Western Carolina University, and University Policy 53, which covers sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and other unlawful discrimination.

“Our community must be free of discrimination and harassment in the workplace and the classroom,” Chancellor David O. Belcher said. “Our campus must be a bastion of dignity, fairness and respect for all members of our community. Our university must be a place where different cultures, backgrounds, ideologies, viewpoints and ideals are not only accepted but welcomed as critically diverse elements in our vibrant, intellectually, culturally and economically thriving community of scholarship.”