PTS Title IX Petition 0

Princeton Theological Seminary Title IX Petition

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Princeton Theological Seminary Title IX Petition
November 2019

In recent years, student experiences of Princeton Theological Seminary’s Title IX process have included:

  • Multiple delays, resulting in a Title IX process lasting five times longer than the official target length (70+ business days versus 15 business days), thus detracting from students’ ability to focus on their studies.
  • Misinformation about the process from the Title IX Coordinator, in direct contradiction of written policies and previously communicated information.
  • Near breach of confidentiality, with witness statements and other confidential evidence almost made available to the respondent (a person in a position of power over some of the witnesses) when these documents were slated for inclusion in the respondent’s personnel file. (They were omitted after the claimant intervened.)
  • Lack of communication regarding the progress of the Title IX process, such as when the respondent would view the charges, thus exacerbating the anxiety and vulnerability experienced by the claimant.
  • Retaliation charges ignored and dismissed, without investigation, despite the availability of concrete evidence.
  • Repeated pressure on the victim to sign an agreement to terms before the final decision was communicated and without specification of the terms.
  • Lack of disciplinary action against a Seminary employee found responsible for sexual harassment.
  • Lack of disciplinary action against a Seminary employee who submitted demonstrably inaccurate information during a Title IX investigation.

Victims of sexual misconduct are often already facing emotional and spiritual turmoil from having endured sexual violation at a Christian institution. The Title IX process itself should not be a further violation. An inaccurate, protracted, and arbitrary process harms all parties involved in Title IX cases and endangers our entire community.

Sexual misconduct has no place in a covenant community that values each person’s dignity and wellbeing. As Dean John White and Associate Dean Victor Aloyo, Jr. wrote in an August 17, 2018 memorandum to all students, “in our context issues of discrimination, harassment, and assault goes [sic] beyond the legal parameters as established by federal mandates. God intends that all human beings enjoy a full life, free from abuse and injustice (Micah 2:1-2, 8-9). All human beings are created in God’s image and are deserving of mutual respect and protection. Sexual and physical harassment, abuse, and exploitation are sinful, violating both persons and mutuality within community.”

In recent years, the Seminary has signaled the seriousness with which it takes Title IX laws, which ensure equal educational access, by requiring all students and faculty to undergo online training. Yet, the severe deficiencies of the Seminary’s current Title IX process, including a lack of accountability and transparency, jeopardize the Seminary’s integrity, values, and mission.

Currently, the Seminary has no procedure in place for soliciting, considering, and responding to feedback from persons, including students, who have undergone its Title IX process. Individual efforts to address concerns have failed, making clear the need for greater community awareness and shared advocacy.

In light of the known problems related to our Title IX process, out of concern for the safety of current and future community members, for the sake of our Seminary’s mission, and with consciousness of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, we the undersigned call for:

  • Immediate internal and independent external reviews of the Seminary’s Title IX process and implementation, including of student experiences of the process, with findings and recommendations reported to the entire Seminary community, for the sake of accountability. (See Princeton University’s example:
  • Periodic (once every 5 years) internal and independent external reviews of the Seminary’s Title IX process and implementation, including of student experiences of the process, with findings and recommendations reported to the entire Seminary community, for the sake of ongoing accountability.
  • Clear documentation of the Title IX process, including step-by-step procedures and explanation of rights and options, with greater specificity and transparency than is currently the case. (See Princeton University’s website on sexual misconduct investigations:
  • Specification of minimum penalties for Seminary employees, including faculty members, found responsible for sexual harassment, in order to deter repeat offenders and acknowledge the seriousness of the violation. (At Princeton University, “the presumptive minimum penalty in any case of sexual harassment must be one-year unpaid suspension from the faculty.” It should concern us that at Princeton Seminary, it is possible for faculty to be found responsible for sexual harassment and not be subject to any of the disciplinary actions outlined in the Faculty Manual. Some minimum penalty must be in place.
  • Establishment of clear procedures, with minimum penalties, for dealing with dishonesty or submission of inaccurate information during a Title IX investigation.
  • Reimbursement of the victim’s related medical and mental healthcare expenses when the perpetrator found responsible for sexual misconduct is a Seminary employee.

We fully expect that additional and more specific recommendations will result from the internal and independent external reviews.

Note: This petition is led by Koinonia (PhD Student Group), in collaboration with the Women’s Center and the Center for Theology, Women, and Gender.

Additional organizational endorsements:
The Association of Black Seminarians (ABS)
The Asian Association at Princeton Theological Seminary (AAPTS)
The Student Government Association (SGA)
The Episcopal and Anglican Student Fellowship (EASF)
The Lutheran Group at Princeton Theological Seminary
Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, And Straight Supporters (BGLASS)
The Arts Collective

UPDATE (Nov. 25, 2019): On Nov. 22, 2019, President M. Craig Barnes announced to the PTS community that the Seminary will be conducting "a thorough review of our Title IX and Title VI policies to assess their effectiveness. This review will include both an assessment by external reviewers and an internal assessment conducted by a committee composed of faculty, students, and staff. This internal committee will be chaired by Professor Sally Brown and will begin its work in December. The Board of Trustees will receive both the internal and external reports at its May 2020 meeting, after which the reports will be shared with the community. We will continue to keep you informed as these reviews are conducted."

The Koinonia Co-Moderators and Chaplain have thanked President Barnes for these good steps, while expressing their hopes that the reviews will include feedback from those who have undergone the Title IX/VI process in recent years. They have also reiterated the importance of periodic external and internal reviews for the sake of ongoing accountability, as well as PTS's urgent need to address current policy gaps related to minimum penalties, dishonesty and submission of inaccurate information during Title IX/VI investigations, and medical/mental healthcare reimbursements.

Thank you to all who have supported and shared this petition. We plan to present it at the Dec. 4 faculty meeting to strengthen support for the policy-related reforms. Please continue to circulate the petition among PTS affiliates (students, faculty, staff, and alumni). Additional signatures (including after Dec. 4) will signal continued community support for the petition's demands and help keep our leaders accountable throughout the review period.

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