As new school year begins, Regents have been taking steps to support student health and safety at USHE campuses

Recent national events have brought increased attention to campus safety as a new school year gets under way. Specifically there is increased scrutiny of colleges and universities as issues like sexual violence, student mental health and free speech have become key issues in the national higher education policy conversation.

USHE institutions have always made student safety a top priority. Recent events and research, however, have increased the scrutiny of higher education institutions and how they address incidents related to student sexual assault, harassment and discrimination on and off campuses across the country. USHE institutions have been devoting significant resources to meet statutory requirements as well as ensure a safe student experience. The Utah State Board of Regents has taken several steps in the past year to focus on best practices and accountability at Utah’s public colleges and universities.

Campus Safety

In the past several years, the U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance to institutions indicating that under the federal statute Title IX, all schools are obligated to address instances of sexual misconduct and discrimination by investigating allegations, taking disciplinary action when warranted, and instituting practices, training and prevention strategies to reduce or eliminate sexual misconduct or discrimination and to, thereby, provide a safe educational environment for students.

In January 2017, the Board adopted a campus safety policy to ensure consistency at all USHE campuses as well as strong collaboration. The policy standardizes and strengthens how the state’s colleges and universities address campus sexual assault, requiring stepped-up training, information-sharing about transfer students who’ve committed sexual violence, and regular climate surveys. Adoption of this policy is the culmination of months of work by several campus interests including law enforcement, student leaders, counsel, advocacy and victims services, and administrators. The policy is by no means the final step. In fact, its intent is to bring a more uniform system wide prioritization of campus safety issues focused on helping students.

Disciplinary Hearings

Last year, the Board of Regents adopted systemwide policy for USHE institutions in relation to student disciplinary hearings for violations of student misconduct – specifically for the most serious violations that could result in a 10-day suspension or greater. Student disciplinary hearings are being scrutinized across the country as sexual violence on college campuses has grabbed headlines both locally and nationally. Universities and colleges must strike an effective balance between campus safety and the requirement to adhere to rigid federal mandates in investigating sexual violence. This policy defines basic requirements to ensure a uniform implementation across USHE institutions for student disciplinary proceedings.

Confidential Reporting of Sexual Violence

As Utah’s higher ed institutions have made efforts in recent years to improve services for sexual violence survivors on campus, a loophole in the Utah Confidential Communications Act was discovered by victim advocates: it did not extend confidentiality to advocates housed at institutions. Because of the lack of guidance under this act, advocates and institutions developed internal policies which vary from one institution to the next.

In February 2017, the Commissioner’s Office worked closely with legislative leaders developing legislation intended to standardize and improve reporting of sexual assault and expand access to services for victims. House Bill 251, Campus Advocate Confidentiality Amendments, by Rep. Angela Romero, prohibits the disclosure of confidential communications related to advocacy services at a Utah institution of higher education – helping to remove what has been a significant barrier for campus victims seeking trauma support where they spend most of their time – on a college campus . The legislation received the unanimous support of the legislature.

Mental Health

In November 2016, the Board of Regents appointed a special working group focused on student mental health at USHE institutions. Student mental health has been a top issue of the Utah Student Association for the past three years. As USHE students experience wait times as long as four weeks to receive mental health counseling, institutions have been scrambling to garner the resources to alleviate the demand. The student association helped in advocating a legislative resolution in the 2017 legislative session that declared mental health issues a public health crisis across the state. That resolution, which urges state and local entities to develop long-term solutions, is what partially led to the Regents’ working group. It is comprised of Regents, mental health experts and student affairs executives from USHE institutions. The group is expected to present recommendations to the Board at its upcoming meeting in September.

Free Speech

Speech on college campuses have been a long-discussed issue across the political spectrum. The issue has reignited over the past several years prompting USHE institution to vigorously review and revise its free speech policies. In 2016, when legislation was first proposed to ensure all outdoor spaces be designated free speech zones, every USHE institution had either adopted or was in the process of reviewing its speech policies that would have met the requirements proposed in the legislation. The bill was not adopted in 2016, but was reintroduced in the 2017 legislative session last winter. By that time, all USHE institutions had already adopted its revised policies, hence meeting the requirements of the pending legislation. The legislation was unanimously adopted, and was endorsed by the Board of Regents.

In a joint training meeting of Regents, Trustees, Presidents, Commissioner Buhler and Governor Herbert held in July 2017, campus safety was one of the topics discussed among leaders. While there is still additional work and resources needed to address these key issues, the Board has taken some critical first steps to ensure they receive continued consideration in the immediate future.




Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director