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With the establishment of a new investigatory office for sexual assault at Penn , students will take a step back from the disciplinary process — a trend that has sparked controversy throughout the country.

In the new office, an investigator will lead a team in examining sexual assault complaints. The team will recommend whether to find the respondent responsible and recommend sanctions. But if either student involved disagrees with the finding, the student can request a hearing with a trained faculty panel.

Currently, sexual assault complaints against an undergraduate student go to the Office of Student Conduct, which follows a similar model, except the hearing panels include students .

While administrators say the new system will be fair to all parties, some critics say this model undermines due process for the accused.

When creating the new policy, the University consulted policies of peer institutions as well as guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights , Penn’s General Counsel Wendy White said.

At a University Council meeting last month, White said she expected the new policy to encourage more victims of sexual assault to report the incidents. From the 2004-05 school year to the 2012-13 school year, the Office of Student Conduct received only 35 reports of sexual misconduct.

But the elimination of students from the hearing panels has drawn some criticism.

“To remove students’ experiences, knowledge, insights, judgments and sense of fairness from tribunals hearing sexual assault cases is to create a new set of Star Chambers,” history professor Alan Kors said in an email, referring to the corrupt secret courts of 15th to 17th century England. “I would trust the judgment and impartiality of most students more than I would trust the judgment and impartiality of most of my faculty colleagues.”

Universities across the country are adopting a similar procedure as a result of recommendations from the Department of Education.

Harvard University recently enacted a policy similar to Penn’s, which a group of 28 Harvard Law School professors criticized in a Boston Globe op-ed . Some schools, such as Yale University, still have students serving on hearing panels for sexual assault cases, but students must be appointed and undergo training.

“There are persuasive arguments on both sides of the issue,” White said. “We determined to follow the strong recommendation of the federal government not to include students on panels.”

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