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URBANA — Online training programs about sexual harassment and misconduct may soon become mandatory for University of Illinois students.

The university is required by the state and federal government to make the training available, and last year, almost 40,000 students took part — about 80 percent of new students and 40 percent of returning ones, according to Donna McNeeley, executive director of the Office of University Ethics.

The UI's online program focuses on promoting greater awareness and prevention of sexual misconduct in both educational and social settings, McNeeley said.

It supplements other programs offered during the course of the year on each of the three campuses, she told UI trustees during a presentation Wednesday.

But the government doesn't mandate that students complete the training, McNeeley said.

UI trustees asked administrators in January why there were no consequences for students who failed to take it.

Trustee Jill Smart, a former human-resources executive, said Wednesday she had checked with 11 other universities, and all imposed some kind of penalty on students who didn't take part. In some cases, freshmen couldn't sign up for classes at orientation until they went through the training, or their accounts were placed on hold for the following semester, she said.

UI President Tim Killeen said the UI did a larger study of its peer universities and found similar results.

Killeen said he is working with the chancellors on the three UI campuses to make the training mandatory, with consequences, by next fall. The programs will be tailored to each campus, but Killeen suggested that students be prevented from registering for the spring semester if they fail to take the training in the fall.

"The next class of freshmen coming in would be required to take the training," he said.

Smart said later it's important for students to understand sexual harassment and be aware of it, so "they know what to do if they see it," for their own safety and others. Making the training mandatory "is really a statement about the importance of it."

UI employees are already required to complete annual training on sexual harassment and misconduct and are subject to disciplinary action if they don't, McNeeley said. Last year, more than 40,000 faculty members, staff, graduate employees and resident advisers completed the program, a 99.88 percent compliance rate.

The training focuses on the university's expectations for employees and outlines how they should respond to and report instances of sexual misconduct, she said.

McNeeley's office also works closely with administrators on each campus responsible for reporting sexual harassment or misconduct under other state and federal requirements.

Both the state of Illinois and the NCAA recently imposed new requirements on sexual misconduct training and reporting, she said.

Under the Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, each Illinois university must submit annual reports to the state attorney general and Illinois Department of Human Rights. The first one was due in November 2017.

And a new NCAA policy requires that the chancellor, athletic director and Title IX coordinator on each campus must attest annually that coaches, athletic administrators and athletes are educated about sexual violence prevention. The first certification is due in May.

"Sexual misconduct prevention and response continues to be a major focus area for our compliance efforts," McNeeley said.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).