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At the University of Minnesota, an allegation of sexual assault can result in disciplinary action, even if police never pursue the case.

In fact, the university is required to investigate reports of sexual assault, and take appropriate action, under federal guidelines that apply to all colleges and universities receiving government funds.

From start to finish, those investigations are treated as highly confidential, and the university won't comment on why it suspended 10 Gopher football players from the team.

"Due to privacy restrictions ... there is nothing further the university can share," spokesman Evan Lapiska said Wednesday.

But when it comes to disciplining students, the university follows an elaborate internal process that only partly mimics the criminal justice system.

By design, it uses a lower standard of proof to determine guilt or innocence. In criminal court, it's "beyond a reasonable doubt." On campus, it's a "preponderance of evidence," which means, according to the university policy, school officials must decide if it was "more likely than not" that an assault occurred.

Last year, the university adopted what's known as an "affirmative consent" or "yes means yes" policy. That defines sexual assault as any sexual contact that lacks "clear and unambiguous words or actions ... [that] communicate a willingness to participate in a mutually agreed upon sexual activity."

Under the university's policy, which is posted online, a complaint of sexual assault triggers an investigation by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. In some cases, students can be suspended temporarily pending the outcome of an investigation.

Once an investigation begins, campus officials interview both the accuser and the accused, as well as witnesses, and gather evidence to determine if, in campus parlance, a violation of the student code of conduct occurred. Accused students can request a formal hearing before a panel of students and staff members, called the Campus Committee on Student Behavior. Finally, students have the right to appeal any formal disciplinary action.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384