Being accused of sexual misconduct is never something to take lightly—but if you are a college or university student in Oklahoma facing disciplinary action for alleged misconduct, your academic and professional future could be in jeopardy. Federal guidelines require colleges and universities to pursue all sexual misconduct allegations or risk losing their federal funding. Furthermore, some significant rule changes enacted by the U.S. Department of Education have thrown many student conduct policies into confusion. These developments create an environment where accused students face a higher risk of unfair treatment and excessive penalties during disciplinary proceedings. Here's what you need to know to protect your interests.
Federal Policy Changes Regarding Sexual Misconduct
Title IX has long protected students from being discriminated against on the basis of sex. For many years, this law has also been interpreted to extend protection from acts of sexual harassment and assault. However, in May 2020, the Department of Education (DOE) announced some significant rule changes as to how Title IX claims should be processed effective for the next school year. The most significant changes are as follows:
- Schools must institute a single investigative process for students, faculty, and staff. This process must now include live hearings and cross-examination of witnesses. Any witness who is unwilling to participate in the live hearing will not have their testimony included in the investigation.
- New jurisdiction guidelines, particularly for off-campus incidents. Schools have a responsibility to investigate alleged sexual misconduct occurring at any event or location (on or off campus) over which the school exercises “substantial control.” Off-campus sorority and fraternity houses qualify under these rules; other types of off-campus student housing do not. Also, schools are no longer responsible for investigating allegations that occur with students participating in studies abroad.
- “Actual knowledge” versus “Reasonably known.” Under previous Title IX rules, schools could be penalized for not pursuing allegations about which they should have “reasonably known.” With the new regulations, they are only responsible for incidents about which they have “actual knowledge.”
Sexual Misconduct Redefined
The change in Title IX interpretations with perhaps the farthest-reaching impact is that the DOE has narrowed and clarified what it considers “sexual misconduct” as it pertains to schools. Previously, any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature was regarded as sexual misconduct. Under the new rules, sexual misconduct is only recognized under the following three categories:
- Actual instances of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking
- Quid pro quo harassment (e.g., faculty/staff bartering sexual contact in exchange for favors)
- Unwelcome conduct deemed “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
The question of what constitutes “equal access” and “objectively offensive” has raised generated both controversy and confusion because the wording suggests a school may not be responsible for pursuing cases of Title IX sexual misconduct unless they deny “equal access” to the victim. Anytime ambiguity like this exists, it can create more risk for the accused.
Changes in Oklahoma School Policies, and How the Accused Are Affected
These DOE rule changes were initially intended to provide more protections for those who are accused of sexual misconduct. However, the confusion and uncertainty surrounding these new rules may actually put accused students at increased risk of unfair treatment or punishment. There are two important reasons for this:
First—while the new rules change the parameters on how Title IX protections must be enforced nationally, they do not prohibit individual schools from rewriting their own policies regarding sexual misconduct. Many colleges and universities have been scrambling to rewrite their internal policies and procedures to ensure protections they felt had been stripped from Title IX. The result is that an accused student who no longer would face Title IX discipline might still face discipline under individual school policy. In some cases, the accused might even face parallel investigations for the same alleged incident.
Second—the new rule changes themselves face an uncertain future. Many states have already filed legal challenges to the new DOE rules, and there is a wide belief that if the next election results in a Democratic administration, these rules may be rescinded.
For a student in Oklahoma accused of sexual misconduct, this uncertainty adds up to an increased risk that they will be denied due process or punished unfairly, possibly jeopardizing their career plans in the process.
Why You Need an Attorney-Advisor
No student facing school discipline should have to deal with the situation alone—and schools do allow the accused students to have an attorney present in an advisory role. Hiring an attorney-advisor can give you a distinct advantage in fighting sexual misconduct allegations. Here's why:
- An experienced attorney-advisor will have the latest information on Title IX rules, as well as the most current student conduct policies at the school in question. The attorney will help you utilize this information in building a successful defense.
- An attorney-advisor can help you gather evidence and procure witnesses as you prepare for meetings, interviews, and a potential hearing itself.
- Having an attorney-advisor adds a layer of accountability to the school, ensuring that it abides by its own rules—thereby reducing the risk that you would be denied due process or dealt an inordinate punishment.
Consult with an Oklahoma College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
If you're an Oklahoma student currently facing possible school discipline for alleged sexual misconduct, you owe it to yourself and your career to have an expert by your side. The Lento Law Firm has successfully defended many students in disciplinary proceedings all across the country. Attorney Joseph D. Lento's extensive experience in this area has made him one of the nation's pre-eminent experts in student discipline proceedings and Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. Don't let a false accusation of sexual misconduct derail your career; get the help you need to get your reputation and academic career back on track. Call 888-535-3686 to learn more about how we can help.
Oklahoma colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Bacone College
- Brown Mackie College Tulsa
- Cameron University
- Career Point College
- Carl Albert State College
- Connors State College
- DeVry University Oklahoma
- East Central University
- Eastern Oklahoma State College
- Family of Faith College
- Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College
- ITT Technical Institute Oklahoma City
- ITT Technical Institute Tulsa
- Langston University
- Mid America Christian University
- Murray State College
- National American University Tulsa
- Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College
- Northeastern State University
- Northern Oklahoma College
- Northwestern Oklahoma State University
- Oklahoma Baptist University
- Oklahoma Christian University
- Oklahoma City Community College
- Oklahoma City University
- Oklahoma Panhandle State University
- Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology Okmulgee
- Oklahoma State University Main Campus
- Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City
- Oklahoma Wesleyan University
- Oral Roberts University
- Redlands Community College
- Rogers State University
- Rose State College
- Saint Gregorys University
- Seminole State College
- Southeastern Oklahoma State University
- Southern Nazarene University
- Southwestern Christian University
- Southwestern Oklahoma State University
- Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology
- Tulsa Community College
- University of Central Oklahoma
- University of Oklahoma Norman Campus
- University of Phoenix Oklahoma City Campus
- University of Phoenix Tulsa Campus
- University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
- University of Tulsa
- Vatterott College Tulsa
- Western Oklahoma State College
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Oklahoma school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in Oklahoma and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.