If you've ever had to deal with a parking ticket on campus, you know taking on your university is no fun. That's even more true if you find yourself accused of something really serious like sexual misconduct.
University judicial systems are, by themselves, difficult to navigate. Most sexual misconduct cases don't just fall under school policy, though. They're subject to federal law. That introduces a whole additional level of complexity. The law is confusing, and it seems to change every year.
What do you do, then, if you're faced with an allegation? First, find out all you can about how your school deals with these cases. What are the investigative procedures? Who will decide whether or not you're responsible? What kinds of penalties do you face? The more you know, the better your chances of success.
Then, find someone who can help, a Title IX attorney with experience in dealing with sexual misconduct cases. You need to be prepared, but you also need to understand that you can't handle this situation alone. It's too complicated, and there's too much at stake.
A Brief History of Title IX
Fort Hays University's sexual misconduct procedures are more confusing than most. Here's why.
For many years, virtually all sexual misconduct cases at all publicly funded schools were governed by Title IX. That's a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination in US education.
For most of the law's fifty-year history, colleges and universities were allowed to develop their own methods for dealing with cases. Then, in 2020, the Trump administration issued new guidelines designed to standardize how Title IX is enforced. Suddenly, all schools were required to adhere to a rigid set of guidelines.
Most schools weren't happy with the new rules. Among other things, the Trump administration declared that Title IX didn't cover off-campus incidents, so under the law, universities had no right to investigate such cases. In response, many schools created a whole new set of parallel policies designed to deal with what became known as “non-Title IX” sexual misconduct. That certainly confused matters. You could be investigated under Title IX procedures; you could be investigated under non-Title IX procedures.
As if all this weren't complicated enough, the Biden administration took office in 2021, promising to repeal much of what the Trump administration had done. What the Title IX rules might be in the future is anyone's guess.
Meanwhile, Fort Hays hasn't published any response to the 2020 Title IX changes. That is, legally, the school is obligated to follow the current guidelines, but their official policy still references their older, outdated procedures. Translation: if you're accused of sexual misconduct at FHSU, it's impossible to know just what sort of justice you might be facing.
What Title IX Says
Again, Title IX sets out a reasonably clear set of guidelines. These guidelines aren't perfect, but they help to safeguard your due process rights as a respondent.
- Your school is required to have a Title IX Coordinator. Only a complainant or the Coordinator may sign an official complaint.
- You are entitled to notice of any complaint against you. That notice must identify your accuser and provide details of the allegation.
- You must be presumed “not- responsible” until proven “responsible.”
- You have the right to an advisor, and that advisor may be an attorney.
- The first phase of the case is an investigation conducted by a designated Investigator. This person collects physical evidence and interviews witnesses.
- Once the investigation is complete, the Investigator writes a full report summarizing their findings. Both sides can suggest revisions to this report.
- The next phase of the case is a formal hearing. The Coordinator sets a time and date for this hearing and appoints decision-makers to hear it.
- At the hearing, both sides have an opportunity to present their cases. You may present evidence and call witnesses on your behalf. You also have the right to question the complainant and any witnesses against you. At most schools, your advisor can conduct most of the hearing on your behalf.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, decision-makers deliberate as to your responsibility. They also assign any sanctions as necessary.
- Finally, both sides in the case have the right to appeal the decision makers' findings under limited conditions such as the discovery of new evidence or the demonstration of procedural errors in the case.
These rules are the law of the land, and under the law, Fort Hays State University must follow them. However, it's unclear whether the school actually does so.
What Fort Hays Says
- When it receives an accusation of misconduct, including sexual misconduct, the university will decide whether or not to investigate
- The investigation is designed to determine whether or not the school will proceed with the case
- After the investigation, you are summoned to an Administrative Meeting to discuss the charges and any potential sanctions
- You may then choose whether to have your case handled through an Administrative Hearing or a Hearing Panel
- In either case, you and the complainant meet separately with decision-makers to present evidence and make arguments
- Administrative Hearings are heard by a single administrator. Hearing Panel cases are heard by the Student Faculty Court, which is made up of five individuals chosen from students, faculty, and staff
- You may be accompanied to meetings and hearings by an advisor, but you must speak entirely for yourself
You may notice under this policy, you aren't invited to participate in the investigation. Indeed, the investigation can happen before you even know you've been accused. You aren't guaranteed the right to notice of your charge or the right to review the evidence against you. You don't have an opportunity to confront your accuser. And, of course, there are limits on just how much your advisor may help you during the process.
The question remains, though, whether this is the Fort Hays policy for investigating sexual misconduct, or is it some sort of alternative to the official Title IX policy?
What Can Joseph D. Lento Do for You?
Your school can't send you to jail. Only a judge and jury can do that. It can suspend you, though. In fact, suspension is usually the minimum penalty in such cases. It's far more likely that Fort Hays will expel you if you're found responsible for sexual misconduct.
You'd think, given those stakes, your school would be clear in its policy that there would be no room for error. You'd expect that students would be afforded every possible right and given every chance to defend themselves. The fact is it's not clear how the justice system at Fort Hays works at all, let alone whether or not you'll be afforded the due process rights you deserve.
Don't wade into this situation alone. You need someone on your side, someone who can make sense of the rules, someone willing to fight to ensure you're treated fairly.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully licensed defense attorney who specializes in sexual misconduct cases. He built his practice representing hundreds of students just like you. Joseph D. Lento knows the law, and he knows how to make sure your school follows it. He's experienced in dealing with university faculty and administrators and practiced at cutting through all the red tape. No matter what your situation, Joseph D. Lento can make sure you get the very best possible resolution to your case.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't try to handle it yourself. Contact the professionals at the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.