Every college and university has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of its students. That responsibility should extend to all students. What happens, though, when conflict pits two students against one another, as in the case of a sexual misconduct allegation? The natural human impulse may be to sympathize with the “victim,” perhaps the more so because for too long, victims of sexual crimes haven't been taken seriously enough.
Without question, schools such as Indiana University, Bloomington do have a duty to provide every possible resource to victims of sexual misconduct. Yet, too often, a concern for victims comes at the expense of concern for the accused. University administrators can lose sight of that most basic of American judicial principles: that a person accused of a crime should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.
If schools have an obligation to protect the rights of victims, they have just as much an obligation to protect the rights of defendants, to guarantee those defendants are treated fairly in a balanced justice system. Unfortunately, in recent years the goals of equal treatment have been undermined by ever more complicated policies and laws that can make it almost impossible to fight sexual misconduct allegations effectively.
Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Title IX, passed in 1972, was originally aimed at eliminating sexual discrimination and harassment in educational programs. Of course, when most people think of Title IX, they think of headline-catching stories about schools that have been forced to cut male athletic programs in order to create greater opportunities for female athletes.
However, over time, Title IX also became the primary means for dealing with instances of sexual misconduct on college campuses, in part because the law provided specific guidelines for conducting investigations and holding hearings in response to such allegations. Unfortunately, while Title IX created clear procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct, it also undermined many of the defendant's due process rights. For example, schools were encouraged to prosecute absolutely every accusation and prosecute it vigorously or risk losing federal funding. In practice, then, most accused students were treated as guilty from the start of an investigation.
In March 2020, the Trump administration, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy DeVos, issued new Title IX guidelines designed to help restore balance to the system. Among other changes, these new guidelines narrowed the definition of sexual misconduct and gave new due process rights to the accused. For instance, under the new rules complainants could now be cross-examined.
Rather than restore balance, however, the Title IX changes only created more chaos. In the months following the Trump administration's announcement, in fact, a handful of schools actually sued to have the changes set aside. Other schools took a more passive approach: where they felt Title IX was no longer strict enough, they simply instituted new university policies to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct. Often, the end result was a complex patchwork of policies and procedures. In some cases, schools instituted interim policies while they sorted out what to do, adding to the confusion. Far from easing the defendant's burden, these added layers of bureaucracy made it even harder to receive a fair hearing.
How Indiana University, Bloomington Handles Sexual Misconduct Allegations
At IU, Bloomington, the Title IX Coordinator still handles all reports of sexual misconduct, though her title has been expanded to “Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Coordinator” to reflect a broader role.
In general terms, cases are all handled in a similar fashion, whether they are prosecuted under Title IX or university policy:
- An investigation into the case is conducted by an Investigating Officer. This investigation includes interviews with both the complainant and the respondent, interviews with pertinent witnesses, and a review of all relevant evidence.
- The Investigative Officer completes a report that is forwarded to a hearing panel.
- Both sides are given an opportunity to seek an “alternative resolution.”
- In the absence of an alternative resolution, a hearing panel, made up of three people drawn from faculty, staff, and students, reviews the evidence and, if necessary, calls witnesses. Both sides may submit questions for witnesses, but these questions can only be asked by the hearing panel.
- The hearing panel determines the respondent's guilt or innocence and recommends sanctions if necessary.
- Both sides may appeal the decision to a Student Affairs official, but only under specific circumstances such as the discovery of new evidence.
There are subtle differences between Title IX and University policy procedures. For example, under Title IX, students are allowed two advisors; under university policy, they are allowed only one.
In addition, an investigation under Title IX that determines a respondent is innocent can then changed to an investigation under university policy.
Sanctions at Indiana University, Bloomington
Obviously, sanctions at Indiana University differ significantly from those assigned by a judge or jury in a court of law (though criminal charges can be filed against a student). The university can't, for example, send a student to jail. That doesn't mean penalties can't be significant.
Low-level sanctions can include fines and restitution, no-contact orders, or probation.
Sanctions for the most serious offenses can include suspension and expulsion. Not only does expulsion mean removal from Indiana University, but it includes a transcript notation about the nature of the expulsion. Often, such notations will prevent other schools from admitting the student.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help
Attorney Joseph D. Lento specializes in student discipline cases, especially cases involving sexual misconduct. He knows Title IX case law, but he also knows the specifics of university disciplinary action, and he has unparalleled experience in defending students against both. Joseph D. Lento knows how to make sense of the charges, how to navigate campus judicial proceedings, and how to ensure you or your child get the full due process rights you deserve. From start to finish, Joseph D. Lento will fight to get you the best possible solution no matter the charge.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.