There have been new developments in a Title IX claim of sexual misconduct from Webster University. As we recounted in our blog back in May, those Title IX claims are based on hearsay – a student heard from friends that one of her professors said she was flirting with him.
The school has since denied her Title IX claim and the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education (OCR) has gotten involved.
Student Files Title IX Claim After Hearing About Professor's Remarks
The case involves a private St. Louis college, Webster University. A student there learned from friends that one of her professors was telling others that she was flirting with him, so she filed a Title IX lawsuit against him and the school.
While the school's Title IX office claims that it intends to finish investigations within 60 days, this one was still ongoing more than a year later when the student graduated. At that point, the school's Title IX office said that it was only halfway finished with their investigation.
School Denies Title IX Claims, OCR Announces Investigation
Soon after the student went public with her allegations and local media started paying attention to how long the Title IX claims were taking, the school abruptly finished the last half of its investigation and notified the student that there had been no misconduct on the professor's part. The school pointed to its Title IX rules and procedures, which said nothing about alleged sexual comments made to someone other than the student. The school also said that the alleged harassment did not interfere with the student's education.
Soon thereafter, the student was contacted by the Office for Civil Rights. They told her that they were planning to investigate Webster University's Title IX rules, officially opening the investigation later that day.
Internal Audit Leads to Title IX Changes
Meanwhile, Webster University has conducted an internal audit of its Title IX procedures. This audit found “several areas where improvements could be made,” and led to changes by the school.
The Problem With Letting Schools Run Title IX Investigations
These allegations highlight one of the most pressing problems that Title IX law has created: Each school can create its own rules and regulations for investigating and hearing claims of sexual misconduct and other Title IX allegations.
It should come as no surprise that some schools come up with procedures that tilt the scales in favor of the accused or the accuser or, as in the case of Webster University, create a Title IX investigation system that takes over a year to resolve a case.
In theory, this is where the OCR and the court system are supposed to come into play. The OCR's input and court rulings are supposed to give schools the input they need to create Title IX regulations that follow the law.
In practice, though, this creates an ad hoc system that handles similar cases very differently, depending on where it happened.