College can be one of the most amazing times in a person's life. It's a chance to learn new things, to make new friends, to explore newfound independence. An allegation of sexual misconduct, though, can quickly put all of that in jeopardy.
Sexual misconduct is one of the most serious allegations a student can face. In some cases, students can find themselves facing suspension even before an investigation begins. Penalties can include expulsion, and expulsion can include a transcript notation that might prevent a student from enrolling anywhere else. And, of course, in the digital age, even unproven allegations can create a stigma that can follow a student for the rest of their lives.
Sexual misconduct can also be one of the hardest allegations to fight, particularly for students. Many schools stack the deck in favor of accusers, withholding some key due process rights from defendants. Worse, college judicial systems can often be mired in confusing bureaucracy that can be difficult if not impossible to navigate.
The situation at Liberty University is more confusing than most. As a religious school, its rules and regulations are particularly complex, involving many competing and even contradictory policies. Below, we do our best to untangle all this confusion and to outline just what you should do if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of fighting a charge of sexual misconduct.
A History of Title IX
For a number of years, Title IX controlled how most schools responded to allegations of sexual misconduct. This federal law, passed in 1972, encouraged educational institutions to prosecute instances of sexual harassment and discrimination and threatened to withhold government funding from schools that failed to do so. While these threats may have been well-intentioned, they also created a motivation for schools to pursue such cases aggressively, so aggressively, in fact, that defendants' rights were sometimes set aside or completely ignored.
The Trump administration, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy DeVos, set out to address these inequalities, and in early 2020, issued revised standards for how schools should prosecute Title IX cases. Among the changes, they narrowed the definition of “sexual harassment,” limited school jurisdictions, and created a hearing process that allowed students the right to cross-examine witnesses.
Instead of Clarity, More Confusion
Though the Title IX changes were meant to restore due process rights and add clarity to the Title IX investigation and hearing process, they actually wound up creating more chaos and confusion.
To begin with, many schools reacted badly to these changes. A handful even chose to sue the federal government trying to prevent the implementation of the new rules. Most schools, though, simply took matters into their own hands. Where they felt Title IX was no longer strict enough, they developed new university policies to prosecute sexual misconduct. While they continued to follow Title IX guidelines when necessary, they funneled the bulk of their cases through the new policies, policies which often continued to deny due process rights to the accused. And with two competing prosecution tracks, campus judicial systems were now even more complicated.
Liberty University is a special case when it comes to these complexities. As a conservative institution, the school is inclined to follow the Trump administration's guidelines. However, its “Discrimination, Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct Policy” doesn't make its stance entirely clear. More importantly, as a religious institution, the school has a number of strict conduct policies that can come into conflict with its sexual misconduct policies. These situations help to make a charge of sexual misconduct at the school especially tricky to fight.
How Liberty University Treats Sexual Misconduct Allegations
In general, the procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct, as outlined in Liberty University's policy, seem to follow the Trump administration's Title IX guidelines.
- The process begins with a formal allegation.
- The Title IX coordinator appoints an investigator to interview both parties, collect evidence, and gather witness statements. Once the investigator's work is concluded, he or she then prepares a report that is forwarded to a formal hearing committee.
- This formal hearing committee, made up of three trained members of the university community, hears the case, looking at all the evidence and calling any relevant witnesses. As part of this hearing process, both sides or their chosen advisors may cross-examine witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the committee makes a determination of guilt or innocence and assigns penalties as necessary.
- Either side may appeal the verdict within very strict limits with include claims of procedural violations, new evidence, or accusations of bias.
Points of Confusion
- While the investigation and hearing procedures outlined in Liberty University's policy mirror those of the revised Title IX standards, nowhere in the school's official policy does it make clear whether all sexual misconduct cases are treated as Title IX cases. The policy's title doesn't mention Title IX. Yet, the policy clearly states that all allegations of sexual misconduct will be handled through the Title IX office.
- While the school clearly states that it prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, ancestry, religion, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy or childbirth, disability, or military veteran status,” it also reserves the right to discriminate “on the basis of religion.”
- And while the school notes that in any conflict between the sexual misconduct policy and other school policies, the sexual misconduct policy will be given priority, the school also makes clear that it may “choose to investigate other potential misconduct” related to a case.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help Make Sense of Your Case
Campus judicial processes are daunting under any circumstances. Sexual misconduct allegations can be even more problematic. At Liberty University, things get even more confusing.
If you or your child is accused of sexual misconduct at Liberty University, don't try to take on the system yourself. Instead, call an attorney who's an expert at Title IX and campus disciplinary cases. Call Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience defending college students against allegations of sexual misconduct. He will stand by your side from start to finish, fighting to ensure you're given your due process rights and that you receive the best possible outcome to your case. Joseph D. Lento can make sense of it all.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.