College is among the most important times in a person's life. Sure, it's about attending classes, meeting new people, enjoying tailgate parties. But it's also about finding yourself, figuring out who you are now that you're on your own for the very first time. That process can be bumpy. Each year, for example, hundreds of students across the country find themselves accused of sexual misconduct.
Sexual misconduct is an especially serious offense. Even the phrase carries a stigma, and accusations, even if unfounded, can have devastating and lasting effects on a student's academic career and indeed their entire future. Penalties for sexual misconduct can include probation, suspension, even expulsion.
Given just how serious this charge is, colleges and universities would seem to have a responsibility to ensure defendants are treated respectfully, that they are afforded all of their constitutional rights, and guaranteed a fair hearing. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. In addition, the judicial process at most schools is so mired in bureaucracy that it is almost impossible to navigate.
Below, we explore this process at the University of Maryland Global Campus, explaining just what happens if you're accused of sexual misconduct and how to deal with such allegations.
Sexual Misconduct Under Title IX
For many years, most schools prosecuted instances of sexual misconduct under the federal government's Title IX law. Passed in 1972, this law encouraged educational programs to eliminate sexual discrimination and harassment and threatened to withhold funding from those that refused to comply. The law worked well, some might say too well. College campuses didn't just become safe spaces for women. Many schools came to see themselves as the first line of defense for victims' and women's rights. Unfortunately, their progressive work often came at the expense of defendants' rights.
Over time, the government broadened the definition of “harassment” to include a wide variety of offenses, from stalking and date rape, to making inappropriate comments on social media pages. As a result, schools had broad latitude when it came to charging students with misconduct while at the same time they had a strong financial incentive to prosecute such students as zealously as possible.
In early 2020, the Trump administration, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy DeVos, issued brand new guidelines for how schools should implement Title IX. These guidelines were intended to restore defendants' rights, to level the judicial playing field on college campuses. The result, however, was largely chaos. A handful of schools actually sued to prevent the new rules from taking effect. Others began scrambling to revise their own policies to respond to the changes.
Sexual Misconduct at the University of Maryland Global Campus
The University of Maryland Global Campus is guided by University System of Maryland policies. In contrast to a number of their peers, the University System of Maryland chose to adopt most of the Title IX reforms and to revise their own policies to mirror those reforms. Where they felt Title IX was no longer strict enough in its definitions of harassment, they incorporated the broad term “sexual misconduct” into their own student code of conduct. However, the processes for violations remained the same in either case.
- At UMGC, then, the judicial process begins when a complaint is filed with the Title IX office. The school's Title IX coordinator makes decisions about how to proceed and, if necessary, appoints an investigator to pursue the case.
- The investigator's job is to gather facts. This involves interviewing both the complainant and the respondent, collecting witness statements, and gathering any other pertinent evidence.
- Students are encouraged to choose an advisor to help guide them through the investigation and hearing process and may select an attorney to fill this role. In fact, UMD has set aside funds to help reimburse students for legal costs.
- Upon completion of the investigation, the investigator has ten days to issue a written report. Both sides then have a chance to comment on this report before it is forwarded to a Hearing Officer.
- The Hearing Officer is responsible for all aspects of the hearing and serves as both the judge and jury in the case.
- Students are allowed to make opening statements or to have their advisors make those statements for them.
- Students and/ or their advisors may present evidence, call witnesses, and cross-examine each other's witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Office issues a written verdict and assigns sanctions as necessary.
- Either side may appeal for procedural reasons or if new evidence has come to light. Otherwise, the Hearing Officer's judgment is final.
A Fractured System
While the University of Maryland Global Campus' new judicial process does restore some rights to defendants in sexual misconduct cases, it doesn't necessarily eliminate the chaos and confusion that often reigns in such cases. As with virtually all higher education institutions, the justice system at UMGC is subject to many layers of bureaucracy. It can be difficult, for example, to keep track of who is handling which aspects of the case, when evidence is due, and what rules apply in what situations.
To make matters worse, the University of Maryland Global Campus' policy regarding sexual misconduct remains in flux, so much so that the school hasn't yet posted a revised copy of its individual policy online, as of early 2021. Rather they are simply guided for now by the Maryland University System's larger policy.
Put Joseph D. Lento in Your Corner
Student disciplinary cases aren't the same as cases in a court of law. If you or your child should be accused of sexual misconduct at the University of Maryland Global Campus, don't hire just any lawyer to serve as your advisor. Hire Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student disciplinary cases. He's an expert on Title IX law, but more importantly, he understands the complexities of academic bureaucracy. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm will fight to make sure you get every right you deserve and will stand by your side until your case is resolved.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.