College is a time for trying new things, for exploring the world, for learning to set your own boundaries. In simplest terms, it's about become an adult. That's not always a smooth process. In fact, if there's one thing you can count on, it's that over the course of those four years, you will make mistakes. The best you can hope for is to avoid any mistakes that can't be fixed.
One kind of mistake, sexual misconduct, happens far too often on college and university campuses. Of course, we can all agree that schools have a sacred obligation to protect students and to provide resources and support to anyone who finds themselves a victim of such behavior.
In the rush to support victims, however, we must also remember that those accused of crimes should have rights as well, and these too must be vigorously protected. A campus judicial system is not the same as a court of law. It can be a confusing tangle of complicated rules and procedures which often don't do enough to safeguard a defendant's rights to due process. If you should find yourself accused of sexual misconduct, it is important to get the facts: this page should help. It's also important to choose someone to represent you who knows the system.
For a number of years, Title IX has been the primary law through which schools prosecute violations of sexual misconduct. This law, passed in 1972, sought to eliminate sexual discrimination and harassment in education programs by withholding federal funds from any institution that failed to address such behaviors. In achieving this important goal, though, the law put pressure on schools to prosecute absolutely every report of sexual misconduct they received, since otherwise they risked losing funding. Naturally, over time many schools became over-zealous in investigating complaints and pursuing “justice” at any cost.
Early in 2020, the Trump administration, led by education secretary Betsy DeVos, issued new Title IX guidelines designed to level the playing field and restore rights to the accused. These guidelines narrowed the definition of sexual misconduct and restored many due process rights to defendants. These changes had the potential to restore balance to campus judicial systems.
Instead, they created additional chaos. Many schools, for instance, saw the new Title IX guidelines as a threat both to their sovereignty as independent institutions of higher learning and to their reputation as staunch defenders of women's rights. Such schools began the process of revising their own student codes of conduct to address what they saw as the shortcomings in the new Title IX rules. Where once Title IX had served as the main mechanism for dealing with sexual misconduct, many schools now cobbled together a hodge-podge of policies, using Title IX where they could and instituting completely new procedures where they felt Title IX had been left weakened. In the end, then, not only did the Trump administration's efforts not shore up due process rights, but they created a system so complicated that it is now easier than ever simply to get lost in all the bureaucracy.
Sexual Misconduct at Florida State University
Florida State University is a good example of a school with overly complex disciplinary procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct. In fact, FSU Policy 2-2, on “sex discrimination and sexual misconduct,” points to no less than ten separate laws that govern how it treats allegations of sexual misconduct (page 22). In the midst of such a tangle of procedural guidelines, how is any student accused of sexual misconduct meant to properly defend themselves?
According to school policy, if an allegation rises to the level of a Title IX offense, then students are investigated and adjudicated based on current Title IX procedural rules. The Title IX office handles the case and conducts the investigation, and issues a report. The case is then heard by the school's Student Conduct Board.
Should the case be treated instead under the Student Code of Conduct, though, the school may not even undertake an investigation. Instead, a student might find themselves on any one of a number of different resolution tracks, including alternative resolutions, informal adjudication, or formal hearings.
In short, the process for dealing with sexual misconduct isn't clearly defined and can depend on the nature of the alleged misconduct and the whims of the administration.
Outcomes for Sexual Misconduct at Florida State University
Some processes, such as formal hearings before the Conduct Committee, allow students to appeal findings and/ or sanctions. Who hears an appeal, however, can vary: “The appellate body varies depending on the hearing body.” Other kinds of resolutions are final with no possibility of appeal.
When students are found responsible for sexual misconduct, sanctions can also vary widely. Low-level cases might warrant a reprimand or a letter to the student's parents. Other cases might result in counseling, removal from housing, or restitution. At the most extreme level, sexual misconduct can lead to suspension or even expulsion from the school. Beyond expulsion, FSU can also include a notation on a student's transcript noting the reason for the expulsion. Such notations make it much harder for a student to re-enroll at another college.
Joseph D. Lento - A National Expert in Title IX Sexual Misconduct Cases
Allegations of sexual misconduct are extremely serious. Even unfounded allegations can ruin a student's career and reputation if they are somehow made public. In addition, the judicial process on campus is complicated and oftentimes denies students their basic due process rights as accused.
If you or your child find yourselves accused of sexual misconduct don't take chances. Florida State University allows defendants to have an adviser. Make sure you choose Joseph D. Lento to serve in that role. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student discipline matters. He knows Title IX inside and out, but he also knows how to navigate through the university judicial system. Joseph D. Lento is extremely empathetic and will stand with you from start to finish to ensure you get you the best possible outcome.