Few allegations carry as much weight as an allegation of sexual misconduct. That's true whether you find yourself in a court of law or a university hearing. Sure, you may face jail time if you are convicted by a judge and jury, but if you're a college student facing a charge of sexual misconduct, you could be suspended, or even expelled. Often expulsion includes a notation on your transcript about the reason for your dismissal. That can keep you from enrolling anywhere else, seriously damaging not only your academic career but your future ability to get a job.
Yet despite the seriousness of these consequences, most colleges and universities don't afford accused students the same basic due process rights they would receive in the United States justice system. Students can be suspended from classes during the investigation, for example, putting their academic progress in jeopardy. In many cases, they may not be allowed to cross-examine witnesses. And schools may severely limit their options for appeal.
Below, we examine how Southern New Hampshire State treats these allegations and what you should know about the judicial process should you suddenly find yourself accused.
It All Began with Title IX
For a number of years, most schools dealt with allegations of sexual misconduct through the federal government's Title IX law. Originally passed in 1972, this law was intended to level the playing field at colleges and universities by encouraging schools to prosecute instances of sexual discrimination and harassment. Over time, the government slowly expanded the definition of harassment to include almost all instances of sexual misconduct, from biased grading, to stalking, to rape. Most schools pursued allegations as aggressively as they possibly could for fear of losing government funding. As a result, students accused of these crimes often faced an uphill battle in defending themselves.
In early 2020, the Trump administration, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy Devos, issued revised Title IX rules specifically aimed at restoring due process rights to student defendants. Among the changes, students now had the right to a hearing and the right to cross-examine witnesses. The administration also limited school jurisdictions and narrowed the definition of “harassment,” placing a larger burden on colleges to make their cases.
Though the new Title IX rules were intended to restore fairness and clarity to the college judicial system, in practice, they had the opposite effect. Schools across the country protested the Trump administration's move, and when these protests fell on deaf ears, they began looking for loopholes in the policy. What they wound up creating was a system no more fair than it was before but which was now far more complicated and difficult to navigate.
How Southern New Hampshire University Treats Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Like many of its peer schools, SNHU ultimately chose to respond to the Title IX changes by creating two separate tracks for dealing with sexual misconduct. Incidents that still fit the new, stricter definition of sexual harassment would continue to be prosecuted under Title IX. However, other infractions were now treated under the newly created “Institutional Sexual Misconduct Grievance Procedures.”
Many of the elements of the investigation and hearing processes remain the same under both policies.
- The grievance process begins with a formal complaint to the Title IX coordinator's office.
- The coordinator then appoints an investigator to the case, who takes statements from both parties and collects any physical evidence.
- Once the investigation is complete, the investigator issues a case report and forwards it to the Title IX coordinator.
- The coordinator then sets a hearing before a three-member panel drawn from a pool of trained faculty, students, and administrators.
- At that hearing, the panel reviews the investigative report but also takes a fresh look at the evidence and calls pertinent witnesses to testify.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel makes a decision as to guilt and assigns any necessary penalties.
- Either side may then appeal the verdict, but only on very specific grounds including:
- Procedural irregularities
- New evidence
- Official conflict of interest
While the two processes are similar, there are some significant differences between them. For example,
- In both cases, students are allowed to appoint advisors who may be attorneys. However, advisors are only allowed to speak to the panel under Title IX rules.
- In addition, advisors may not directly cross-examine witnesses at the hearing. Instead, they may submit questions to the panel, who ultimately decide if those questions should be asked.
Though small, these differences fundamentally change the nature of the school's justice system. Where Title IX gives defendants the rights to competent representation and to confront their accusers, the university system denies those same rights.
In the end, however, sanctions in both kinds of cases are roughly the same. These can include anything from a warning, to removal from campus housing, to probation, suspension, and expulsion.
Put Joseph D. Lento in Your Corner for Title IX Defense
The sexual misconduct policy at Southern New Hampshire University is lengthy and detailed. It contains procedures for everything from handling evidence to training potential hearing panelists. Don't try to take on the system on your own: the rules are too complicated, and the stakes are simply too high.
If you or your child is accused of sexual misconduct at SNHU, take the charges seriously and contact Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student disciplinary cases and has unparalled experience successfully defending clients in such cases. He is an expert in Title IX law. He knows how state and federal laws apply to academic institutions. Most importantly, he understands university bureaucracy and how it works. Joseph D. Lento is empathetic and will stand by your side and protect your due process rights from start to finish. Joseph D. Lento knows how to get you the best possible solution.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.