College is one of the most important times in a person's life. Of course, the goal is that diploma, the piece of paper that entitles you to better jobs. Just as important, though, is how you come to define yourself during your college years. For most of us, this is the first time we're truly on our own, making our own decisions, setting our own boundaries, and deciding just who we want to be.
That process is never without its bumps and bruises. Students can and do find themselves in all sorts of trouble while in school. Oftentimes this trouble is relatively minor. That's not always the case, though. Every year, students find themselves accused of sexual misconduct, one of the most serious offenses anyone can face.
Accusations of sexual misconduct can be difficult to fight. College and university judicial systems aren't always held to the same rigorous standards as an actual court of law. In addition, campus policies can often be confusing and difficult to navigate, tangled in academic bureaucracy. Below, we try to make sense of how the University of Georgia deals with such allegations and discuss just how they rate when it comes to defendant rights.
Sexual Misconduct Under Title IX
Most of us recognize that, for women, gaining equal rights in this country has been a long and difficult struggle. If you've seen Madmen, you have some idea of what this landscape looked like in the late 1960s. In 1972, the federal government passed Title IX legislation intended to improve the situation. That legislation tied federal funds to an education program's willingness to prosecute instances of sexual discrimination and harassment.
For the most part, the law worked as it was intended to work. In the decades since its passage, American colleges and universities have gone from institutions often openly hostile towards women to bastions of women and minority rights, zealous prosecutors of all manner of sexual discrimination and harassment.
During that same period, the law underwent a shift, particularly in the definition of harassment. That term came to include virtually any kind of sexual misconduct, from classroom intimidation, to stalking and even rape. At the same time, the government slowly began to chip away at defendants' rights. From the beginning, the playing field was unequal because schools had a clear incentive to prosecute any and all complaints. Failing to do so risked funding. But over time, basic due process rights were eroded to the point where it became difficult for the accused to challenge their accusers at all.
Title IX Revisions and the Response
More change was coming. In March of 2020, the Trump administration, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy DeVos, issued sweeping revisions to Title IX designed to level the playing field for defendants. The changes included a new, narrower definition of sexual harassment, one meant to be harder for universities to prove. In addition, schools were limited in their jurisdiction. Defendants were given a right to a live trial and to cross-examine witnesses.
Schools, for their part, reacted badly to these changes. A handful even chose to sue the federal government to prevent the implementation of the new rules. Most schools, however, had a simpler, if more insidious, response. Rather than fight the new Title IX, they created new university policies designed to circumvent it. Where they felt Title IX was no longer strict enough, they developed new university policies to prosecute sexual misconduct. And while they had no choice but to follow Title IX guidelines for investigations and hearings, they felt no obligation to follow these when it came to enforcing their own policies. As a result, campus judicial systems became a patchwork quilt of competing policies and procedures, even more difficult to make sense of than before.
How the University of Georgia Treats Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Like many of its peer institutions, the University of Georgia chose to create two separate tracks for prosecuting sexual misconduct. For crimes that rose to the level of Title IX, they kept Title IX rules and procedures in place. For all other crimes, they now follow their own policies.
When an allegation is made, it may be dealt with through formal or informal processes. In an informal process, some fact-finding may occur, but the more important element is mediation that leads to resolution. Such resolutions can include training, housing reassignments, and no-contact orders.
The formal process, on the other hand, is centered on an investigation.
- The director of the EOO (Equal Opportunity Office) appoints an investigator to look into the case. This person collects evidence, asks questions of both parties, and interviews witnesses. This process may take up to 120 days.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator makes a determination as to responsibility and assigns any sanctions as necessary. These vary widely and can include mandatory counseling, loss of university privileges, probation, suspension, or even expulsion.
University Policy vs. A Court of Law
The first difference in how schools treat allegations of sexual misconduct may be obvious: investigators ultimately make decisions about guilt and innocence and assign necessary sanctions. Not only does this place a student's fate in a single person's hands, but it gives this person two functions that would normally be separate: investigator and judge.
In addition, the standard for guilt is less than that typically used in a court of law. Investigators are only required to find a “preponderance of guilt” to convict. This means they must simply determine if the incident is more likely or not to have occurred.
Finally, UGA defendants have limited rights to appeal. While either party may appeal the investigator's decision, they may only do so under very narrow circumstances, such as clear bias on the investigator's part.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help
The campus judicial process may seem daunting. It is. The good news is, Joseph D. Lento is here to help. Joseph D. Lento specializes in student disciplinary cases and has unparalleled experience defending hundreds of clients against sexual misconduct charges across the United States. Joseph D. Lento is on your side. He will fight to ensure your due process rights are protected and that you receive the best possible outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.