Allegations of sexual misconduct are among the most serious a person can face. Even an unfounded accusation can follow a person for the rest of their life. That is just as true for a college student as it is for anyone else.
College can feel like a sheltered environment, a place where you can test boundaries without facing the same serious consequences you'll face once you're out in the “real” world. And to some extent, that's true. Blowing off an Econ test to talk religious philosophy over pizza until three in the morning has consequences, but it won't get you fired.
Sexual misconduct, on the other hand, can wreck your education and can have repercussions that extend well beyond college. Potential penalties in such cases can include probation, suspension, even expulsion. Furthermore, a university disciplinary process is significantly different than a court of law, and navigating this process can be tricky. For all these reasons, you should never take accusations of sexual misconduct lightly, even if you're “only a student.”
Sexual Misconduct and Title IX
For a number of years, colleges and universities handled most allegations of sexual misconduct as violations of Title IX. This law, passed in 1972, was designed to prevent sexual discrimination in educational contexts, an important goal. The law was not perfect: for one thing, it encouraged schools to prosecute essentially every accusation or risk losing their federal funding. However, the Title IX guidelines clearly defined what constituted sexual misconduct and outlined a process for dealing with potential violations.
Things changed, however, in early 2020. In March of that year, the Trump administration, led by education secretary Betsy DeVos, issued a revised set of guidelines. The new rules narrowed the definitions of sexual misconduct and provided additional due process rights for the accused. Initially, at least, these changes seemed like a positive development, leveling the playing field for defendants.
However, many schools saw the new guidelines as a direct affront to what they had come to see as their own role at the forefront of protecting women's rights. In response to the announcement, some colleges and universities, including the University of Massachusetts at Boston, immediately set about revising how they addressed sexual misconduct allegations. While Title IX remained in place where applicable, when the new definitions of misconduct were too narrow to suit the allegation, cases were now handled under the schools' student code of conduct. Not only did this shift make the entire process far more complicated, but it also meant that in many cases, defendants now had even fewer due process rights than before.
How Sexual Misconduct Allegations are Treated at the University of Massachusetts, Boston
Procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct under the student code of conduct are particularly complex at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Even the process of making an allegation to the Dean of Students is complicated, with specific procedures for submitting the allegation, assigning a Conduct Officer to handle it, and meeting with other relevant university departments.
Once the allegation is established, the matter can be dealt with through a number of different processes, including informal remediation, adjudication by letter, administrative conference, or a full investigation and administrative review. In practice, however, accusations of sexual misconduct are usually dealt with at the highest level, through administrative review.
The administrative review works in some ways like a hearing in a traditional court of law. The conduct officer assigned to the case conducts an extensive investigation, interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence. This officer then submits a report of findings and any sanction recommendations to the Dean's office. This report is reviewed by an Administrative Review committee made up of one or two “review officers.” Once they have reviewed the report, they send a final version to the Dean of Students.
Finally, there is an appeals process in place. As part of that process, an “appellate board body” determines if the administrative review should reconsider the case or the sanctions imposed. However, the school allows only two grounds for appeal: new evidence or proof of significant procedural errors in the process.
The Limitations of the Judicial Process
The judicial process at the University of Massachusetts is not the same as in an actual court of law. This may seem like a positive. While the school reserves the right to alert the authorities to the case, the school can't sentence the defendant to jail time for their offense.
However, the accused also isn't afforded the same rights as they might be during an actual court trial.
- The student has the right to an advisor, and may choose an attorney for this role, but the attorney cannot speak on the student's behalf.
- A student may submit questions for witnesses, but only the administrative officers may ask these questions.
- The Conduct Officer assigned to investigate the case is the same person who initially determines guilt and sanctions.
- The judicial standard is one of “preponderance of evidence” rather than the stricter “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In simple terms, a student is considered guilty if the evidence shows the violation is “more likely than not” to have happened.
- While there is an appeals process, that process is extremely limited.
Finally, while a college can't sentence a student to prison, suspending or expelling that student can disrupt their education and damage their career prospects.
What can Joseph D. Lento do for You
Joseph D. Lento is an expert in student disciplinary cases and particularly cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct. He has unparalleled experience with Title IX cases but is equally adept at navigating the complex disciplinary rules and procedures set up by university policy. Joseph D. Lento is on your side and will stay by your side from start to finish of the case.
Don't try to handle a sexual misconduct allegation on your own, or choose a school faculty member as an advisor. Hire an expert in these matters, someone like Joseph D. Lento with a long and proven record of success.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.