Tulane University takes instances of sexual misconduct seriously, as well it should. Every college and university has an obligation to vigorously protect the welfare of its students. The goal of protecting victims' rights, though, should never come at the expense of protecting the rights of the accused.
The concept that an individual is innocent until proven guilty is a sacred principle in American law. Accusations of sexual misconduct offer an important illustration of why. Such an allegation can have enormous repercussions for a student's education. A student accused of sexual misconduct may face suspension or even expulsion. In addition, they could be barred from attending other schools as well.
But this particular kind of accusation can follow a student well beyond their four years at college. In the digital world, even an unproven allegation of such a crime can haunt a person for a lifetime.
Recent Changes to Title IX
In the past, Tulane has handled sexual misconduct allegations as instances of potential Title IX violations. That means these allegations were subject to a very clear investigative and judicial process, one outlined by the federal government.
However, in March of 2020, the Trump administration chose to revise Title IX, tightening the definitions of sexual misconduct and giving more rights to the accused. These changes went into effect in August 2020 and are known as the "Title IX Final Rule".
Many schools, Tulane among them, were unhappy with the revised guidelines. Their response: to implement or reassert their own school guidelines regarding sexual misconduct. Basically such schools said that if they feel the federal law isn't strong enough they will use their own code of conduct as a guideline instead.
On the one hand, relying on a code of conduct to address infractions rather than Title IX means schools keep their own stricter rules in place. On the other hand, because Title IX is no longer being used in most of these cases, schools are free to create their own independent processes for dealing with such allegations. In short, many schools used the Trump changes as an excuse to abandon the Title IX process in favor of procedures that often give even fewer rights to the accused.
How Tulane Classifies Sexual Misconduct
The end result of all these changes is that Tulane now classifies sexual misconduct allegations into three separate categories, each with its own procedures:
- Cases that still rise to the level of current Title IX guidelines will continue to be treated using Title IX procedures, though the school says quite clearly that they expect few cases will.
- Cases involving university employees fall under Equal Opportunity/ Anti-Discrimination policies.
- Student cases that don't meet the new Title IX standards will now be treated as violations of the student code of conduct.
Importantly, though, all three classifications remain under the jurisdiction of the newly renamed “University Sexual Misconduct Response and Title IX Coordinator.”
Tulane's Code Violation Procedures
Student cases of sexual misconduct at Tulane generally begin when one student makes a formal complaint against another. At this point, the Director of Student Conduct decides whether the case will be handled through an educational conference, an administrative hearing, or—if the case is deemed “major”— an investigative process.
- Educational conferences may be no more than proactive steps to warn a student about the nature of their behavior. In other instances, a staff member may impose a “learning action plan” to help the student address an infraction. Finally, conferences can also sometimes lead to more formal administrative hearings.
- Administrative hearings resemble educational conferences but are led by the school's conduct officer. Ultimately this officer has wide latitude in deciding how the investigative process proceeds. In addition, they make determinations about guilt and punishment. Though they cannot impose suspension or expulsion, they are free to impose any other of Tulane's seventeen penalties. They can also decide an incident of sexual misconduct is a “major” code violation.
- For major sexual misconduct allegations, the school appoints an investigator, typically from outside the university, to conduct a thorough investigation of any evidence, including witness statements, text messages, even sexual histories. Much like the conduct officer, this investigator is then empowered to make all determinations in the case and to recommend any potential punishments.
Consequences of Sexual Misconduct at Tulane
As the above procedure descriptions suggest, the judicial process at Tulane doesn't afford the accused in a sexual misconduct case many due process rights. The school informs the student of the allegation, and the student can respond. However, in most cases, single individuals determine guilt or innocence and decide what penalties to impose.
In addition, Tulane's code of conduct (page 10) makes clear that the school does not use “beyond a reasonable doubt” as their standard of determining guilt but rather a “preponderance of evidence” standard. In simplest terms, the school must only decide whether it is “more likely or not” a violation occurred.
In all, Tulane lists seventeen different potential penalties for violating the student code of conduct. These range from low-level consequences such as an oral reprimand or community service, through housing restrictions or probation, all the way to suspension or expulsion. In fact, if a student is expelled from Tulane University, they receive a mark on their transcript which could very well prohibit them from being admitted at other schools.
Put Joseph D. Lento in Your Corner
If your child finds themselves accused of sexual misconduct, both you and your child should treat that accusation seriously. After all, their future is at stake. Joseph D. Lento has years of experience as a successful Title IX and sexual misconduct lawyer. He specializes in making sure students are given their due process rights. From start to finish of an investigation, Joseph D. Lento will stand beside your family and make sure your child is treated fairly and equally.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.