The University of Cincinnati takes instances of sexual misconduct seriously. It should. An institution of higher education has an obligation to protect its students, and no one should ever have to suffer from sexual harassment, discrimination, or abuse.
By the same token, though, no innocent student should ever have to interrupt their academic career or suffer suspension or expulsion because of a false accusation. Unfortunately, while most schools vigorously protect victims' rights, they often fail to provide the same care and concern to defendants.
If you should find yourself in the unfortunate position of dealing with such an accusation, you need to know how your school deals with such cases, because understanding how your campus judicial system works will help you better defend yourself.
A Brief History of Title IX
For a number of years, most colleges and universities in the U.S. have followed Title IX guidelines in investigating and prosecuting allegations of sexual misconduct. Title IX is a federal law that was passed in 1972 with the goal of curbing sexual discrimination and harassment at educational institutions. Title IX isn't binding on any school. That is, no school has to abide by the rules and regulations set out in Title IX. However, schools that don't abide by them risk losing their federal funding.
Without question, Title IX has done a great deal of good in this country. Certainly, it hasn't eliminated sexual harassment and discrimination, but it has gone a long way towards making college campuses safe, welcoming environments for women.
Nevertheless, over the course of fifty years, the Title IX framework slowly became unbalanced in favor of accusers. To a certain extent, this began with tying cases to government funding. Under this threat, most schools felt a keen urgency to address any and all allegations, and this sometimes led to over-zealous prosecutions. Another problem: As time went on, the definition of “harassment” began to change so that it included a broad range of misconduct, from stalking to assault to rape. And as time went on, little by little, defendants' rights began to erode even further so that, for example, defendants were no longer allowed to cross-examine witnesses.
Title IX Today
In early 2020, the Trump administration introduced new Title IX rules designed to address some of the inequities that had developed in how the law was implemented. The administration narrowed the definition of “harassment,” for instance. It also limited schools' jurisdiction in such cases and restored the right to cross-examination.
However, most schools regarded these changes as a direct affront to their authority. Many college administrators, in fact, accused the Trump administration of watering down victim protections and deliberately putting women's and minorities' rights in jeopardy.
In the end, rather than simply implement the new rules, many of these schools created two separate tracks for prosecuting sexual misconduct. They continued to prosecute cases under Title IX when those cases met the stricter guidelines of the revised rules. All other cases, though, were dealt with through the school's Student Code of Conduct.
Ultimately, then, defendants' rights today are no better protected than they were before the Trump administration intervened. Worse, because sexual misconduct cases can be prosecuted along two separate tracks, campus judicial systems are now more complicated to navigate.
Sexual Misconduct at the University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati is among those schools that have chosen the two-track approach to sexual misconduct. If you are accused of this offense and the school decides to treat it as a Title IX violation, you will be investigated and prosecuted under the rules set forth by the Trump administration. At least, that's the case at the moment. A new administration could certainly re-write those rules yet again.
The other possibility is that the school will treat your misconduct as a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. Both tracks share some similarities:
- Complaints are filed with the Title IX Coordinator's office.
- If the Title IX Coordinator or a representative decides to pursue the cases, they appoint an investigator.
- This investigator gathers evidence, including witness statements.
- Once the investigation is complete, the investigator prepares a report which is forwarded to an adjudication panel.
- The adjudication panel is responsible for determining responsibility and assigning penalties as necessary.
- Both the victim and the defendant are allowed to select “advisors,” and these advisors may be attorneys.
There are key differences between the Title IX and Student Code of Conduct processes, however.
- Advisors are not allowed to address the adjudication panel in a code of conduct case and may speak only to their clients. In a Title IX case, in contrast, advisors represent their clients to the panel.
- In code of conduct cases, both sides may submit written questions for witnesses, but they cannot address witnesses directly, and the adjudicators ultimately decide whether or not to ask a question. In Title IX cases, advisors may cross-examine witnesses directly.
Finally, it is worth knowing that in either case, the adjudicators use a “preponderance of evidence” standard for evaluating responsibility. Less rigorous than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, “preponderance of evidence” means adjudicators only need to determine whether an event is “more likely than not” to have occurred.
In addition, while a defendant in such a case has fewer rights than in a court of law, the penalties can be no less life-changing. While a University of Cincinnati panel cannot send a student to jail, they can suspend or expel a student. With a transcript notation about the offense, an expulsion can effectively destroy a student's academic career. Even a suspension can have significant long-term consequences on a student's academic and professional goals.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help You?
Here's the good news: Joseph D. Lento can help. Joseph D. Lento built his career on university disciplinary cases. He's defended hundreds of clients both under Title IX law and university disciplinary policies. He knows exactly how to approach a case in either setting, but more importantly he knows how to make sure your rights are protected. If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct, don't try to fight the complainant or school administration alone.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.