College can be one of the best times of your life, but no one said it's easy. For most of us, college is the first time we're truly on our own: no parental supervision. That means learning to set our own boundaries: deciding whether or not to get up for that 8 a.m. class; making choices about whether to revisit the cafeteria's sundae bar a third time; debating just how many days in a row you can wear the same underwear. Obviously, things don't always go smoothly.
It's probably not all that surprising then that every year many students find themselves in trouble of one kind or another. Some of this trouble is innocent enough and can be dealt with by making a simple apology or spending a little extra time in the tutoring lab.
Allegations of sexual misconduct, though, are definitely serious and should always be taken seriously. Potential consequences can include suspension and even expulsion. And university judicial systems can be notoriously confusing. As a result, many students accused of sexual misconduct find themselves at a disadvantage right from the start.
Title IX Confusion
A good part of the confusion relating to how sexual misconduct is prosecuted on college campuses has to do with legal history. For a number of years, these crimes were dealt with under Title IX. This federal law, passed in 1972, aimed to curb sexual discrimination and harassment in education programs by withholding federal funding from any institution that refused to prosecute these behaviors.
Over time, though, the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” were broadened to include all forms of sexual misconduct, from unequal treatment in the classroom to dating violence and even rape. In many ways, this reinterpretation served a valuable purpose, creating a safe environment for women and other minorities. Yet, in their zeal to achieve this goal, schools haven't always protected the due process rights of the accused. Among other things, schools have a clear incentive to prosecute every complaint they receive. Otherwise, they risk losing important government funding.
Title IX underwent another significant change in early 2020. That's when the Trump administration, under the direction of education secretary Betsy DeVos released new guidelines for how Title IX should be used. Among the changes, the administration narrowed the definition of “sexual misconduct” and instituted new due process rights for the accused, including the right to a live hearing and the right to cross-examination.
The Response to Title IX Revisions
While the Trump administration's intent may have been to level the playing field in sexual misconduct cases, many schools didn't see it that way. Since 1972, academia had changed in radical ways. The university campus had gone from an environment that could sometimes be hostile to women to one that took great pride in its zealous protection of women's rights. The Title IX changes were seen as a direct affront to that progress, and many colleges and universities—the University of Connecticut among them—almost immediately began looking for ways around the new rules.
While most schools kept Title IX procedures in place, they created a second prosecution track for allegations that no longer fit the stricter Title IX definitions. UConn's “Procedures for Addressing Sexual Misconduct” puts it clearly: “Please note that all types of sexual misconduct will be investigated.”
More important is what follows this statement: “only incidents falling within the [Title IX] Final Rule's definition of sexual harassment will if appropriate, be brought to a live hearing, including cross-examination, through the Student Title IX procedures described below.” Not only does the University of Connecticut affirm its commitment to prosecute sexual misconduct outside Title IX guidelines, but it also reaffirms its belief that students don't deserve the new due process rights granted under the Title IX revisions.
With different judicial tracks for different situations, the sexual misconduct policies at the University of Connecticut are now more confusing than ever.
The University of Connecticut Policy for Dealing with Sexual Misconduct
Title IX guarantees the accused in sexual misconduct cases a hearing; the university policy on sexual misconduct does not. Instead, the process is far more streamlined.
Once a complaint is lodged with the university, a “student conduct officer” from Community Standards is assigned to investigate the case. This investigation includes interviewing both the complainant and the respondent and gathering any relevant information.
Once the investigation is complete, the same student conduct officer makes a determination of guilt or innocence and assigns sanctions when appropriate.
Students do have a right to request an “administrative hearing.” However, unlike a Title IX hearing, this is less a hearing than a review of the case. Defendants do not have the right, for instance, to call witnesses and cross-examine them.
Important Elements of the University Judicial Process
A university judicial process is typically quite different from what takes place in an actual court of law.
- Instead of a “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, the University of Connecticut uses a “preponderance of evidence” standard. Essentially, in determining guilt, all an investigator must decide is whether an event is “more like than not” to have occurred.
- In UCONN's disciplinary system, students have limited rights to appeal. Beyond asking for an administrative hearing, the decisions of the single investigator are final.
- While Title IX affords defendants rights to cross-examine witnesses, no such rights are allowed to students under the University of Connecticut's student conduct policy.
Finally, according to university policy, UCONN imposes only four types of penalties in such cases:
- University probation
- University suspension
- University expulsion
The policy further states that warnings in sexual misconduct cases are rare and that the precedent for sexual assault is expulsion.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help You?
Joseph D. Lento has dedicated his career to successfully resolving university disciplinary cases. He's defended thousands of clients both under Title IX law and university disciplinary policies. If you or your child should find yourself facing a charge of sexual misconduct, Joseph D. Lento will stand with you from start to finish, making sure your due process rights are protected and that your case receives the best possible outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.