Allegations of sexual misconduct are among the most serious a college student can face. Penalties, for example, can include suspension or even expulsion. Often, expulsion comes with a transcript notation about the nature of the expulsion, a notation that can make it difficult if not impossible to enroll at another school. Worse, if such allegations should be become public, in our digital world, they can haunt a person for the rest of their lives.
With all that is at stake, schools should have an obligation to ensure the rights of the accused, to make certain that anyone who faces such an allegation is afforded their due process rights. After all, one of the founding legal principles in this country is that all people are innocent until proven guilty.
Unfortunately, not every school takes this obligation seriously. While no one could fault a college or university for providing every available resource to victims of sexual misconduct, the fact is that too often, schools are so dedicated to protecting victims that they neglect to protect defendants.
Where does the University of San Francisco stand on these issues? How exactly do they treat accusations of sexual misconduct?
A Brief History of Title IX
For a number of years, Title IX was the chief law under which schools prosecuted instances of sexual misconduct. Passed in 1972, the law was originally intended to address sexual discrimination and harassment in education programs by threatening to withhold federal funding from any school that refused to comply.
Over time, the law evolved. Gradually, the federal government broadened the definition of “harassment” to include virtually all forms of sexual misconduct, from simple classroom discrimination to stalking to date rape. The government made these changes with the best of intentions, and much good came from them. Colleges and universities are now among the American institutions that take sexual harassment and discrimination most seriously. In addition, Title IX created a process for addressing sexual misconduct, one that was straightforward and relatively easy to follow.
At the same time, the law was not without its problems. For one thing, tying a school's willingness to prosecute such crimes to their federal funding created a strong incentive to investigate absolutely every complaint they received and to zealously—sometimes over-zealously—pursue guilty verdicts. Simultaneously, in the name of protecting victims, the federal government began to chip away, little by little, at defendant protections.
Title IX Reinterpreted
Title IX would change once again in early 2020. In March, the Trump administration issued new guidelines that reinterpreted the law and created new rules and procedures for dealing with such cases. Among other changes, the administration narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and outlined a process for hearings that included the right to cross-examination. These changes were intended to bring balance to campus judicial systems, granting new legal protections to defendants.
Most schools, however, reacted negatively to the new Title IX. A handful actually sued the government to forestall the law's implementation. More often, schools kept Title IX but instituted new policies to address what they saw as the law's shortcomings. For instance, a number of colleges and universities created parallel judicial tracks for addressing sexual misconduct that no longer rose to the strict definition laid out by the Trump administration.
For the most part, the University of San Francisco accepted the new Title IX guidelines. Like many of their peer schools, they continue to prosecute crimes they feel constitute sexual misconduct, even if Title IX doesn't agree. However, they have chosen to use the new Title IX process to prosecute all allegations, helping to create consistency in how they address student misconduct (page 25).
How the University of San Francisco Deals with Sexual Misconduct Allegations
The University of San Francisco has maintained its Title IX office and its Title IX coordinator. Every allegation of sexual misconduct is referred to this office, and all are treated in the same basic way.
- Once the Title IX office receives a complaint, they provide written notice to both parties clarifying the allegation and explaining the resolution process. Under current Title IX guidelines, the accused is presumed “not responsible” until a final determination about responsibility has been made. In addition, both students are allowed to choose an attorney or other advisor to help guide them through the process.
- While a formal grievance is eventually handled through a live hearing, a number of alternative solutions can be reached at any point up to this hearing, including remediation and respondent admission of guilt.
- Following the complaint, the office appoints one or more investigators to the case. Their primary job is to interview witnesses and gather evidence. Again, both students are entitled to use attorneys as advisors during this process. In addition, both parties can present evidence as part of the investigation process, though ultimately, the school decides what weight to give this evidence.
- Finally, the Title IX office conducts a live hearing, though that hearing may be held virtually. During this hearing, both parties' advisors have the opportunity to cross-examine the two parties and any witnesses. At the conclusion of the hearing, the school assigns responsibility and determines punishment where appropriate.
- Punishment for sexual misconduct offenses at the University of San Francisco can include warnings, mandated counseling, fines, loss of privileges, probation, suspension, and expulsion.
How Joseph D. Lento Can Help
Title IX has changed, and schools, including the University of San Francisco, continue to struggle with how to respond to these changes. If you or your child should be charged with sexual misconduct, act immediately. Hire an attorney to serve as your advisor, and make sure you choose someone familiar with the law.
Joseph D. Lento specializes in student disciplinary cases. He understands Title IX, and he knows how to navigate university bureaucracy. Joseph D. Lento has served as an advisor in hundreds of such cases, helping countless clients get the fair hearings they deserve. Joseph D. Lento is empathetic and on your side, and he will fight tooth and nail to protect your due process rights and ensure that you get the best possible outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.