Texas has one of the most admired systems of higher public education in the country. There are 38 public colleges and universities in the state, serving more than 662,000 students. Thirty-six of these public institutions belong to Texas's separate college systems, while four are independent public colleges. Moreover, Texas also has 53 private colleges and universities across the state, educating more than 131,000 students. These private institutions include Baylor and Rice University, along with nine historically black colleges and universities. Texas also has a robust community college system serving more than 700,000 students.
If you're facing misconduct allegations in a Texas college or university, the sheer size and scales of these public or private school systems and administration can be intimidating and frightening. If you have an experienced student misconduct attorney-advisor on your side, it takes a great deal of the fear-factor out of the college disciplinary system. Moreover, an experienced attorney-advisor can ensure that you know your rights and your school abides by them. Don't let your Texas college or university end your education. Call the Lento Law Firm today.
Misconduct Allegations in Texas
Every school in Texas will handle misconduct allegations differently. However, most of Texas' public colleges and universities will handle disciplinary matters in a similar way. All of the state's colleges must follow Texas and federal law, as well as its reporting requirements. But each school will vary in the specifics of how it handles disciplinary matters.
Texas is home to many private and public college systems.
Private universities and colleges in Texas
Top private institutions in Texas include:
- Rice University
- Southern Methodist University
- Trinity University
- Texas Christian University
- Baylor University
While these universities and other private colleges in Texas may not be subject to some of the same regulations as public universities, you still have recourse for pursuing justice. For example, even private universities in Texas need to follow certain guidelines, such as those contained in Texas Code Chapter 7.
In short, while your strategy may be different for protecting your rights, your attorney-advisor can help you work towards a favorable outcome if you're experiencing difficulties regarding misconduct at your private school in Texas.
Public universities and colleges in Texas
The six public college systems in Texas are:
University of Houston System
Schools in the University of Houston system include:
- University of Houston
- University of Houston – Clear Lake
- University of Houston – Downtown
- University of Houston – Victoria
University of North Texas System
Schools in the North Texas System include:
- University of North Texas
- University of North Texas – Dallas
- University of North Texas Health Science Center
University of Texas System
Schools in the University of Texas System include:
- University of Texas at Arlington
- University of Texas at Austin
- University of Texas at Dallas
- University of Texas at El Paso
- University of Texas at San Antonio
- University of Texas at Tyler
- University of Texas Permian Basin
- University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Texas A&M University System
Schools in the Texas A&M University system include:
- Texas A&M University
- Texas A&M International University
- Texas A&M University – Commerce
- Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
- Texas A&M University – San Antonio
- Texas A&M University – Kingsville
- Prairie View A&M University
- Tarleton State University
- Texas A&M University – Texarkana
- West Texas A&M University
- Texas A&M University – Central Texas
Texas State University System
The Texas State University system is unique because it doesn't have a flagship institution. All four of the universities are equal in stature and are comprehensive and independent from one another. Schools in the Texas State system include:
- Lamar University
- Sam Houston State University
- Sol Ross State University
- Texas State University
Texas Tech University System
Schools in the Texas Tech University system include:
- Angelo State University
- Texas Tech University
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso
The independent state universities in Texas include:
- Midwestern State University
- Stephen F. Austin State University
- Texas Southern University
- Texas Woman's University
The Texas community college system has 53 community colleges split into 12 comptroller regions across the state. While each public college and university system in Texas has its own disciplinary process, they are similar.
University of Texas System Discipline
The UT system is governed by a Board of Regents, and their student discipline procedures are “defined and described in the Regents' Rules and Regulations, Rule 50101, in the Model Policy of Student Conduct and Discipline promulgated by the Office of General Counsel of the University of Texas System and in Appendix C, chapter 11.”
Grounds for Discipline
Prohibited behavior in the university system is split into several categories, including:
1. Academic Dishonesty
Under the UT Student Code of Conduct, academic dishonesty includes, but isn't limited to:
[C]heating, plagiarism, collusion, falsifying academic records, misrepresenting facts, and any act designed to give unfair academic advantage to the student or another individual (such as, but not limited to, submission of essentially the same written assignment for two classes or courses without the prior permission of the instructor), or the attempt to commit such an act.
2. Financial Transactions with the University
UT includes financial transactions with the school like overdue tuition and bad checks within their student disciplinary process. The code states:
Students who owe debts to the university may be denied admission or readmission to the university and may have official transcripts, grades, diplomas, and degrees to which they would otherwise be entitled withheld until the debt is paid. Students who write bad checks to the university for tuition and fees will have their registration canceled. Bad checks written to the university for other purposes will subject the student to legal and/or disciplinary action. Matters relating to student financial transactions will be directed by the appropriate administrative office to the Office of Accounting. See Regents' Rules and Regulations, Rule 50303 for more information.
3. General Misconduct
General misconduct is the largest category in the UT student conduct code. It includes:
- Violating local, state, or federal law,
- Possessing or displaying firearms, dangerous materials, or prohibited item unless allowed by law,
- Harmful behavior,
- Sex or gender-based harassment,
- Theft or property damage,
- Alcohol misconduct,
- Illegal drug use or possession,
- Individual or unauthorized group disturbance,
- Unauthorized access to artificial bodies of water and damage to property,
- Harassment under the school system's speech, expression, and assembly rules,
- Unauthorized use, entry, or destruction of property,
- Unauthorized use of institutional technology,
- Providing false or misleading information,
- Privacy violations,
- Disruptive conduct,
- Failure to comply,
- Violent conduct,
- Animal cruelty, and
- Violating any rules of the UT system, the university, or administration.
The school also prohibits retaliating against anyone who reports a rule violation or participates in the investigation or resolution of a complaint.
The University of Texas Board of Regents developed a set of rules that sets forth the minimum standards for student disciplinary procedures for schools in the system. The steps following a complaint include:
- Reviewing the Evidence and Determining the Sanction
- Interim Disciplinary Action
- Withholding Transcripts, Grades, Degrees
- Administrative Dispositions
- Determining Whether Hearing is Needed
- Hearing Process
The minimum due process required for hearings includes a summary statement of the charges and evidence against the student, as well as ten days' notice before a hearing. The student must also have impartial hearing officers. The hearing process also requires that:
- Each party provides them with a list of witnesses, a summary of the testimony to be given by each, and a copy of documents to be introduced at the hearing.
- Each party has the right to appear, make an opening and closing statement, present witnesses and documentary evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and be assisted by an advisor of choice, who may be an attorney. If the UT Dean has a legal advisor, that advisor cannot question witnesses directly.
- The school may conduct live hearings with all parties physically present or, at the school's discretion, any or all parties, witnesses, and other participants may appear at the live hearing virtually.
- The dean can recommend a sanction to the hearing officer based upon the past practice of the institution for violations of a similar nature, the past disciplinary record of the student, or other factors the dean deems relevant. The respondent shall be entitled to respond to the recommendation of the dean. In making the sanctioning decision, the Hearing Officer will take into consideration any mitigating or aggravating factors.
- The school will record the hearing. If either party desires to appeal the decision of the Hearing Officer, the official record will consist of the recording of the hearing, the documents received in evidence, any investigation report and supporting evidence, and the decision of the Hearing Officer.
In disciplinary proceedings in Texas, the standard of review is the “preponderance of the evidence.” The hearing panel meets this standard if it finds it is more likely than not that the misconduct occurred.
The sanctions possible for student disciplinary matters in Texas, including Title IX violations, vary in Texas from school to school but can include:
- Disciplinary probation
- Withholding of grades, official transcript, or degree
- Bar against readmission, bar against enrollment, drop from one or more classes, or withdrawal from the institution
- Restitution or reimbursement for damage to or misappropriation of institutional or UT System property
- Suspension of rights and privileges, including participation in athletic or extracurricular activities
- Academic sanctions, including a failing grade or reduction of a grade for an examination, assignment, or a course
- Denial of degree
- Expulsion, which creates a permanent notation on the student's academic transcript
- Revocation of degree and withdrawal of diploma
- Other sanctions as deemed appropriate under the circumstances
Appeals of Disciplinary Matters
Students can appeal disciplinary matters if they submit a written appeal to the school's designated “appeals officer” within 14 days. They must serve the other party as well. The appeals officer will only review appeals of the dean's sanction based on the arguments of the dean and the student. However, the appeal officer will review the hearing officer's decision based on the record from the hearing.
The appeal official can approve, reject, or modify the decision or require the school to reopen the hearing to hear additional evidence or reconsider the decision. The appeal official must decide within 30 days after receiving the appeal and official record. Each Texas school's appeals process will vary in detail, but the decision of the appeal official is final.
Texas A&M System Disciplinary Violations
Each of the six Texas public college systems has a distinct and separate disciplinary system, although they are similar, particularly concerning due process requirements for students. The Texas legislature created Texas A&M University in 1948 to manage the evolution of a statewide higher education, research, and service system. The system began with land grants to what are now Texas A&M and Prairie A&M Universities. Texas A&M is governed by the state's education code and the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
Grounds for Discipline at Texas A&M
Actions that can lead to student disciplinary proceedings at Texas A&M include, but aren't limited to:
- Physical abuse
- Theft or damage
- Failure to comply or evasion
- Failure to present identification
- Breaching safety or security
- Violation of published university rules
- Violation of NCAA regulations
- Violation of law, including federal, state, and local laws
- Alcohol, except as expressly permitted by the university
- Weapons or explosives
- Disruptive activity
- Traffic obstruction
- Disorderly conduct
- Unauthorized recording
- Misuse of computing resources
- Sexual misconduct
- Animal cruelty
- Reckless driving
- Abuse of process
Disciplinary Procedures at Texas A&M
At Texas A&M, if someone accuses a student of a conduct violation, the school uses a “student conduct conference” to resolve the matter. These conferences typically happen privately before a student conduct panel, although both the student and their adviser may attend. The student will have at least three days' notice to prepare after receiving the charges in written form. Additional procedures include:
- A student can't be found responsible simply because they chose to remain silent,
- The adviser can't actively participate, advocate on behalf of the student, or directly address the panel,
- Both the accused and the administrators may call witnesses and introduce evidence,
- The student may submit an impact statement,
- Procedural questions are subject to the final decision of the panel,
- The panel deliberates in private, and
- If the student fails to appear, the panel can hear evidence and testimony and decide the matter without their presence.
A Texas A&M student won't be found responsible for a conduct violation unless the evidence shows a violation by the preponderance of the information. Moreover, the burden of proof rests on the university.
Possible Sanctions at Texas A&M
Possible sanctions for student conduct violations at Texas A&M include:
- Conduct probation
- Conduct review
- Restriction of privileges
- Community or university service
- Educational requirements
- Letter of enrollment block
- Letter of reprimand
- Loss of campus housing privilege
- Campus housing probation
- Deferred loss of campus housing privilege
The school may also impose an interim suspension or restriction on a student if necessary to ensure the university community's safety and well-being.
Appeals Procedures at Texas A&M
Students found responsible for conduct violations do have an appeals process. Students may appeal if they do so in writing within five business days of the panel's decision. An appeals panel can uphold a sanction or modify it. The panel can also open a new hearing:
If sufficient information is presented that may have materially altered the decision of the original Student Conduct Panel and/or Student Conduct Administrator and was not or could not have been known at the time of the original conference and/or the original Student Conduct Panel failed to appropriately follow the guidelines described above, the appeal panel may require that the case be heard again by a Student Conduct Panel administered by the Offices of the Dean of Student Life.
After the appeals process, Texas A&M considers the matter “final and binding upon all involved.”
Examples of Private College Disciplinary Systems in Texas
In addition to amazing public colleges and universities, Texas is also home to some of the nation's top private colleges. Because private schools are not “public actors” carrying the authority of the state of Texas in the way that Texas' public school administrators do, the rules for student discipline can be quite different. We'll use Baylor University as an example.
The Congress of the Republic of Texas chartered Baylor University in February of 1845, 10 months before Texas officially became the 28th state in the nation. From humble beginnings as a Baptist college in Independence, Texas, Baylor has grown to more than 1,000 acres in Waco, Texas, educating more than 15,000 students annually.
Grounds for Discipline at Baylor
At Baylor, students must adhere to a strict code of conduct. A student may be subject to discipline if they:
- Interfere with Baylor's pursuit of its educational and Christian objectives,
- Fail to exhibit a regard for the rights of others,
- Show disrespect for the safety of persons and property, or
- Violate, or attempt to violate, University rules, regulations, and policies or violates, or attempts to violate, local, state, federal, or international laws.
Baylor's extensive list of conduct violations includes, but aren't limited to:
- Obstruction or disruption,
- Threats, physical abuse, or harassment,
- Drunkenness or disorderly behavior,
- Lewd or indecent behavior,
- Possession or being under the influence of alcohol,
- Drugs or drug paraphernalia,
- Theft or damaging property,
- Unauthorized entry,
- Falsification of university or government forms,
- Participating in student organizations not approved by the university,
- Contemptuous or disrespectful behavior,
- Failing to follow university rules,
- Gambling or wagering,
- Sexual misconduct,
- Tampering with fire safety equipment,
- Recording student, faculty, or administration without permission,
- Pornography, or
- Participating in the school homecoming parade without permission or disrupting the parade.
Disciplinary Procedures at Baylor
Baylor has a well-defined set of procedures for student disciplinary proceedings, broken down into preliminary procedures, administrative hearing procedures, student conduct board hearing procedures, appeals, and presidential hearings.
1. Preliminary Procedures
After a report, the school will investigate, and the associate dean for student conduct administration decides whether the school should take disciplinary action. The school will provide the accused with written allegations, including the specific behavior that allegedly violates the student conduct code, the basis of the accusation, and the student's responsibility to meet with a student conduct officer within three days. Only the student and the conduct officer will be present at the meeting. If the student admits the allegations, there is no hearing, but they must waive their right to future hearings in writing. If the student denies the allegation, the student can request an administrative hearing or a student conduct board hearing.
2. Administrative Hearing Procedures
For an administrative hearing, neither the student nor the university may not have an attorney present. Only the student conduct officer and the student will be present, and witnesses may only be present while testifying. The student conduct officer controls the proceedings and decides what evidence is relevant or immaterial. The student can only present evidence and witnesses that the student conduct officer agrees is pertinent to the charge. Both the student and the conduct officer can question witnesses. If the student fails to appear, the conduct officer can conduct the proceeding without their presence and determine whether the student committed the act of misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence. The conduct officer can impose sanctions and must prepare a written report. If the conduct officer wishes to suspend or expel the student, they must consult with the vice president for student life.
3. Student Conduct Board Hearing Procedures
Student conduct board hearings involve at least three faculty and two student members. The conduct board can adopt its own rules for its hearings and procedures as long as they are consistent with the student code of conduct. The procedures are typically much like administrative hearings, with no lawyers, no additional spectators, and witnesses only present while testifying. The board members must also remain impartial and decide the matter by a preponderance of the evidence. The board also prepares a written report. However, the associate vice president for student life determines the appropriate sanction after reviewing the report, the hearing record, and the student's academic and disciplinary record.
A student may appeal a decision to the vice president of student life within three calendar days of the decision. Appeals are typically only permitted if there is “substantial evidence that the decision rendered was arbitrary or capricious or that the process afforded the student through the student conduct code was not followed.” If the appeal authority finds that the decision was arbitrary and capricious, they may overturn or request a new hearing.
If the student feels the sanctions imposed are inappropriate, they can appeal within three calendar days of the decision. The appeal must state the basis for the appeal. The vice president of student life can uphold the sanctions, modify the sanctions, or suspend the sanctions. If the student still believes the sanctions are inappropriate, they can ask the university president to review them. The university president's decision is final.
5. Presidential Hearings
Presidential hearings are rare, but they occur when the university president determines that the alleged misconduct is so egregious that it may harm the reputation of Baylor University. First, the president will give the accused reasonable notice and a list of anticipated witnesses, evidence, and a summary of the anticipated testimony. Then, based on the evidence and testimony, the president decides whether the student is guilty of misconduct. The president's decision is final.
Possible Sanctions at Baylor
For students found responsible for a conduct violation at Baylor, sanctions can include:
- Oral warning
- Written warning
- Eviction from campus housing
Expulsions can include removal from the campus permanently or for a set period.
Title IX Violations at Texas Colleges and Universities
In addition to the rules each public and private Texas college has for most student disciplinary matters, each school uses a separate process for sexual misconduct and harassment allegations against college students and staff related to Title IX allegations. This class of allegations falls under federal law, specifically Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq.
Title IX cases tend to follow more delineated due process rules because federal regulations guide public and private colleges and universities who receive federal educational funding in these matters. Sexual misconduct discipline matters are also much more litigated in the federal courts. As a result, we have a wide range of case law interpreting Title IX and its regulations.
What is Title IX?
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq., is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in all schools accepting federal funding. These laws apply to public kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, as well as publicly-funded colleges and universities. Title IX states:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Title IX applies to all Texas community colleges as well as Texas public and private colleges and universities who receive federal educational funding. Any college or university accepting federal funding in Texas must avoid discrimination in admissions, employment, athletics, and financial aid and protect against sexual assault and harassment. If a school knows about a sexual assault, it must investigate and remediate the matter if it happened on campus or at an off-campus event. A Texas school's obligations in Title IX matters exist even if the students involved did not make a complaint. However, under Title IX regulations, a school “may address sexual harassment affecting its students or employees that falls outside Title IX's jurisdiction in any manner the school chooses.”
In many cases, Title IX law requires schools to investigate serious criminal allegations. Unfortunately, often universities simply aren't prepared to handle criminal investigations and disciplinary hearings in a way that will protect your due process rights.
Title IX Regulations
Title IX law and the Department of Education's applicable regulations dictate the minimum due process schools must give students accused in Title IX assault and harassment cases. Minimum due process standards include:
- Giving written notice of the allegations with sufficient detail, including the other parties involved, the alleged violations, the sections of the student conduct code allegedly violated, and the date and time when it allegedly happened,
- Giving the accused enough notice to allow adequate time to prepare before a hearing,
- An unbiased and trained tribunal,
- Allowing the accused to cross-examine witnesses, including the complainant or respondent,
- Allowing the accused to introduce evidence and witnesses,
- Disclosing all of the evidence against the respondent,
- Giving the parties right to consult an attorney or advisor,
- Giving the accused the right to inspect and review the evidence,
- The right to receive the investigative report at least ten days before the hearing,
- Allowing an advisor to question or cross-examine witnesses, including the respondent or complainant,
- Giving the accused the right to discuss the allegations with others and the right to contact potential witnesses,
- Giving the same hearing procedures to both parties. These equal procedures should include cross-examination, the right to submit questions for witnesses, and the right to have an attorney-advisor,
- Applying the proper legal standard of proof, and
- Providing written findings of fact and conclusions of law to both parties, including the rationale for the results and any suggested sanctions.
Schools may use informal hearings alternative resolutions if both the parties involved consent in writing. But Title IX regulations don't require an informal alternative process.
Schools can use one of two standards of proof under Title IX regulations:
- “Preponderance of the Evidence”: The preponderance of the evidence standard means it's more likely than not that the accused committed the violation.
- “Clear and Convincing Evidence”: Clear and convincing is a more stringent standard but a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applied in criminal courts.
Colleges must use the same standard for everyone, including faculty. 34 C.F.R. §106.45(b)(1)(vii); §106.45(b)(7)(i). All Texas public colleges and universities use the lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard in Title IX cases.
Title IX Hearing Procedures
Each Texas college system lays out specific minimum Title IX procedures that every school in the system must meet. The procedures cover Title IX allegations and their definitions, procedures, punishments, and the appeals process. For example, the University of Texas procedures set forth two tracks to follow for investigations and hearings involving sexual assault and violence. The first track is applicable for students and employees participating in on-campus activities. The second track applies for off-campus events where a student is subject to sexual assault or violence, and it impacts their education or employment at the university. There is a third track for other potential Title IX violations as well.
While Title IX hearings are typically more formal than most student disciplinary hearings, they don't include formal rules of evidence. Both the complainant and the accused can have an adviser present, but the adviser can't participate except to ask questions of the other witnesses. However, after they ask each question, the hearing officer determines whether the question is relevant before the witness answers. The other party's prior sexual history is not typically relevant unless asked to show that someone else committed the alleged conduct or that the complainant consented.
If the hearing officer finds the respondent responsible:
- “If the Respondent is a student, it will be referred to the Dean of Students for discipline decision;
- If the respondent is faculty, it will be referred to the Executive Vice President and Provost for discipline decision; and
- If the respondent is staff, it will be referred to the Associate Vice President of Human Resources for discipline decision.”
Texas procedures also allow for an appeal based on a procedural irregularity, new evidence, application of the standard of proof, or a conflict of interest or bias that affected the outcome.
What if I need to Pursue Litigation Against My TX School?
If you feel like you have exhausted all other options to pursue a favorable outcome at your Texas public or private school, it may be time to start considering more drastic options.
However, you do need to show that you have exhausted your other options first. Here's a quick overview of the steps you may need to take:
- Go through your school's due process system, including filing an appeal if your attorney-advisor advises you to do so. This indicates that you have gone through the normal avenues to seek recourse, but your efforts have proved insufficient.
- File a complaint with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. This may help you pursue the end that you wish to achieve, but it also shows that you mean business. In any following lawsuits, this step will demonstrate that you were creative and thorough in the steps you took to resolve your case.
- Consult with a student defense attorney-advisor to see whether you have the basis for a more direct lawsuit. This step may terminate any relationship you have with your school, so it's a good idea to see it as a last resort. Your advisor can help you strategize for this step so it's as successful as it possibly can be.
Hire an Experienced Student Discipline Attorney-Advisor
If you're facing a disciplinary case through school in Texas, whether you're in a Texas state college or a private university, you need a lawyer with experience and an advisor who has advanced negotiation skills. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience as an attorney-advisor, representing students in hundreds of colleges and universities across the country, including countless students in Texas. He can help. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or reach out to us online.