College can be one of the most challenging times in a person's life, and that doesn't just mean tough classes. Many of the most important lessons happen outside the classroom as students try to define who they are without parents around to set limits. For most students, that process comes with plenty of bumps along the way. We all make mistakes; sometimes it seems like students make more than their fair share.
If they're not careful, though, a momentary lapse in judgment can wind up defining their entire lives. An accusation of sexual misconduct, for example, even if ultimately unfounded, can follow a person, especially in the digital age, beyond their education and into their career. At some universities, the accused may be suspended or placed on academic probation while the school investigates, putting the student's academic progress in jeopardy. And findings of guilt can get a student expelled or even barred from attending other schools.
And make no mistake: the judicial system at many colleges and universities is far from a level playing field.
Title IX Changes and their Ripple Effects
For a number of years, most schools have pursued sexual misconduct cases as instances of Title IX infringement. However, in early 2020, the Trump administration, under the leadership of education secretary Betsy DeVos, announced sweeping changes to the federal government's rules for Title IX. Most of these changes were designed to restore balance to the system by giving more due process rights to the accused.
Many schools were unhappy with the changes. In fact, in the months immediately following the government's announcement, four separate lawsuits were filed seeking to block those changes from taking effect.
Other schools, however, including the University of Arizona, took a less aggressive, if somewhat more insidious, approach. While most reluctantly agreed to conform to the new Title IX to protect their federal funding, they used their own school policies to supplement what they saw as shortfalls in the new Title IX guidelines. Often they enshrined sexual misconduct infractions that were no longer recognized under Title IX in student conduct codes. While this new approach might initially have seemed friendlier, less formal, and less confrontational, in fact, it allowed colleges and universities almost complete freedom to conduct cases as they saw fit. Too often, the result has only further undermined the due process rights of the accused.
The Process for Dealing with Sexual Misconduct at the University of Arizona
At the University of Arizona, the Dean of Students handles all complaints of sexual misconduct unless they rise to Title IX standards. Normally, then, the investigative and judicial process begins when a violation is reported to the dean's office. A staff member then determines whether to dismiss the complaint or to “charge” the student.
A student who is charged is given an “administrative hearing.” While this sounds like an involved process, it essentially means the dean seeks statements from all parties, determines responsibility, and assigns punishments.
Except for cases in which the punishment is suspension or expulsion, an accused student has no recourse to appeal the dean's ruling. They may ask for a “review” if
- There is new information in the case;
- They can prove proper the case's procedures were improper;
- They can prove they were denied fair process rights.
Ultimately, however, it is up to the dean whether to grant this review and the dean's decision is “final.”
In cases recommending suspension or expulsion, students do have a right to appeal. Such appeals are heard by the University Hearing Board. This board consists of five members: two students, two faculty, and one non-faculty staff member. They make recommendations about the case to the school's Provost, who then makes a final decision.
The Impact of Sexual Misconduct Allegations at the University of Arizona
It is important to understand that a college or university judicial system is not the same as a court of law. The first page of the University of Arizona's code of conduct clearly states, for instance, that a student can be found “responsible” under university policy, “even if the underlying conduct would not also constitute a criminal offense.” In addition, rather than use a standard of “innocent until proven guilty,” the university uses a “preponderance of evidence” standard. In simple terms, they base their decisions on whether a violation is more likely than not to have occurred.
In addition, the code of conduct places final authority for most disciplinary matters in the hands of a single individual, the dean of students, and gives this individual the power to assign many punishments for “alleged code violations” with no real judicial review.
Often a student can be punished even before guilt or innocence has been established. The dean has the authority, for example, to suspend a student while they are being investigated, disrupting that student's coursework and putting their entire academic career at risk.
And if students are found guilty? Sexual misconduct punishments at the University of Arizona can include anything from a verbal warning up to probation, suspension, and even expulsion. In fact, expulsion from the University of Arizona bars a student from admission to any other public school in Arizona. And a notation about expulsion on a University of Arizona transcript could make even schools in other states deny a student admission.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help
The good news is the University of Arizona, like most colleges and universities, allows accused students to choose an attorney to advise them throughout the judicial process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is among the best in the country at dealing with such cases. Joseph D. Lento has a long and successful record helping students and their families to navigate the often tricky territory of university policies and procedures. Whatever the allegation, he can make sure your child receives the due process rights they deserve. From start to finish, he works hard to ensure a successful outcome.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.