Title IX and College Sexual Misconduct at Rice University

Rice University is a premier private research university on a 300-acre campus in Houston. Businessman William Marsh Rice chartered the school over a century ago as a gift to the city. All Rice undergraduates join residential colleges that, the university advertises, comprise “[s]pirited communities where students live, dine and interact … to develop strong relationships and contribute to the betterment of each other's lives and intellectual achievement.” Unfortunately, some of those spirited interactions may result in sexual-misconduct allegations.

If you face sexual-misconduct allegations at Rice University, then consider this important information about your legal rights. Don't underestimate the significance to you of sexual-misconduct allegations simply because they arose in a school setting rather than as criminal charges. Your education, job, career, reputation, and future may all be at stake. Read this explanation, and then retain the Lento Law Firm to conduct your aggressive defense.

Title IX Misconduct

Every college or university receiving federal funding must enforce Title IX's prohibition against sex discrimination, including certain forms of sexual misconduct. Title IX's prohibited forms of sexual misconduct that institutions must prevent and punish expanded under Obama Administration guidelines known as the Dear Colleague Letter. Rice University receives federal funding, and so is no exception to Title IX enforcement.

In 2020, the Trump Administration tightened Title IX sexual misconduct's definition. Read here for more detail about changes in Title IX interpretation over the past few years. Where Title IX interpretation once reached any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, the current interpretation limits Title IX's reach to only these three categories:

  • sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking;
  • quid-pro-quo harassment (attempting to trade favors for sex); or
  • unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to deny equal access to education based on sex.

When a college or university receives a complaint about one or more of these three Title IX forms of sexual misconduct, the institution must follow federal rules when determining whether the misconduct in fact occurred. Rice University does so through a Safe Office, one function of which is the federally required Title IX Coordinator. The Title IX coordinator investigates student complaints against faculty members or other university employees. If the matter involves the violation of criminal laws, students may also report to Rice University police.

The Trump Administration's 2020 changes to federal Title IX rules guarantee the accused a live hearing at which the accused has the right to attend, confront adverse witnesses, and cross-examine those witnesses to expose false allegations. Rice University, like other federally funded schools, must follow those procedures. While lawyers may have only a limited direct role in these school proceedings, a skilled lawyer from the Lento Law Firm can still make a huge difference in the outcome. Again, read more here about these and other rights that the Lento Law Firm can pursue in your aggressive defense.

Rice University Sexual Misconduct

While institutions must prohibit only the above Title IX misconduct, they may prohibit other, lesser forms of sexual misconduct. Rice University does so. Rice University has a Code of Student Conduct that states in its Part III that the university will punish sexual assault, prohibited under Title IX, “most severely.” Yet Part II.B.1.a.ii. of the student code goes beyond Title IX's prohibitions to further prohibit all of these additional forms of non-Title IX sexual misconduct:

  • continued unwelcome contact, advances, or requests sexual in nature;
  • unwelcome verbal or physical behavior sexual in nature;
  • non-consensual touching or kissing;
  • sexual exploitation;
  • lewd or inappropriate sexual verbal comments, or online postings.

Significantly, the same Part II.B.1.a.ii. of Rice University's student code extends its sexual-misconduct definition to reach Title IX forms of sexual misconduct to which Title IX does not apply because they “occurred outside the United States, off-campus, or did not arise from an educational program or activity of Rice University.” In other words, Rice University's sexual-misconduct prohibitions follow its students off campus and out of university programs. Sexual misconduct anywhere is subject to Rice University's policies. Rice University takes the broadest approach imaginable to punishing sexual misconduct.

Rice University Procedures

When a student alleges sexual misconduct that does not implicate Title IX but only Rice University's broader sexual-misconduct definition, then Rice University need not follow the federal rules guaranteeing the accused greater rights. Those who face Rice University sexual-misconduct allegations outside of Title IX's definitions, where the university gets to set its own rules, should not expect fair procedures. Rice University's procedures grant very little protection to the accused.

Rice University's Safe Office includes a Student Judicial Program that determines allegations of non-Title IX sexual misconduct. The Student Judicial Program lists these steps to its investigation and determination of misconduct allegations:

  • one or more meetings with the reporting student;
  • one or more meetings with the responding student;
  • one or more meetings with any witnesses; and
  • an opportunity for each party to submit further information.

That's it. No hearing. But it gets worse. The same explanation states the student investigators' meetings with each side and witnesses occur separately. The accused never meets or even sees the accuser. The Student Judicial Program does not even permit them in the office at the same time. Moreover, the Student Judicial Program explains that it often works with the university's police to gather statements from the parties involved.

Most difficult of all, though, Rice's Safe Office explains that the investigating Student Judicial Program staff member determines whether to charge the accused, whether the accused committed a violation, and the sanction to apply. At Rice University, the accused faces a prosecutor, jury, and sentencing judge all in one person. Part IV.B. of Rice's Code of Student Conduct authorizes sanctions from expulsion on down through suspension, loss of privileges, probation, written reprimand, fines, restitution, community service, counseling, and a written apology.

Getting the Best-Available Representation

The point of the above discussion is to educate, not to scare. Too many students and staff members accused of sexual misconduct fail to understand, embrace, and rely on their legal rights, when those legal rights appear to be limited. Even where, and sometimes especially where, the school limits the accused's rights and limits the lawyer's direct role in the proceeding, expert legal counsel can still be your greatest resource in school disciplinary proceedings. You need expert help from a lawyer who knows how to deal with college and university personalities and procedures.

Hundreds of students nationwide have retained Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to represent them in sexual misconduct disciplinary matters. Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm have the knowledge, resources, support staff, and lawyer expertise to help you through a disciplinary proceeding at Rice University, for the best outcome. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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