Title IX Hearings Aren’t Trials. What’s the Difference?

If you've been accused of sexual misconduct by your college or university, there's a good chance you will wind up facing a Title IX disciplinary hearing.

When you hear the word “hearing,” you might think about courtrooms you've seen in films and on television: hallowed halls with vaulted ceilings, lots of impressive oak, and stern-faced judges. A Title IX hearing is more likely to take place in a conference room in the basement of the student union and be conducted by an astronomy professor.

There are some similarities between Title IX hearings and courtroom trials. Obviously, in both cases one party has accused another of committing a crime. Both kinds of cases usually involve the presentation of evidence, witness testimony, and cross-examinations. In both cases, a group of individuals weighs the evidence and renders a verdict. And whether you're at trial or involved in a hearing, you can be given serious penalties if you're found guilty.

However, there are far more differences between a Title IX hearing and a courtroom trial than similarities. In some ways, those differences are to your advantage. Ultimately, though, you'll find that a Title IX hearing is far more unfair than an actual court trial. Colleges and universities have clear incentives to find you guilty, and they'll do almost anything—including denying you your fundamental rights—to convict you.

What are You Facing: Title IX Penalties

Let's start with the good news. No matter what the alleged offense, your school can't send you to jail. Thankfully, only judges and juries have that kind of power. In fact, a Title IX investigation doesn't even mean you've broken the law. Title IX violations aren't a criminal matter at all.

If anything, it's your college or university with the problem.

Title IX was passed in 1972 to curb sexual discrimination and harassment in educational programs. To be fair, colleges weren't exactly welcoming spaces for women in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The federal government did need to do something. What it did was put colleges and universities in charge of cleaning up their own acts. That may not seem wise, but the government promised to withhold funding from any school that refused to cooperate as an extra incentive. In fact, under Title IX, schools are obligated to respond to every allegation no matter how spurious. As you might imagine, none are willing to risk the negative consequences that may result if they don't. In other words, it's your university that is worried about getting in trouble. How they treat you is a direct result of that worry.

Now the bad news: the penalties in Title IX cases are every bit as serious as those you'd face in a court of law. True, you can't be sentenced to jail, but at a minimum, you can expect to be suspended. More likely, your school will do everything it can to expel you. Remember, your school has lots of motivation from the federal government to pursue you as zealously as it possibly can.

You might be thinking, no big deal, I'll transfer somewhere else. It's not quite that simple. First, your school will hold you accountable for the classes you're taking, and it could decide to penalize you by failing you in those classes. That means your GPA takes a serious hit.

Worse, any kind of adverse action taken against you by your school, even if only on an interim basis while the Title IX case is being investigated, can cause significant consequences. Certainly sanctions such as suspensions and expulsions come with severe consequences, including at a minimum, a transcript notation that explains the reason for the action taken against you. With a record of sexual misconduct, you'll find it difficult, if not impossible, to find another school that will admit you.

Put simply, a Title IX hearing could mean the end of your academic career. That's upsetting enough on its own. You've invested time, energy, and money in getting a degree, and if you're found responsible, all of that will have been for nothing.

More importantly, though, without a college degree you'll have trouble finding a high-paying job and establishing a career. You know the statistics: college graduates earn almost double what high school graduates earn over their lifetime. You won't even be able to claim that you've had some college education since that sexual misconduct notation will prevent you from showing your transcript to prospective employers.

So no, a guilty verdict or finding of responsibility in a Title IX case won't send you to prison. It can certainly make the rest of your life harder, though.

Investigations

No question, the real police can be dogged in their investigations, especially if they're convinced you are guilty. However, they don't investigate every complaint they receive. For one thing, outside the workplace, sexual harassment isn't a crime. There are crimes related to harassment, like stalking or date rape, but even when a crime like that is involved, a detective may not decide to pursue a complaint. They want to be reasonably certain there's enough evidence to convict you at trial before they proceed.

Colleges and universities are obligated to investigate absolutely every allegation.

In addition, the real police operate separately from the courts. The American justice system is set up that way for a reason. Investigators are tasked with doing everything they can to dig up evidence of a suspect's guilt. Usually, that process gives them a clear bias against a defendant. Placing the responsibility for judging that evidence in the hands of a separate entity—a judge and jury—ensures you'll get a fair, objective trial and raises the chances the jury will render the right verdict.

In contrast, in Title IX cases, a single entity, the school itself, investigates and tries the case.

Title IX investigators are frequently biased against the accused from the very moment they begin their work. In several recent cases, federal courts have discovered that investigators didn't interview defense witnesses. In a 2018 lawsuit, the courts found that the University of Mississippi had published investigative training materials that said that when a complainant lies, those lies should be taken as evidence of telling the truth.

Such advice springs from misguided intentions, but universities also aren't above using dirty tricks during an investigation. Of course, schools often have a natural sympathy for the “victim” that colors their behaviors. Many will try to suspend you before an investigation even begins. Some may cancel your campus email service, preventing you from documenting necessary evidence.

There are instances when you might face similar mistreatment from actual cops. Still, there's something particularly upsetting when it's your school, the place that's supposed to be educating you, that's doing the mistreating.

Title IX Hearings

Once a Title IX investigation is complete, the investigator writes a report that details their findings. Both sides then have the opportunity to comment on that report. Finally, the document is forwarded to the university Title IX office.

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