An allegation of sexual misconduct is among the most serious accusations a college student can face. Of course, most people would agree that colleges and universities have an obligation to protect their students from this type of threat. If you or your child find yourself accused of sexual misconduct, though, you will also recognize that the school has an obligation to protect your rights. After all, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is one of the most fundamental principles of the American judicial system.
Unfortunately, in the name of protecting victims, many schools have adopted policies and procedures that violate defendants' due process rights. Just as problematic, most university judicial procedures are so mired in bureaucracy that they can be almost impossible to navigate.
Where exactly does the University of Houston stand on these issues? How do they treat allegations of sexual misconduct? Below, we try to offer some answers.
It Began with Title IX
For a number of years, most colleges and universities dealt with sexual misconduct through the federal government's Title IX law. Passed in 1972, Title IX was originally intended to discourage sexual discrimination and harassment in educational programs. Over time, though, “harassment” became a kind of umbrella term for addressing a whole host of conduct violations, everything from unequal treatment in the classroom to date rape.
Even as the use of Title IX evolved, the penalties for schools who failed to abide by its regulations remained roughly the same: loss of government funding. This threat by itself helped to undermine defendant rights by giving universities a clear incentive to vigorously prosecute every report of sexual misconduct they received.
Looking to level the playing field for defendants, the Trump administration issued a revised set of Title IX guidelines in March of 2020. Among the changes, the administration narrowed the definition of “sexual misconduct,” making it a harder charge to prove. Defendants were also given the right to a live hearing and the right to cross-examination.
Title IX Versus University Policy
While many legal experts, particularly defense attorneys, applauded the Title IX changes, most colleges and universities saw them as undermining victims' rights. In response, they began re-writing university policy. In particular, they vowed to prosecute sexual misconduct themselves if it was no longer covered under the new Title IX definitions. As they created new judicial processes, many schools deliberately refused to incorporate live hearings and other due process rights into their, sending a signal to the government that they would not be undermined.
Far from restoring defendants' rights, then, the response to the Trump administration's efforts actually made the situation worse. When violations rose to the level of the new Title IX standards, defendants did regain some rights. However, when they faced other kinds of accusations, under university policy, they often had fewer rights than before.
Sexual Misconduct at the University of Houston
Where does the University of Houston stand on the issue of sexual misconduct prosecution? According to their official sexual misconduct policy, they, like many other schools, have created two separate systems for dealing with allegations: “Title IX Grievance Procedures” and “UH System Sexual Misconduct Grievance Procedures” for “Sexual Misconduct that occurs outside of Title IX jurisdiction” (page 1).
All instances of sexual misconduct are still handled by the Title IX coordinator. That is, all reports are ultimately made to the Title IX office, and they then determine which track to use to prosecute the allegation.
Once a formal complaint has been filed, the accused has five days to respond to the allegation. Following this response, an investigator from the Title IX office is assigned to investigate the accusation. This investigation includes interviews with the complainant and respondent, interviews with any pertinent witnesses, and the collection of any additional evidence.
Under Title IX, the case then proceeds to a formal hearing at which witnesses are questioned, and evidence is challenged. Under University of Houston policy, on the other hand, the Title IX investigator decides on the defendant's guilt or innocence and assigns penalties as necessary. Under university policy, both parties do have a right to request a full hearing, but only on the grounds of procedure or error. Otherwise, the decisions of the Title IX investigator are final.
Important Differences Between Campus Justice and a Court of Law
Under the new Title IX rules, of course, prosecution of sexual misconduct follows many of the same processes found in a proper courtroom. Prosecutions under the University of Houston guidelines, in contrast, are significantly different.
- Rather than using the legal standard “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the university uses a less strict standard of “preponderance of evidence.” Under this standard, a student is guilty of sexual misconduct if the investigator determines an event is “more likely than not” to have occurred.
- Students are not entitled to a hearing other than to argue procedure or error.
- Students are not entitled to any appeals.
- Students have no right to question or cross-examine witnesses.
- The university may impose “interim” measures while the investigation takes place, including temporarily suspending the defendant until the matter is resolved.
Call Joseph D. Lento, a National Expert in Title IX Sexual Misconduct
The outcome of a sexual misconduct case can be serious: sanctions include suspension and expulsion. In addition, expulsion comes with a transcript notation explaining the nature of the offense, which could prevent a student from re-enrolling at another school.
Like most schools, the University of Houston allows students accused of sexual misconduct to choose an “advisor.” If you or your child has been accused, don't wait. Contact Joseph D. Lento now. Joseph D. Lento is an expert in Title IX and campus disciplinary procedures. He knows the process, and he knows how to ensure you receive your due process rights. Joseph D. Lento will work hard to get you the very best possible outcome. Protect your future now.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.