Understanding Sexual Misconduct at the University of Oklahoma

Most of us would agree that colleges and universities have a sacred obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of all their students. What parents, after all, would send their children to a school that simply ignored that obligation? Certainly, their responsibility extends to victims of sexual discrimination, harassment, or assault. It should also extend, though, to those accused of these crimes.

Unfortunately, over the last several years, the judicial playing field on college campuses has become increasingly unbalanced in favor of accusers. While recent changes to the federal law have worked to correct this unbalance, many of these changes have only created greater confusion as to how investigations should proceed, and guilt or innocence should be determined.

Below, we explain the University of Oklahoma's policy on sexual misconduct because the first responsibility of any student accused of such a crime should be to educate themselves on the judicial process.

Campus Justice Begins with Title IX

For a number of years, the primary mechanism for dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct was Title IX. This federal law, passed in 1972, was meant to address problems of sexual discrimination and harassment in educational programs. Specifically, it tied federal funds to a school's willingness to prosecute such behaviors.

Over time, the law became a sort of umbrella, beneath which all sorts of sexual misbehavior could be addressed. A professor's unequal treatment of his female students certainly qualified. Eventually, cyber-stalking, verbal harassment, and date rape qualified a well.

Title IX had many positive impacts. It helped to rectify many injustices. It also established a clear set of procedures for dealing with sexual misconduct. At the same time, it also led to some significant problems in campus judicial practice. For instance, it created a direct incentive for schools to prosecute absolutely every complaint, since failing to do so meant risking government funding.

Title IX Revisions

The situation changed dramatically in early 2020. In March, the Trump administration issued new Title IX guidelines designed to give more rights to defendants. Among the changes, the administration

  • re-defined “sexual harassment,” treating the term in a narrower sense, and making it a more difficult crime to prove;
  • limited school jurisdiction to educational programs and activities;
  • required a live hearing in sexual misconduct cases;
  • gave defendants the right to cross-examination.

Though these changes represent important steps in the right direction for campus justice, the new rules remain relatively untested. Many schools, in fact, have chosen to circumvent Title IX when it suits them. And even for those schools that have adopted it wholesale, administrators can sometimes apply it inconsistently.

Title IX at the University of Oklahoma

While the University of Oklahoma chose to revise its student code of conduct to include offenses that no longer rise to the stricter Title IX standard, with only minor exceptions, the school has largely chosen to adopt Title IX procedures for all its sexual misconduct cases. This helps to keep the process consistent across the school's judicial system and to guarantee due process rights for the accused.

  1. Cases begin when someone makes a complaint to the Title IX office.
  2. The Title IX office meets with both the complainant and the respondent and explains the process as well as what rights they both have.
  3. The Title IX office appoints an investigator. This investigator meets with both parties, interviews any witnesses, and collects any physical evidence. While either side may offer evidence to the investigator, the burden of proving the case lies on the school itself.
  4. Once the investigation is complete, the investigator issues a report to both parties, who have a chance to formally respond.
  5. The case then moves to a live hearing. At this hearing, a panel made up of faculty, students, and/ or administrators drawn from a pool of candidates, re-examines the evidence and calls witnesses.
  • One difference between Title IX cases and other sexual misconduct cases at the University of Oklahoma: Under Title IX, advisors for both sides may cross-examine witnesses in open court. Under university policy, in contrast, advisors must submit questions to the panel, who ultimately decide whether those questions should be asked.
  • At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel chair, who does not vote, provides both parties with copies of the panel's decision. This decision includes a finding of “responsible” or “not responsible” and what sanctions the school will impose, if any.
  • Both sides have limited right to appeal the decision if they believe procedure was violated, can prove bias in the case, or have new evidence to offer.
  • Sexual Misconduct Sanctions at the University of Oklahoma

    The University of Oklahoma publishes a clear set of guidelines for punishments in cases of sexual misconduct.

    So, for example, sexual harassment that results in a hostile environment will be punished, at a minimum, with disciplinary probation. At a maximum, a student can be suspended.

    The minimum punishment for stalking is disciplinary probation and the maximum is expulsion.

    The minimum punishment for sexual assault is suspension, while the maximum is expulsion.

    Joseph D. Lento Can Help

    If you or your child should be accused of sexual harassment at the University of Oklahoma, take these allegations seriously and contact Joseph D. Lento immediately. Joseph D. Lento specializes in cases of student discipline and is an expert in Title IX law. He understands how the new rules have changed the judicial process and he knows how to navigate the complexities of university bureaucracy. Joseph D. Lento is empathetic to your situation and offers his clients compassion and support as they deal with difficult allegations. He will fight hard to ensure you get all your due process rights and that your case results in the best possible outcome.

    For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.

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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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