A recent article in The Minnesota Daily (the newspaper for the University of Minnesota) discussed the formation of a new committee called the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Committee. Similar committees are being created throughout the nation to address what many consider an unfair Title IX process for reviewing alleged cases of sexual misconduct perpetrated by students, staff, or faculty. Numerous individuals state that process used by universities does not meet the typical court standards of due process or fair treatment and procedures that one would expect from a US court. As a result, the Trump Administration made numerous changes to this process, which became effective in August 2020.
Who will serve on this new committee?
The new Sexual Misconduct Hearing Committee at UMN and other schools throughout the nation will be comprised of University community members. UMN plans to have 36 members of the committee. People had to apply to participate in the committee. The review criteria for who is selected are not clear, creating one area of concern. Community members joining a committee like this could be biased against those accused of misconduct, and appropriate questioning would be necessary in order to remove those with bias or conflicts of interest. In addition, these community members' educational and professional background will be critical for determining whether these committees are likely to review cases fairly. For example, strong advocates for individuals claiming sexual misconduct may be biased in their assessment of cases. These are issues that apply to other universities too.
How will this committee be administered by UMN?
The management of the 36-person committee at UMN will be a challenge and will likely take time to manage well. UMN plans to have panels of five people serving in each live or virtual hearing. Using five instead of six members means that at least two people (perhaps more) will fluctuate around to two committees or alternate in one committee. Either way, the selection of five people will cause some disruption since there are a total of 36 people available. UMN will have a chair for each committee. According to the Title IX coordinator for UMN, the chair will likely be a person with previous professional experience. Experience in what fields is not clear. The chair will also receive a stipend. The role of the chair is to make sure the hearings have the appropriate decorum and are humane. These tasks will likely require special training. Also, while UMN may not intend to create a structure that is unfair, placing one person in the power position may lead to unintended consequences. This person could have a background that leads the person to favor one side or another – such as a lawyer with a history of representing people alleging misconduct.
The other committee members will be volunteers. Collectively, they will all make decisions about whether the sexual misconduct occurred or not in violation of University policy. If these individuals are not appropriately trained or if there are great disparities in their knowledge of how to fairly review cases like this, decisions may be inconsistent within and across the five-person panels. This may spell big problems for students accused of wrongdoing.
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