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University’s Title IX policy amended to loosen testimony restrictions, extend appeals period

University’s Title IX policy amended to loosen testimony restrictions, extend appeals period

University’s Title IX policy amended to loosen testimony restrictions, extend appeals period
February 24
09:15 2022

The University of North Texas’ Board of Regents has approved amendments to the institution’s Title IX sexual harassment policy, loosening case testimony requirements and extending the appeals period.

Under the changes, evidence in sexual misconduct cases will now be able to be considered by school representatives even if the person providing said information is not present at the required hearing. This allows relevant documents like police reports and medical examinations to be used in cases much more frequently.

Eve Shatteen Bell, Title IX coordinator in the Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access, presented the amendments to the board during its Feb. 17 meeting. Bell said the edits to policy 16.005, “Prohibition Against Sexual Misconduct & Retaliation,” were based on changes to federal standards and aimed to ensure fair case investigations and determinations.

“Based upon that, we have to make changes to that policy, hence we’re requesting [the board to],” said Joanne Woodard, vice president of IDEA, who was also present at the meeting.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education implemented a new set of Title IX rules, changing many aspects of how schools were required to handle sexual misconduct allegations. This included requiring schools to hold live hearings with all involved parties. 

Furthermore, in what Bell called one of the “most controversial” portions of the policy, school representatives in charge of deciding cases could only consider evidence if the person providing testimony both attended the hearing and submitted to cross-examination during the event. 

Last year, several individuals and organizations in Massachusetts challenged the Title IX changes in Victim Rights Law Center v. Cardona. On July 28, 2021, the district court upheld most of the challenged provisions but did strike down the requirements to attend and participate in cross-examination at hearings.

While the university is not required by federal law to adopt the policy edits, Bell said the Department of Education’s adoption of said changes, “in our opinion, amounts close to a recommendation.” Bell said the edits were “desirable” in the Denton campus’s eyes.

“The reason why it was done on the university level is reflective of why it was done on a federal level,” Bell said. “It is unlikely that we would get a police officer, a sexual assault doctor, for example, to appear to our university hearing. In the interest of fairness, we want to be able to accept those documents.”

IDEA proposed policy changes also due to concerns of respondents — the accused party — trying to obstruct or slow down an investigation. Avoiding liability for previous statements was also a concern. Bell said under the 2020 Title IX changes, a respondent can “just zip their mouth shut and not have to take repercussions for admissions that they have made in the past.”

“In the interest of fairness, we believe that the statement that you originally made to the police or the statement that you originally made to our investigators, if you don’t show up to dispute that, […] that statement should be considered as evidence in the case,” Bell said.

Additional changes to policy 16.005 include an extended appeals process. Parties involved in Title IX investigations now have 10 days to submit an appeal regarding determinations of responsibility and/or for sanctions. 

Appeals will only be accepted in cases of a procedural error, an omission on the university’s part or to consider new evidence unknown during the investigation that could significantly impact the original finding. 

In September 2021, Bell and Dean of Student Maureen McGuiness agreed to amend policy 16.004, “Prohibition of Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation,” to allow Title IX complainants the right to appeal cases. This was outlined in the Student Government Association’s “Catalani-Henderson Resolution.”

SGA’s legislation was created after UNT alumna Tatum Catalani-Henderson experienced issues regarding not being informed of the appeals process when she filed a complaint against track and field Head Coach Carl Sheffield for making inappropriate and homophobic comments, which the university labeled “unsubstantiated” as harassment. 

After the board meeting, Catalani-Henderson told the North Texas Daily she was still unsatisfied with the university’s Title IX investigation process but liked the increased opportunities to appeal.

“To me, it seems as if the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Title IX coordinators want to help students until it comes time to take punitive action against any UNT faculty members being accused of misconduct,” Catalani-Henderson said. “[…] However, as far as the amendment to the appeals process goes, I am very glad that there is a means to potentially correct investigative mistakes and errors.”

Smaller revisions to the policy included a clarification that Title IX complaints can be submitted and a grievance process pursued by those unaffiliated with the university when the respondent is a university student.

Featured Image: A sidewalk sign on the UNT campus reads “you don’t have to walk alone” on May 29, 2021. Photo by John Anderson

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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