Missouri State University says it’s keeping in place policies and procedures for handling sexual misconduct cases under Title IX.
The decision comes after last month’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to rescind some of the guidance previously provided. In return, the agency has issued new interim guidance until permanent rules can be implemented.
“Bottom line is our system was working. We had good people, we had good policies,” says MSU President Clif Smart. “The new guidance doesn’t require change and we didn’t think we needed the change.”
He says through MSU’s current system officials have cleared alleged offenders of wrongdoing while proven misconduct from others, which resulted in discipline or even expulsion. There’s also been evidence of false reports by alleged victims and cases that didn’t return a conclusion one way or another.
According to Smart, the change by the Department of Education allows schools to amend its standard of proof. The new interim guidance also allows parties to mediate a resolution.
“We frankly feel in a sexual assault think that’s often historically been a way to pressure victims to settle for some kind of minor disciplinary action against a perpetrator that frankly deserved a stiffer punishment than that. We’re not gonna bring that back,” he says.
It also allowed for a longer timeline beyond the 60 days set by the old standards.
“They just said that it doesn’t have to be as concrete as that now if there are circumstances that would suggest that a longer time period was reasonable or needed,” said Jill Patterson, MSU’s Title IX coordinator, who joined Smart on KSMU’s Engaging the Community program.
It’s hard to paint anything inside Title IX with one color, says Patterson, noting that every case is different and therefore might follow a different timeline.
“To me it’s more important that we provide resources to both parties, because that’s one of the features of Title IX that was true before and is true now,” she says. “It’s not that we are there to advocate for one or the other. We provide resources for both parties, we interact with both parties and we do an investigation if that’s what’s been requested.”
Due process, says Patterson, is about “A genuine sense of fairness.”
“So what that means is that each party to a situation provides us with witnesses. We are obligated to reach out to witnesses suggested by both. If one is allowed to bring in an advisor to a situation the other is allowed. If one is getting notice of something happening the other gets notice of it. So it’s really a lot of being equal in terms of what information and resources we provide as well as the opportunities they have to present evidence in a hearing,” she said.
The new federal guidelines for handling sexual assault allegations, which was set in September by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has brought mixed reaction from the nation’s colleges and universities.
President Smart believes one reason for the new procedures was because some schools “had overcompensated” to protect alleged victims.
“There was a sense that if you were accused of dating violence or sexual misconduct that it was just presumed that you were guilty and gonna be punished and the accused folks were not getting a fair shake. That has never been our experience here.”
Smart says it’s important that fairness isn’t left behind when evaluating each case.
“Every allegation is not true. Often times these cases are in gray areas,” he says.
He adds, “The two messages that we wanna send to our students are you’re gonna get a fair shake either way. And second, we take this really seriously and if it is determined that you committed this there is gonna be significant punishment including possible expulsion from the university.”
Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that protects people under any education program or activity receiving federal funding from discrimination based on sex. MSU’s Title IX Department oversees all issues having to do with sexualized violence, sexual assault, rape, sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence, sexual harassment, sex discrimination, stalking, and pregnancy rights.
Patterson is now in her third year as the department’s coordinator. Her team includes an investigator, a Green Dot bystander intervention coordinator and administrative assistant.
Besides identifying solutions to Title IX issues that arise on campus, Patterson says her office spends a lot of time on prevention.
“Talking to each and every GEP class of freshmen, as well as most of the UHC honors classes freshmen courses, as well as invitations we get from other groups around campus from fraternities to faculty groups,” she says. (See sides of Patterson's presentations).
Questions and resources on topics covered under Title IX at MSU can be found here.
Above, hear the full conversation with President Clif Smart and Title IX coordinator Jill Patterson.
Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu