In 2017, the CLASE study finally gave specifics on UT’s endemic sexual assault and harassment problem. Despite more than a year and countless student initiatives, UT is struggling to handle sexual misconduct, harassment and assault cases effectively.
UT’s recent cover-up of an English professor’s misconduct and the federal education department’s open investigation on bias and retaliation in the handling of a past Title IX case are a few results of UT’s broken system. The University should rethink its Title IX process in order to prioritize students.
Pending federal regulations, UT has the chance to examine its own process and departmental abilities. UT should make the Title IX process easier to navigate, end long wait times, clarify confusing resource directions and reconcile differing agency policies.
The problems with UT’s Title IX process do not lie with one department. Title IX responsibilities at the University are spread out across different UT administrative offices. If a student or mandatory reporter — any employee, including RAs, required to report alleged misconduct under Title IX — at UT becomes aware of a violation, there are several places they can go to report it.
The first option is to report online. There are two ways this can be done: through the Office of Inclusion and Equity or on the Title IX Office website, which links to several online reporting options. A case can also be opened if the reporter calls the Behavior Concerns Advice Line, BCAL. If BCAL reports an incident, it is sent through the Title IX Office to the Title IX investigators, who are housed in the Dean of Students Office. Generally, access to reporting is a good thing, but when administrative offices don’t communicate efficiently, this can lead to duplication or, in one case, loss of important records. Basically, things start to get hairy in the implementation.
Furthermore, if the report involves a person considered to be a UT faculty or staff member, the report must be sent to and investigated by the Office for Inclusion and Equity. However, the Office for Inclusion and Equity also has its own reporting form online, and once a BCAL report is sent to them, the Office for Inclusion and Equity will, redundantly, prompt the reporter to fill out another report on the Office for Inclusion and Equity website.
Additionally, the BCAL line — a contracted service — has been known to give incomplete or misleading information. One RA, speaking anonymously, said every time they’ve contacted BCAL, it only seems to have made the situation they were trying to handle worse. His students were pointed to the wrong resources, or in one case, BCAL called the police without giving any advice.
While separation between the Title IX coordinator’s office and investigators who work in the Dean of Students Office avoids conflicts of interest, the failure to communicate between offices silos the cases involving faculty and staff to the ill-suited Office for Inclusion and Equity, a different office altogether. All of these hoops, and the students involved in the Title IX case, haven’t even begun the process of receiving help from Student Emergency Services, yet another division.
These complications often leave students involved in Title IX cases confused about where they should go for help, feeling overwhelmed and unaware of the many resources UT has to offer. And it only gets harder from there.
When a report is filed, and an investigation is opened, each office has its own internal procedures to investigate the report. As a student, trying to figure out which set of rules govern your investigation can be headache-inducing. For example, on the University’s official website for Policy, the Title IX section states: “Complaints based on the alleged conduct of students who are not also employees of the University are addressed in the General Information Catalog ('GIC'), Appendix D.”
A few paragraphs later, under the “Complaints Against UT Students” section, the exact same policy document sends you to Appendix C. There is no mention of Appendix D for the rest of the section. So, where are students supposed to look to find out how their investigative process will go?
This is just one example of conflicting information from University resources. In reality, Appendix C is the umbrella category for Appendix D, which lays out the exact procedures followed by the Dean of Students Office.
This pattern of small but persistent communication errors undermines the University’s credibility and prevents students from accessing the resources offered during the Title IX process.
Once a student has navigated multiple offices and pages of University policy, next comes the waiting. Both the Office for Inclusion and Equity and Dean of Students guarantee the right to a prompt investigation in a Title IX case. However, of the four students interviewed for this piece, all told me the wait time between when they were notified of their case and the date scheduled for the first interview with investigators was at least three weeks apart. UT policy never defines exactly what prompt means, so technically, investigative offices aren’t violating procedure. A month is a very long time to wait when you are in the middle of an investigation that poses implications for the rest of your educational career.
One reason for long wait times could be the increase in case load over the last few years. According to data shared by the Office for Inclusion and Equity and Title IX offices in response to an Open Records Request, the Office for Inclusion and Equity only began keeping track of the number of reports it was receiving in 2017, it appears to have received 89 reports throughout 2017. As of mid-November of this year, the Office for Inclusion and Equity had already received 199 reports.
Navigating the UT System, long wait times, confusing resource directions and differing agency policies are just the beginning of the hurdles students must cross when a Title IX case is opened. And only after they deal with the University can they begin to work through the ramifications of their actual case.
MacLean is a senior advertising and geography major from Austin.