Last week, students protested outside of my office to express deep frustration around the way the university handles faculty misconduct. They also expressed disappointment and anger regarding two current faculty members who were found to have violated misconduct policies, were disciplined and are now back in the classroom.
I want to make clear to these students and to the broader UT community that we heard you; we understand why you are frustrated. We are firmly committed to the safety of our students. We hear your concerns that faculty members who pose a safety threat to students should be removed from teaching.
The students have raised many other concerns. We agree UT can do a better job.
To advise us, we plan to hire an outside expert to review UT’s Title IX procedures and policies. We will ask them to address many of the concerns you have raised. We will also ask the outside reviewer to get feedback directly from students, so they understand the student perspective on these issues as they conduct their review.
I’d like to address a few of the specific issues you raised.
Transparency: Students have asked for a university-wide report of Title IX matters related to faculty members. Title IX is federal law and guides protections for students regarding sexual harassment and violence. We agree more information should be available. A new state law, Senate Bill 212, is intended to increase transparency through annual aggregate reporting. We believe that issuing a report once a year is not enough and commit to more frequent reports. UT will implement the new reporting process in January 2020.
Publishing names: I understand there is currently a disconnect between university practice and the fact that there is a lot of information online. Our current policies have been based on federal and state privacy concerns and are broadly used in higher education. That doesn’t mean this is what we should do moving forward. We will ask the outside reviewer to advise us on how we can do better.
Terminating faculty members: As it has done in the past, the university will terminate faculty and staff members whose violations constitute a safety threat or who engage in violations that warrant termination. The university does so in compliance with our policies, which ensure faculty and staff members receive the required level of due process under federal and state constitutional requirements. Not all violations rise to a level that would justify termination. These sexual misconduct policies include a wide range of behaviors including the use of inappropriate or offending language. Most of the cases of faculty misconduct we see are about language. In such cases, faculty and staff members are required to comply with appropriate sanctions and remediation. This is similar to the way the university handles student discipline. Students who violate conduct policies are not automatically expelled. Rather, the university tailors disciplinary sanctions to reflect the violation.
I would also like to share with you that UT’s Title IX office is currently working to increase resources for prevention work, including an increase in the number of confidential advocates.
I recognize that many students would like to see changes in the university’s approach, and they want this to happen immediately. The university is committed to listening to the concerns you have raised and improving our policies and procedures around Title IX.
As that process unfolds, please know that we all share common goals: that all UT students feel safe — and are safe. With these goals in mind, I believe we can work together to make a better university.
To take action, we need you to report misconduct. To file a report, visit the UT Title IX Office website — titleix.utexas.edu/file-a-report.
Maurie McInnis, Executive Vice President and Provost