Rid the president of meddlesome power over Title IX appeals

David Howell

Here, at UT, the president wields an almost imperial power in the Title IX appeals process. His word is final, his power is absolute.

Our Title IX appeals process is autocratic.

Per chapter 11-805 of our Institutional Rules, the President maintains a complete stranglehold on the appeals process. Most major universities exclude the president from the appeals process. We are the exception, not the rule.

But we can change the rules.The Department of Education permits each university to establish its own Title IX appeals process. And our process desperately needs reform.

Even inferior universities are more judicious. Texas A&M — yes, those wild Aggies — have a better Title IX appeals process than we do. They have a panel to arbitrate Title IX appeals. Both students and faculty members serve as representatives on their appeals panels.

A recent lawsuit revealed the systemic problems that undergird our appeals process. On April 12, President Gregory Fenves suspended a male student for five semesters. The student allegedly committed sexual assault against an intoxicated female student. However, a Title IX hearing officer cleared the student of the charges against him. But President Fenves reversed the hearing officer’s decision and suspended the student on appeal.

The student sued. According to the student’s lawyer, Brian Roark, Fenves was faced with the same evidence as was the hearing officer. “There was no additional evidence/information for the appeal,” Roark wrote in an email. “It was simply Fenves viewing the available evidence differently and relying on information that the neutral hearings officer found to be not credible.”

The problem is not the president. Fenves might be a sterling judge. The problem is the president’s sweeping power. Maybe you trust Fenves with it, but will you trust his successors? Our appeals process makes the president both judge and jury.

And what if the president is wrong? An innocent man could be held guilty — his dreams ruined. A guilty man could be held innocent — a victim’s nightmare come true.

Admittedly, one hearing officer presides over initial Title IX trials. However, the president is currently the final judge in UT Title IX cases. At UT, there is no power above him. He is to our Title IX process what the Supreme Court is to American law: the ultimate authority. The ultimate authority over Title IX should resemble a court, not a king.

Perhaps absolute power doesn’t corrupt, but that doesn’t matter. Even an honest individual can be wrong. When individuals hold a monopoly on power, honest mistakes can ruin lives.

We should strip the president of his vast power over Title IX appeals. We should entrust a diverse Title IX appeals panel with it. And we must chose an accountable jury over an unaccountable judge.

Howell is a history sophomore from Dallas.