UT shares response to Sit In for Student Safety, concerns about faculty misconduct

Lauren Grobe

The University responded to student concerns about classes taught by faculty found guilty of sexual misconduct in a statement released on their news website Wednesday.

Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost, said the University will be hiring an outside expert to review the University’s Title IX policies. She also said UT will release reports on Title IX matters more than once a year starting in January 2020 in accordance with state law.

“We hear your concerns that faculty members who pose a safety threat to students should be removed from teaching,” McInnis said in the statement. “The students have raised many other concerns. We agree UT can do better.”

McInnis said faculty who pose a safety threat to students or who engage in certain violations will be fired in accordance with University policies, and the University’s actions are tailored to reflect the violation.

“Not all violations rise to a level that would justify termination,” McInnis said. “These sexual misconduct policies include a wide range of behaviors including the use of inappropriate of offending language.”

Students organized a seven-hour Sit in for Student Safety on Friday in response to English associate professor Coleman Hutchison and Sahotra Sarkar, integrative biology and philosophy professor, being listed on the spring 2020 course schedule after both were found guilty of misconduct by UT. 

A University investigation in 2018 found Hutchison violated UT’s sexual misconduct policy for making sexual comments to students and failing to disclose a relationship with a graduate student. Sarkar was suspended for one semester in 2017 after a University investigation found he violated UT’s Title IX policies by making inappropriate comments to students, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

The protest organizers said they asked the University for a campuswide message about Hutchison and Sarkar and the removal of both professors from the course schedule. McInnis did not mention any specific faculty by name in her statement, and said the University does not publish names based on privacy concerns. 

“Our current policies have been based on federal and state privacy concerns and are broadly used in higher education,” McInnis said. “That doesn’t mean this is what we should do moving forward.”

During the sit-in, Alyssa Ashcraft, protest organizer and government and humanities senior, said the University said they would be sending out a campuswide communication regarding the sit-in by Monday.

On Monday, University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said in an email to The Daily Texan that the University would be releasing their statement through an editorial in the Texan, but Spencer Buckner, the Texan’s editor-in-chief, declined to run the full statement until a campuswide email was sent to the student body.

The statement was sent to Buckner on Wednesday shortly before it was published on UT’s news website.

Protest organizer Angela Kang said she was disappointed with the University’s response. 

“The letter is too little, too late,” biology senior Kang said. “They only found a smaller outlet to publish the letter, which demonstrably goes against their claim of dedication to transparency.”