University to form working group for Title IX, misconduct issues

Graysen Golter

The University is forming a new working group to address the University’s sexual misconduct policies, UT President Gregory Fenves said in an email Tuesday.

In a follow-up to the message Fenves sent earlier this month, Fenves said the Misconduct Working Group will comprise of graduate students, faculty and staff to improve how the University communicates and evaluates sexual misconduct on campus. He said group membership will be finalized in December, and the recommendations will be delivered in April.

The increased focus on sexual misconduct at the University came about after students protested the continued employment of English associate professor Coleman Hutchison and Sahotra Sarkar, a philosophy and integrative biology professor, who were found to have violated UT’s misconduct policies.

Fenves said the University has hired external firm Husch Blackwell, led by Title IX experts Julie Miceli and Scott Schneider, to review its Title IX policies and collaborate with the new working group on possible improvements.

“These are all important steps, but our work is just beginning,” Fenves said in the email. “We will continue partnering closely with student leadership and other campus representatives to address the issues that they have raised in recent months.”

Fenves said the group has created a website that includes a FAQ and updates on the group’s progress. The website also includes a link for people to submit feedback on what issues the group should consider as well as a link to where people can report Title IX violations to the University. 

The FAQ explains the University does not automatically terminate professors accused of sexual misconduct but instead disciplines them similarly to when a student commits academic dishonesty. It also says the University’s Title IX office is working to secure more prevention resources and investigators to increase the speed of sexual misconduct investigations.

University spokesman J.B. Bird said the website and opportunities for student feedback represent a desire to include students in the University’s conversation regarding its Title IX policies, especially considering student protests in the last month.

“(UT knows) students are very interested in hearing about the University’s efforts on this issue,” Bird said. “We’re trying to get information out quickly.”