Student organizers planning forum in spring 2020 to discuss University sexual misconduct policies, violations

Emily Hernandez

UT President Gregory Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis will attend a student-led forum at the beginning of next semester where students can voice concerns about sexual misconduct policies and violations, according to a Tuesday press release sent by student organizers.

The student organizers of the third Sit In For Student Safety, the student body president and vice president, and nominated student representatives of the newly formed Misconduct Working Group met with the provost’s office Tuesday morning to confirm Fenves’ attendance at the forum, student organizer Tasnim Islam said. 

The working group will be comprised of graduate students, faculty and staff to discuss how the University communicates and evaluates sexual misconduct, according to a campuswide email sent by Fenves on Nov. 19. Its representatives will be finalized this month, according to the press release.

The student organizers said they have been advocating for the University to fire English associate professor Coleman Hutchison and Sahotra Sarkar, a philosophy and integrative biology professor, who were both found in violation of the University’s sexual misconduct policies. The organizers also said they wanted the University to be more transparent about misconduct policies and violations. 

The University’s open records office is compiling a summary of all sexual misconduct cases since November 2017, which will be available to any student for free through an open records request, University spokesperson J.B. Bird said. 

Islam said she thinks that is not enough, and she wants public data on cases dating a decade back.

“Not everyone has time or capacity or understanding to know how to submit an open records request,” said Islam, a Plan II and women and gender studies sophomore. “Having a link on a website or sending an email … is the only way that this information will properly be sent to the students.” 

Bird said a summary of sexual misconduct cases has been created in the past by the University, and he understands students’ frustration with the information only being available through an open records request. 

“That is a very good topic for the review to discuss and the outside expert to discuss,” Bird said. “I can see … why people get upset because unless we're publishing it, they might think we’re withholding it, but I do think it's really important to note that it hasn't been withheld.”

The fourth sit-in was originally planned for 10 a.m. Friday at the Tower but will be relocated to not conflict with commencement ceremony proceedings at the Tower, Islam said.

Tasnim said she wanted to advocate against sexual misconduct at the University as soon as she heard about the issue this semester. 

“I feel like I've worked with (the University) enough to understand how to get things done or how to actually grab the University’s attention,” Islam said. “As someone who has dealt with sexual misconduct (and) sexual assault, I definitely want to be able to help end this at our University.”