Student organizers planning forum with UT president, provost in spring 2020 to discuss sexual misconduct policies, violations

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. 

“We are working with student leaders to solidify exact details. However, the participation of various members of University leadership is confirmed,” University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said. “The goal of the event remains creating an environment conducive to a constructive dialogue surrounding issues of misconduct.”

The misconduct working group will be comprised of 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.

Islam said the group is planning to solidify details for the forum once they meet. She said they are expecting to livestream the forum, and the University is expecting to have 150 to 200 students in attendance.

“There will be preselected questions from the students answered by the president and provost, and then there will be allocated time at the end for students to come up to the mics to ask questions they come up with on the spot,” said Islam, a Plan II and women and gender studies sophomore.

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. 

“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.”

University spokesperson J.B. Bird said 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. 

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,” Islam said. “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.”