UT-Austin students protest faculty sexual misconduct for 4th time this semester

Lauren Grobe

Student protesters took to the steps of the Tower and held a large red banner with the words “UT Protects Abusers” for the fourth protest against faculty sexual misconduct this semester. 

The newly formed Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct, a group of previous protest organizers and additional students, held the Protest for Student Safety on Friday. During the protest, about a dozen students chanted, “No time for Title IX, we will keep these creeps in line” and held signs that read “#TexasFightAbusers.”

“While (the University) has agreed to meet with us, we still feel that we need to put pressure on and continue to increase our visibility,” protest organizer Kaya Epstein said. 

Epstein, a biology and government freshman, said the coalition is demanding the University release a report with the names, courses and actions of professors who violated sexual misconduct policies and provide an explanation of how the University determines whether a professor may still teach after violating policy. 

“I want the names of every professor the University has investigated,” Plan II freshman Alex Evans said. “Even if the University does bring them back … students can make a conscious decision about whether they feel safe.”

The University’s open records office is planning to disclose a summary within the year of sexual misconduct cases at UT since November 2017 to any student who requests them.

The coalition is also asking the University to institute a restorative justice program and add more confidential advocates on campus. 

“Our restorative justice program would include teaching people to identify sexual misconduct behaviors and how to prevent them,” Epstein said. “If they were being genuine about wanting to work with us … they would have embraced our demands.”

Since late October, students have held three sit-ins outside the provost’s office to protest two professors remaining on the spring 2020 course schedule after the University found they violated UT’s sexual misconduct policies.

A 2018 University investigation found English associate professor Coleman Hutchison made sexual comments to students and failed to disclose a relationship with a graduate student. Sahotra Sarkar, integrative biology and philosophy professor, was suspended for one semester in 2017 after a University investigation found he made inappropriate comments to students.

Evans said they protested on the Tower steps so passing tour groups knew about faculty misconduct before attending the University. 

“We're here, and now we're telling (students and) parents who are touring with their children that they might be sending their kids to an unsafe environment,” Evans said. 

On Friday, Provost Maurie McInnis announced the membership of the Misconduct Working Group, which will conduct an internal review of the University’s sexual misconduct policies, and said a town hall forum would happen in January 2020 in an email sent to the working group’s email list.

“The work of this group is enormously important and I appreciate the contributions and expertise these members bring to our collective effort,” McInnis said in the email. 

The University has also hired outside law firm Husch Blackwell to review its Title IX policies. McInnis said in the email that the results of the firm’s review would be made public. 

Undeclared freshman Brittany Blackshear said she was not satisfied with the University’s responses and wanted to see immediate action to protect students. 

“There are students who are missing classes,” Blackshear said. “There’s already people whose education is suffering because of this, and they’re still not acting and they’re still not making changes.”