The fight is not over

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Photo Credit: Charlie Hyman | Daily Texan Staff

Three sit-ins, a protest on the tower’s steps, countless experiences shared on social media, a classroom disrupted, national news coverage, a petition with over 1,000 signatures. 

This semester, the UT community made it impossible for the administration to stay silent on professor misconduct.

Since the first sit-in, protest organizers, the Student Government executive alliance and a former Daily Texan editor-in-chief, among others, have been meeting with University administration to discuss the next steps.

Change at UT comes through student protest and pressure, and the fight is far from over. Next semester we have no choice but to continue to demand action from this administration. Even with the immense pressure created this semester, there is much to be accomplished.

So what has been discussed, and what can we expect moving forward?

 

The good news

Next semester, students will finally have the opportunity to hold University administration accountable for sexual misconduct. On January 27, UT President Gregory Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis will be joined by other administrators to answer student questions. They have yet to decide the exact time and location of the town hall.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. We need a fundamental change in the University’s attitude toward sexual misconduct. Students are undeniably and justifiably angry over how UT has handled sexual misconduct. We now have a forum to voice our frustration directly to those who control the policy. Don’t let them tell you they can’t do anything about this — they can.

The University has also contracted law firm Husch Blackwell to assess UT’s Title IX policies and compliance system. While it’s hard to get excited about what seems like another deferral of University responsibility, Husch Blackwell actually has an impressive track record of helping universities better align their misconduct policy with student safety in mind. Take a look at the recommendations Husch Blackwell made at Texas A&M, Michigan State University, the University of Maryland and others after dissecting their Title IX systems. 

Our editorial board was told by a UT administrator that Husch Blackwell’s recommendations will be made public after they’re completed, likely by late next spring. Big changes could be coming — if the University implements them.

Students will also be learning more names of professors who have violated sexual misconduct policy. The University’s Open Record Request service is compiling all violations of University sexual misconduct policy since November 2017 — you just have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find it.

More transparency about predatory professors is always worth celebrating, but it can’t stop here. As we’ve said before, all violations — past and future — need to be public and accessible. Not hidden behind open records requests.

 

The bad news

The town hall needed to happen this semester. Since the first sit-in, students have demanded that the administration respond to student concerns as quickly as possible. That was in late October. 

The town hall is scheduled for late January, after a six-week break from classes. Organizers were under the impression that the town hall would take place this semester until word came from President Fenves’ office that it was being postponed. It’s worth noting that while Fenves has the final say in all of these decisions, his office has been largely absent from current meetings.

When we and our peers have consistently been left in harm’s way with professors that have a history of misconduct, we deserve the ability to ask administrators face-to-face why it happened. We have shared our stories, our frustration and our demands. We need to be directly heard by those who have the greatest ability to make us safer.

As of now, the only official University communication about the town hall has been through a recently created website about misconduct and a mailing list that, as of Dec. 5, had only 49 people on it. If the University is serious about including students in a conversation about misconduct, this has to change. The University has a myriad of ways to tell all of us about this event. They need to use them.

The town hall is being planned by the Misconduct Working Group — a group of students, faculty and administrators tasked with serving as a liaison between Husch Blackwell, students and administration as well as recommending changes to UT’s sexual misconduct and harassment verbiage. These recommendations, along with Husch Blackwell’s, will be sent to Fenves’ desk next spring.

Some of the students on this working group have already been meeting with administrators. Their power in the working group, however, is not yet defined. The editorial board was told that the division of labor in the working group is yet to be determined, but the students on it will at the very least be leading campus engagement.

Students in the working group were told in a meeting with administrators that they would likely be left out of making policy recommendations next semester. This is unacceptable. When it is our safety on the line, we deserve a voice in making recommendations that will personally affect us and our peers.

Students are more than just a mouthpiece for the administration. When students are in charge of explaining policy changes — or lack thereof — created by administration to campus, they can easily become a shield to protect the administration from its own failures.

Organizers and the student body at large must ensure that this doesn’t happen.

If we don’t fight for our peers in the administration’s working group to have the power to make our voices known in policy while continuing to make our demands as a student body known via protest, who is to say the
University will listen?

 

Looking forward

Progress is on the horizon. The University is finally talking about sexual misconduct. At least some names will be made public. A town hall will be held.

Until then, we must keep protesting. Our power as a student body has always been our voice, and our voice has power in numbers. We must continue to show up and express our disgust at the professors still on payroll after misconduct violations. We must continue to show up and demand to know which professors have histories of abusing students. We must continue to show up and fight for the safety of ourselves and our peers.

Never forget where the power in our administration lies — on Fenves’ desk. The only way for Fenves to hear us is if we make our demands as loud as possible. 

We cannot let winter break silence our voice or crush our momentum. The administration is feeling the pressure of a student body that is unwilling to be left in harm’s way. The moment we step foot on campus in the spring, the fight will continue.

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Emily Caldwell, Angélica López, Sanika Nayak, Abby Springs and editor-in-chief Spencer Buckner.