You said it yourself, President Fenves. You have failed us.
At Monday’s town hall on sexual misconduct, we needed answers. Answers for why, after months of protest, there has been so little progress. Answers for a broken Title IX system. Answers for the pain of a student body in which one in five students have reported experiencing sexist gender harassment from faculty or staff.
Instead, we got hollow apologies for survivors courageously sharing their stories and non-responses to almost everything else.
The town hall was the culmination of everything wrong with the way UT handles misconduct.
The panelists — President Gregory Fenves, Provost Maurie McInnis and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly — told students to trust administration and faculty. It’s hard for us to trust an administration that says it hears us, but never seems to actually listen.
The University touts the Misconduct Working Group as proof that they are listening to students. The group, comprised of administrators, faculty and 10 students, was assembled late last semester to plan the town hall and provide feedback on current sexual misconduct policies.
The problem is that University leadership can veto anything the working group proposes — and they have.
Having the town hall before winter break? UT leadership, including President Fenves, vetoed that in late November.
Booking a larger auditorium? After speaking with administration, student body president Camron Goodman told us the William C. Powers Student Activity Center and Hogg Memorial Auditorium “weren’t even on the table” for the town hall, in part because they were too large. BMC 2.106, which was used for the town hall, has a capacity of 295. It was full, and there were two overflow rooms. Goodman called BMC 2.106 a “compromise pick” — organizers told us that UT originally supported hosting the event in rooms as small as 50 people.
Preventing cops from being inside of the auditorium? Multiple members of the working group told us that UT leadership vetoed the measure without informing them. As students shared stories about experiences with inappropriate police conduct, two uniformed officers watched.
Allowing cameras inside the auditorium? UT leadership vetoed that four days before the event, and claimed it was what students in the working group wanted. It wasn’t. The decision was reversed, and cameras were allowed.
UT leadership — including Fenves’ office — had the final say on every decision about the town hall. Fenves, however, hasn’t attended any working group meetings. It’s not like he couldn’t fit it into his schedule, either — he meets monthly with Student Government leadership and he certainly has time to meet donors and big names.
To us, the working group looks like nothing more than a cop-out for when administrators are asked if they’re listening to the student body.
What you saw on Monday was the administration’s event — not the students’. The town hall should have been in an auditorium that could fit everyone who wanted to attend and share their stories with administration. It should have been a completely safe space, without police. Most importantly, administrators should have been able to answer our questions.
Instead, we got an event where, when asked why professors who were guilty of misconduct were not fired, Fenves said he believed there weren’t any faculty in the classroom that students should be scared of. Where the administrators played defense and refused to admit fault until a student asked them point blank if they had failed us. It was only then that Fenves admitted they had. McInnis and Reagins-Lilly didn’t give a direct answer.
The panelists also would not commit to any change in policy. Fenves said that he would attend a single Misconduct Working Group meeting, and Reagins-Lilly promised to help guide a student through her nightmarish Title IX case, but that was it.
Nobody mentioned changing the policies that make Title IX cases at UT nightmarish to begin with.
Last night, President Fenves sent out an email announcing that the University will hire two new Title IX investigators, and that Husch Blackwell, the firm reviewing UT’s misconduct policies, will submit their recommendations by late February.
Students shouldn’t have had to put themselves in such a vulnerable position in front of the President for the Title IX office to hire more investigators. It shouldn’t have taken a town hall that was disastrous for UT’s public image in order for the bare minimum to happen.
It’s too little, too late. It should never have come to this.
The editorial board is composed of associate editors Abhirupa Dasgupta, Hannah Lopez, Sanika Nayak, Abby Springs and editor-in-chief Spencer Buckner.