Fenves announces sexual misconduct policy recommendations deadline

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Greg Fenves, president of The University of Texas at Austin, answers student’s questions during the Open Dialogue about Sexual Misconduct Policies & Practices with UT Leadership members Provost Maurie McInnis, right, and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, not shown, at The Belo Center for New Media auditorium on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

The law firm reviewing the University’s sexual misconduct policies will provide recommended changes by Feb. 28, according to a campuswide email UT President Gregory Fenves sent Tuesday.

At Monday’s forum on sexual misconduct, students expressed their frustration with the University’s handling of Title IX cases and faculty sexual misconduct policy. Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis said they expected recommendations from law firm Husch Blackwell by spring break. Fenves said he asked the firm to expedite their work after hearing from students at the forum. 

“It was an important conversation, and the actions today are a beginning,” Fenves said in the email.

The University hired Husch Blackwell in November and previously provided no deadline for the firm’s recommendations. Husch Blackwell also reviewed Texas A&M’s Title IX policies in 2018, according to Husch Blackwell’s report on A&M’s policies. 

Husch Blackwell is hosting student listening sessions, which are focus groups with the attorneys, starting this week and continuing into February. Students can sign up on the Misconduct Working Group website. 

Fenves also announced in the email that UT will be hiring two more investigators for the Title IX Training and Investigations at the Office of the Dean of Students, which handles Title IX cases filed against University students.

The Office of the Dean of Students currently has six Title IX investigators and the Office of Inclusion and Equity, which handles Title IX cases filed against staff or faculty, has three investigators, said University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre.

Monday’s forum came after months of student protests asking for the termination of professors found in violation of sexual misconduct policies and for more transparency around employee sexual misconduct. The Misconduct Working Group, formed by the University in November to address the policies and improve communication between students and the University, is working with Husch Blackwell. 

So far, Fenves has not attended any of the working group’s meetings. When asked about his absence by a student at the forum, Fenves said he would attend the next meeting. 

“We are listening to your recommendations,” Fenves said. “We may not do them, but that’s just part of the process.”

 

In an interview after the forum, Fenves said the University is currently reviewing its sexual misconduct policy and the Title IX investigation process. The University is also reviewing sanctions for violating sexual misconduct policies and deciding whether to release the names of policy violators. 

“I know this is what the students are asking for,” Fenves said. “Once there is a finding of a violation, will we publish the names? That’s going to be something that we will be looking at very carefully.”

Multiple students at the forum asked Fenves, McInnis and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly if the University had failed students through mishandling sexual misconduct cases. 

“By the fact that you are here, and you’re telling us your stories, yes, we have failed you,” Fenves said.