Q&A: Husch Blackwell lawyer discusses UT-Austin sexual misconduct policy review

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Photo Credit: Roxanne Benites | Daily Texan Staff

The Daily Texan spoke with Texas Law alumna Paige Duggins-Clay of Husch Blackwell LLP, the law firm reviewing the University’s sexual misconduct policies. Three lawyers from the firm plan to release their initial report on these policies this Friday.

The Daily Texan: What do you do for Husch Blackwell? 

Paige Duggins-Clay:   I am an attorney, which is a wonderful privilege. Husch Blackwell is a large, national law firm. We do all sorts of practices. People like me, Scott and Julie are really lucky that we work in our higher education group. That means that we do the legal work of colleges and universities.

DT:   Have you worked on Title IX matters before? 

DC:    Of course. We do all sorts of things ranging from civil rights all the way to accreditation, general litigation and student financial aid. Increasingly, because of the impact of social movements like #MeToo and the increased scrutiny in the regulatory environment, a huge part of all of our practices is focused on Title IX. 

The University of Texas is a unique, special place, and I think it’s a really interesting case study for the impact of the shifting regulatory environment on colleges and universities.

DT:  Can you tell me more about the review Husch Blackwell is conducting at the University? 

DC:  A huge part of what we do and what we’ve been doing at UT is getting community input, comparing what the school is doing to institutional peers and benchmarking for best practices and emerging trends.

That’s one part of it, but it’s really focused on the question: What are the communities expectations and values? How are they being served by the current policy? How are they not being served? What parts are we happy with? What parts are we not happy with?

We are reviewing specific policies, those related to institutional response to sexual misconduct. (Handbook of Operating Procedures policy) 3031 is the big one. But we’ll look at others, including some of the ones around the procedural aspect of investigating and processing complaints.

We have been on campus meeting with institutional stakeholders since December. We started meeting early and often with the folks who were charged with implementing these policies.

We talked with a few students individually in December. We’ve gone to all of the Misconduct Working Group meetings and participated in those pretty actively.

DT:   What is the goal of this review? 

DC:   It’s hard to put it into one sentence or one word. At a minimum, we want to make sure the policies, procedures and practices are in line with federal and state law. We want to make sure that they are further in line with the best practices of our peer institutions. We want UT to be a leader among schools in this space.

More than that, the University has made very clear that they want this to be a system that works. They want it to be a system that people have confidence in, that people feel meets their needs, whether it’s a formal investigative process or it’s about support and resources.

We can’t just take the policies of other schools we’ve worked with and pop them in. It’s got to be informed by the community and your values and expectations.

DT:   Is your initial report coming out this Friday, Feb. 28? 

DC:   That’s my understanding. We’ve tried to be clear about managing expectations. It’s not going to be a comprehensive report with all the recommendations and all of the things. But it will be a summary of the information, the themes that we’re hearing in our community engagement sessions.

It’ll really focus on the recommendations in the policy HOP 3031. Some of these recommendations propose some pretty significant potential changes.