UT System approves new sexual misconduct, Title IX policies during virtual board meeting

Samantha Greyson and Andrew Zhang

The UT System Board of Regents approved new systemwide Title IX and sexual misconduct policies to comply with federal Title IX modifications during a virtual meeting Wednesday. 

The board updated the UT System sexual misconduct policies to redefine the definition of  sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual conduct and sex discrimination. The updates also included emphasizing support of students who report sexual assault, whether or not they have filed a Title IX complaint, and clarifying the purpose of investigations to include the new definition of sexual harassment.

“Today’s vote approves collective revisions to the 14 institutions’ respective sexual misconduct policies to comply with the new Title IX regulations and address all sexual misconduct that adversely impacts any of our students, faculty or staff,” UT System spokesperson Karen Adler said in an email. 

These updates were approved to comply with the United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ May 6 Title IX revisions that must be implemented at UT and other schools that receive federal funding by August 14. The new rules on sexual misconduct will apply to the eight UT academic institutions and the six UT Health institutions.

In accordance with the Title IX changes, the UT System’s definition of sexual harassment has been narrowed to include behavior “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the institution's education program or activity,” according to the approved model policy. Previously, the definition of sexual harassment was “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” according to the UT System website.

The federal revisions require schools to make reporting accessible by properly displaying Title IX office contact information online and having a Title IX coordinator, and they now require postsecondary schools to have live hearings with cross-examination. 

Adler said the UT System policy changes were proposed by a team composed of legal and compliance representatives from all the UT institutions that met over the past three months. She said the revision preserves a victim’s ability to report and file incidents and complaints and determine how they wish to proceed with the process.

“The revised policies also provide a prompt, equitable and impartial grievance process that … maintains victims’ and respondents’ rights and due process under federal and state laws,” Adler said.

The approved model policy will also give complainants the legal remedies, or supportive measures which they deem fit, whenever an accused person is found responsible, which must allow for the complainant to maintain equal access to their education.

“The UT System remains committed to maintaining a learning and working environment that is free from sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct,” Adler said.