An independent Title IX Commission tasked with examining and critiquing the University of Tennessee's policies on dealing with sexual assaults on campus has submitted its report and recommendations for change.
UT appointed commission in July 2016 as part of lawsuit settlement in the case of six women who accused five UT athletes of sexual assault, claiming the university created a student culture that enabled sexual assault by student athletes.
In the settlement, UT admitted no wrongdoing and said it would seek create an independent commission to review the university's Title IX policies, as well as restructure two key offices that oversee sexual assault investigations and provide support for victims.
This effort was headed up by UT President Joe DiPietro.
“I’m very appreciative of the commission’s work,” DiPietro said. “The members were very conscientious in their approach and have given us a blueprint to continue improving our commitment to safe, caring and responsive campus environments consistent with our goal to always be a proactive leader in our response to Title IX issues, not just reactive.”
The commission focused on reviewing and recommending changes system-wide on programs related to preventing, investigating and addressing sexual misconduct incidents.
The commission held open listening sessions with students on the Knoxville, Chattanooga and Memphis campuses while also remaining available for on-on-one discussions after each session. These included conducting focus groups with student Greek, athletic and residence hall representatives.
In order to stay independent, the commission was comprised of people that had no affiliation or past dealings with the university system.
In the report, the commission said it's apparent the university has been dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of sexual misconduct policies and procedures in the last several years, including increasing efforts to prevent and respond to incidents.
Overall, the commission said that while the Title IX programs and policies are comprehensive, it believes there are "opportunities for improvement."
For one, it said the policies are written in a legalistic style and require copious amounts of cross-referencing to different documents and codes of conduct to understand the overall policy. It also believes training could be more consistent and comprehensive for both students and employees.
The report mentioned "frustration" with the TUAPA, or Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, a campus disciplinary policy implemented after sexual assaults have been reported. The process allows accused students to go before an administrative judge, but often push back misconduct cases past the 60-day time frame recommended by the federal government and leave accusers waiting for months while the accused remain on campus.
The commission also said campuses other than Knoxville showed a lack of resources for upholding Title IX prevention and training, though the smaller campuses were able to show effective results with individual case response.
In general, the commission had five major recommendations:
- Creation of a system-wide Title IX coordinator
- Adding more campus Title IX staffing and resources
- Updating existing policies, procedures and student codes
- Improvements to case management, care and support
- Additional improvements to education, prevention and training efforts
The new System Title IX Coordinator position would work with approximately 280 employees to oversee policy and implement improvements and changes across all campuses.
“We will meet with the individual campuses to discuss the commission’s findings,” DiPietro said. “We are determined, as the Commission noted, to continue enhancing our Title IX program across all of our campuses and becoming a national model on both prevention and response. The new coordinator will have the authority and resources to ensure that.”
Highlighted in the report were Greek and athletic organizations, which the commission said present "unique challenges." For fraternities and sororities, the concern was placed particularly on the presence of unofficial off-campus houses were parties and other social events happen. It said students in official organizations showed a willingness to become involved with advanced in-person Title IX training.
Athletic organizations were recommended to continue working with Title IX coordinators with targeted training and awareness of Title IX procedures, with the commission saying some students and staff showed confusion regarding confidentiality and reporting obligations of certain athletic employees.
“It is apparent,” the commission concluded, “that UT is dedicating resources and attention to ensuring campus environments free from discrimination and harassment based on sex, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking."
You can read the full 28-page report below: