Trinity University is one of five Texas universities being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in response to a complaint regarding the handling of a previous sexual assault case.
Steven Bachrach, Title IX coordinator, indicated that Trinity disagrees with the complaint filed against the university and is contesting the case.
“A complaint against Trinity University in how we have handled a Title IX case was made to the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights. We received notice of this complaint, and the DE and the OCR are now investigating that,” Bachrach said. “We are providing them with documentation and interpretations of what happened. We do not believe that we have violated our policies or the policies of Title IX as dictated by those two departments.”
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has received only one complaint against Trinity for the handling of a previous sexual misconduct case.
“In our case it’s just a single complaint. Other schools may have had multiple complaints but once a single complaint has been received then the Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights have to investigate and that’s the list we’re on,” Bachrach said. “It is not indication of wrongdoing or right””doing. It just means that there is an investigation that is taking place.”
“The university position is that we feel that we followed all of our internal protocols, procedures and policies, all of which are aligned with recommendations by the Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights,” said Sharon Jones Schweitzer, assistant vice president for external relations.
In 2014, the DE was investigating 55 schools. This year, the number has risen to 146 schools, according to a list provided by the Department of Education.
In addition to Trinity, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston join the list of universities being investigated by the DE this year. Two older cases are still underway at Cisco College and the former University of Texas-Pan American.
Federal scrutiny often begins when someone complains that a university did not do enough to punish a student accused of sexual misconduct.
The Texas Tribune reported on Nov.17 that Texas A&M is currently under review for the opposite claim””that administrators went too far when they suspended a male student accused of assaulting a female student. At the University of Houston details of the ongoing investigation have also not been released.
Trinity’s federal review began this year on July 31. Schweitzer explained that the length of time for the investigation is unknown.
“I think it’s going to be a long process but I don’t really have any details about how it will be handled,” Schweitzer said.
In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights compelled universities to investigate and adjudicate all alleged incidents of sexual harassment or violence regardless of whether or not criminal charges had been filed.
The Office of Civil Rights pointed to Title IX, the federal policy that prohibits sex discrimination in education and threatened to cut federal funding to colleges and universities that did not take action to prevent gender-based harassment or violence and protect those students who had experienced gender-based harassment or violence.
Rather than using “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of evidence used for criminal trials, on-campus judicial proceedings may use the “more likely than not” (50.01%) standard to find a student responsible for sexual misconduct.
Schweitzer noted that Trinity’s sexual assault policies are often considered a national model.
“We take each complaint very seriously, and we act quickly. We do it in an atmosphere where fairness and sensitivity are vital. Our processes and policies are evaluated annually, and they are often looked at as a model across the nation,” Schweitzer said.
The Texas Tribune reported on November 17 that the Department of Education has the ability to cut off federal funding for universities that do not follow Title IX guidelines. However, in some previous cases, the funding has not been taken away and instead the department has recommended that universities reform their policies.
Schweitzer explained that sexual misconduct of any kind is not tolerated at Trinity.
“There isn’t a college campus across the country that isn’t dealing with these issues of its campus and doing everything it can to help students that find themselves either accused or find themselves in a situation where they have to bring a complaint. “Sexual misconduct and sexual assault are not tolerated among our community.” Schweitzer said.
I'm a radio host for KRTU.