A University of Texas student suspended for sexual assault has been reinstated through a negotiated settlement in which the school also agreed to dismiss his case and not pursue further punishment.
The agreement, reached Monday behind closed doors at a hearing in U.S. District Court, spared university President Gregory L. Fenves from having to testify about his decision to overrule a hearing examiner who had reviewed an assault complaint from spring 2016 and determined the male student had done nothing wrong.
John Doe — the name assigned to the male student in court documents — sat out the fall semester while serving his suspension. He is clear to resume coursework after winter break and cannot be punished again for the same incident, according to his attorney, Brian Roark. He is not entitled to money for damages or legal fees.
UT officials did not respond when asked why they reinstated the student while simultaneously arguing in court papers last week that their process for handling such disputes is fair and that Fenves based his decision to suspend the student “solely on the merits of this case.”
Fenves, who exited the courthouse with a UT communications official, declined to comment other than to say, “There’s been a settlement.”
According to court filings, the man and woman both told university investigators that she consented to his request for sex after the two left a sorority party and went to his apartment. But the woman came forward days later and made a complaint against the man, saying she was so drunk as to be incapacitated and unable to give consent.
A UT hearing examiner disagreed, siding with the man and determining that the woman had made rational decisions throughout the course of the evening.
But Fenves reversed the hearing examiner’s ruling, citing witnesses who described the woman as stumbling and slurring words. He suspended the male student for five continuous semesters, finding him in violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy.
The man filed a federal lawsuit in August against UT and its president, claiming that Fenves had denied his right to due process and requesting a temporary injunction that would have let him enroll in classes in the fall. The suit also alleged that Fenves had a possible conflict of interest because the woman’s father is a university donor who gave a significant sum within a month of her complaint.
District Judge Sam Sparks declined to act on the man’s request but expressed bewilderment over Fenves overruling the hearing examiner, who was a chemistry lecturer at UT.
“Tell me that’s due process,” Sparks remarked to UT’s attorneys.
UT attempted to avoid Monday’s hearing altogether, offering a compromise last week by lifting the suspension and signaling intent to hand the case to an unnamed third party to review Fenves’ decision.
READ: Federal judge questions Fenves’ ruling in UT sex assault case
Roark, the student’s attorney, called the third-party review a “sham gesture” and a “desperate attempt to avoid having Fenves answer questions under oath.” He asked instead that Sparks make the ruling.
The settlement was announced Monday after the attorneys met for 45 minutes in the judge’s chambers.