The Texas A&M University System announced tougher sanctions Monday, including mandatory expulsion and dismissal in some cases, for students, faculty members and staffers who engage in sexual misconduct.
The new rules relate to Title IX, the federal law barring sex discrimination and sexual misconduct at schools receiving federal funds, and take effect immediately. They apply to all 11 universities in the A&M System, and many of the rules also will be applicable to the system’s seven state agencies.
The student conduct rules, which were developed at the flagship campus in College Station in response to criticism from victims of sexual misconduct, include mandatory sanctions for violations, plus a procedure to determine whether and when students who have been suspended can resume extracurricular activities such as band or football.
By mandating certain minimum sanctions, the policies go beyond those at many colleges and universities in the nation, including those in place at the University of Texas. UT’s rules generally allow school officials to impose sanctions up to and including dismissal of employees and expulsion of students, but the guidelines stop short of requiring certain punishments, leaving those decisions up to school officials on a case-by-case basis.
The A&M rules come a little more than two months after a flurry of accusations were made by women who said they were victims of sexual assault and misconduct while students at the school; the women also charged that a weak response by administrators left them feeling isolated and traumatized.
“This summer I asked the Texas A&M leadership to take the lead in creating the best student conduct policy in the nation, and they did an outstanding job,” system Chancellor John Sharp said. “I am now asking the rest of the system to follow that lead, and I am also expanding the rules to cover sexual harassment involving faculty and staff systemwide.”
Abbie Hillis, a 2012 graduate of A&M who charged that the university took no action when she reported being assaulted at an off-campus party, said the 12th Woman, a group she is part of, appreciated being included in internal and external reviews of A&M’s rules.
“We were able to take our personal experiences and educate the university on where the discrepancies were case by case, as well as provide insight on how to better serve victims who have experienced the trauma of a sexual assault and how their procedures can provide a better, more seamless experience,” Hillis said.
“We know that this is only the start of change for Texas A&M, and we are excited to continue to work with them to change the environment and culture for the better. Our hope is that other universities see Texas A&M University as a leader and this ignites internal reviews at universities across the country,” she said.
“In addition, we will continue to work with Congress at the national level to implement laws that will raise the standard for all universities in regards to their policies, procedures, and sanctioning for sexual assault cases.”
Among the new A&M System regulations:
• Dismissal from employment is mandatory for a faculty or staff member found responsible for sexual harassment. The rules define such harassment as unwelcome sexual advances so severe or persistent as to interfere with a person’s employment, work or education or to create a hostile environment.
• Students who commit acts of sex-based violence will be suspended for at least a year in the absence of “significant mitigating factors,” and students whose conduct was predatory in connection with such acts will be permanently expelled. Stalking and other misconduct could result in a reprimand, probation, suspension or expulsion, depending on the number of violations, severity and other factors.
• Employees are prohibited from pursuing or having a consensual relationship with an undergraduate student. Otherwise, a supervisor or faculty member who engages in a consensual relationship with someone under that person’s authority, such as a graduate student, a case that recently arose at UT, must promptly notify the supervisor’s or faculty member’s boss to arrange a different chain of command.
Michael K. Young, president of the College Station campus, said the school has formed two new task forces, one to review the revised student conduct rules and a second to examine employee rules regarding sexual misconduct.
“We are committed to ensuring student safety, to creating the kind of environment that students can thrive in,” Young said. “This is and always will be a continuous process.”
He said four more people will be hired to support the Title IX office and training will be stepped up for employees who are required to report violations.