Feds investigating UNT over handling of sexual violence case
The U.S. Department of Education opened a sexual violence investigation earlier this month to inquire whether UNT properly handled a student’s claim of sexual assault according to Title IX, government officials confirmed.
UNT is now coupled with more than 200 U.S. universities and colleges that are under scrutiny after the Obama administration stepped up the government’s attention to Title IX investigations. Other open investigations in Texas include cases at Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, Trinity University and Paul Quinn College.
UNT officials do not know which case the government is investigating. They do, however, know an investigation is underway.
“UNT thoroughly reviews complaints made to the university in keeping with state and federal laws as well as university policy,” university spokeswoman Margarita Venegas said. “Should there ever be a situation that poses a continuing threat, it’s our practise to inform the campus community.”
Title IX investigations take longer than a year to complete on average. Investigations can end in an a resolution or be tossed out due to lack of evidence. On the other hand, the college can be presented a letter of findings at the end of the investigation, and it may be forced to adopt or change policies and procedures according to a resolution agreement.
Widely reported sexual assault cases from the past year at UNT include a federal civil rights lawsuit from a student who, they alleged, was assaulted by a UNT library employee in January 2015. The student filed the case against the university in February 2016, naming UNT President Neal Smatresk and the UNT Board of Regents as the defendants.
The student said in the lawsuit that the university had mishandled her case. Specifically, the suit accused UNT of failing to provide the student with updates on the investigation, failing to provide her with a conclusion letter about the investigation’s results and violating UNT policy by not holding a Code of Conduct hearing.
“I have faith in my school,” freshman interior design major Melody Ford said upon learning about this investigation. “I chose this school for a reason, and I have faith that they did what was right, and if they didn’t they will figure out how to do what is right for the safety of their students.”
Title IX is a part of the Education Amendments of 1972, and prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial aid.
The law underwent a gradual shift in interpretation since 1972, with various court cases setting precedents that led to it’s present-day implication: that colleges must properly investigate and resolve sexual misconduct complaints. The courts reasoned that being in an environment where misconduct wasn’t dealt with would negatively affect students’ education, culminating in the first public release of the list of colleges under investigation in 2014, under the Obama administration.
There were 55 colleges on the list at the time. Now, two years later, there are 272.
Freshman biology major Kyle Gallegos said news of the Title IX investigation made him more cautious, and knowing about it as a prospective student would make him put more thought into choosing UNT.
“If the complaint is true I would hope UNT would set rules in place,” Gallegos said. “I would never want for someone else to go through that.”
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