The student conduct hearing process for Title IX cases at colleges and universities can be, among other things: fraught, painful, confusing, offensive, ineffective, and biased.
At the University of Florida, one student accuser is attempting to address the latter: bias. She refused to take part in the conduct hearing for two football players she has accused of sexual assault and attempted sexual assault her because the man adjudicating the case is a football booster.
The woman did not report the assault to university or local police, instead choosing to use the student judicial process. Florida appoints adjudicators for Title IX cases. John Clune, the Colorado-based attorney who has handled many Title IX sexual assault cases (he is Erica Kinsman’s lawyer), is representing the woman. He made the statement on behalf of his client: “the fact that UF has hired a football booster to adjudicate a sexual assault charge against one of the team’s own football players is a fundamentally skewed process in which [the complainant] refuses to participate.”
Bias in the processes of both the school’s judicial process and the legal system is rampant in Title IX cases. We saw it in Kinsman’s case and it was a major theme in Jon Krakauer’s book about sexual assault at the University of Montana.
The players were suspended from the team for violating the student code of conduct. They were barred from campus but remained enrolled and took online classes. One player is planning to transfer (apparently as part of a deal, which included an apology), the other is remaining at the school and fighting the accusations and, as of last week, was practicing with the team (though he has not been officially reinstated).
It is unclear what will come of the boycott, but the action itself is important. It is an opportunity to really examine and potentially challenge the ways in which schools are adjudicating Title IX cases. It may also be an opportunity to assess the role and training of outside adjudicators. While the adjudicator in Kinsman’s case against Jameis Winston, a former Supreme Court judge in Florida, was deemed acceptable by both sides, it was clear from the transcripts that he did know the student judicial process. A UF spokesperson said adjudicators are well-trained but apparently not vetted for bias the belief being that the training will somehow eliminate bias.
Schools need to do better. This is not news. But it seems as if schools that want to demonstrate attempts to change the climate of the campus should at least start at the judicial hearing process.