Earlier this month, the University of Maryland (UMD) Student Government Association (SGA) announced “a mandatory student fee proposal aimed at fully funding the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct (OCRSM).” Claiming that the OCRSM is unable to meet its Title IX federal obligations of adjudicating their cases within 60 business days, the SGA is seeking to make students pay a $34 annual fee for the additional funding that the office is requesting.
The OCRSM’s director has stated that the additional funding would be used to hire a deputy, two more investigators and a “manager of rape prevention programming” who would supplement the mandatory sexual-assault prevention training for students. According to the College Fix, the OCRSM “is only two years old, but its budget jumped from $643,000 the first year to $1.01 million the second.”
A simple read through of OCRSM’s sexual misconduct policies would indicate that the lack of personnel is the least of this office’s problems. The structure of how this office adjudicates accusations of sexual misconduct ought to be highly concerning for both the complainants and respondents involved in this office’s procedures.
The troubling procedures laid out by the OCRSM are best understood by evaluating them in conjunction with UMD’s other non-academic disciplinary procedures. Like most colleges, UMD has separate procedures for adjudicating Title IX related misconduct and general non-academic misconduct.
UMD’s sexual misconduct policies do not provide either the complainant or the respondent with a hearing in which they can question the other party, or that party’s witnesses, in front of those deciding the case. Neither party can submit motions for the removal of decision makers that they believe are biased, nor can they utilize meaningful legal representation when being questioned by the decision-making panel. Additionally, sexual misconduct procedures through the OCRSM, use the lowest standard of evidence to determine their verdict (preponderance of the evidence – 51%).
Alternatively, complainants and respondents within a non-academic disciplinary procedure at UMD are provided with a hearing in which they are given all of the above rights that are denied in the OCRSM’s policies. To make matters even more puzzling, non-academic disciplinary cases use a higher standard of evidence for determining their verdicts (clear and convincing – no percentage is associated with this standard, yet it requires that significantly more than half the evidence is needed to prove guilt).
Based on the fact that non-academic disciplinary procedures allow students to directly question all parties involved in a case, and have their legal representation give opening and closing remarks, it is fair to say that a UMD complainant who is a victim of somebody stealing their textbooks has a higher ability to prove that the respondent in their case is guilty than a complainant who is a victim of a sexual assault. Likewise, due to the low standard of evidence employed by the OCRSM, it is much harder for UMD respondents who believe that they are falsely accused of sexual assault to prove their innocence than it is for UMD respondents who believe that they are falsely accused of bullying.
While Title IX does mandate that sexual misconduct procedures needs to be adjudicated within a specific timely manner, it also requires that university grant their students fair disciplinary procedures. Instead of granting the OCRSM an additional $1 million through this proposed student fee, UMD administrators should focus on fixing these glaring discrepancies within their school’s policies.