A Campus Sexual Assault Proceeding Gets Political and a Student Sues
A lawsuit alleges a university president intervenes on behalf of the daughter of a wealthy donor.
A male student at the University of Texas at Austin is suing the University of Texas at Austin after the school suspended him for five semesters following a Title IX hearing.
The student, known as John Doe, claims UT President Gregory Fenves unfairly intervened in his sexual assault proceedings––perhaps because the alleged victim is the daughter of a wealthy donor, according to the lawsuit filed Monday.
In April 2016, John Doe engaged in what he thought was consensual sex with a female student after they'd both been drinking. Jane Doe, as she is known in the suit, had five cups of sangria at a sorority boat party––where he'd been drinking, too––when they decided to go back to his apartment. The lawsuit alleges it had been more than four hours since her last drink, and that John asked Jane for her consent before they had sex. She later claimed it was rape and that she had been too drunk to consent.
The University of Texas, as do many other schools, has an affirmative consent sexual conduct policy. The campus is decorated with "Yes Means Yes" posters, and university policy says consent is not effective when someone is incapacitated.
But during campus proceedings in February, a hearing panel sided with John and found that no rape had occurred. The hearing officer said, "the complainant made rational decisions throughout much of the evening prior to and after the sexual intercourse." The lawsuit states "certain facts regarding Jane's consent were never in dispute" throughout the hearing process, including Jane's consent, her consciousness (not incapacitated) during sex , and the absence of force during sex with John.
Jane appealed and Fenves intervened, suspending John Doe and issuing a harsh letter detailing his reasoning. Under school policy, the president has the power to reverse decisions made by administrators in cases like these. Fenves justified his action saying, "someone who is intoxicated cannot give consent to sexual activity because they are incapacitated."
Incapacitation is, unfortunately, a judgement call––a staggering number of college hookups happen while both students are drunk. There is no clear way to prevent it other than by championing the temperance movement, which seems unlikely on the modern college campus.
Moreover, intoxication doesn't always equal incapacitation, and if this becomes the new standard, the floodgates will open for regretful students to claim their sex was assault.
If Jane had been violated or felt out of control, the hearing process (in fact, the hearing determined she hadn't been incapacitated) was the place to find it out. When male students are assumed to be the aggressor, and females are assumed to be victims, hearings are no longer impartial.
John Doe is alleging Fenves violated his right to due process protections, and did so because the alleged victim is a daughter of a wealthy UT donor. The lawsuit calls the president's authority to reverse a decision "despotic in scope," decrying how easily the university appeals process can bend to political pressures, reducing legal protections for students.
The suit specifically mentions Fenves' vested interest in deciding this case in favor of Jane Doe, by "maintaining a 'tough-on-sexual-assault' appearance" in a Title IX case so as not to jeopardize the school's federal funding.
Cases like these aren't indictments of Title IX as a whole, but rather of the legally questionable decisions made by administrators who have grown too powerful. The intervention of the university president sets a dangerous precedent.