Saturday, October 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: USF should revisit approach to Title IX protections

Faced with a studentís lawsuit over sexual assault, the University of South Florida is struggling with an issue that is roiling college campuses nationwide. The case raises concerns about how well USF has protected and supported a woman who felt victimized by a fellow student, in turn putting a focus on its overall handling of sexual assault complaints. USF should use this moment to re-evaluate its practices to ensure it is doing enough to help victims while protecting the rights of the accused.

Samantha Garrett, a 26-year-old doctoral student, said she was sexually assaulted last fall by another student in her psychology program. About three weeks passed before Garrett told a professor about the attack ó delays in reporting sexual assaults are not unusual ó and the school launched an investigation. The accused student, Andrew Thurston, was found responsible for violating the student code of conduct for "non-consensual intercourse and non-consensual sexual contact." As Times staff writer Claire McNeill reported, Thurston was given the choice of a formal hearing or accepting sanctions. He chose the sanctions, which his attorney says does not equate to admitting responsibility. He denies the allegations and has not been charged with a crime.

The case underscores both the delicate balance schools must strike in seeking justice in such cases, and the importance of their role separate from the criminal justice system. Accusations of criminal conduct should be handled by the police and the courts. But criminal cases can fall apart for many reasons, and sexual assault cases are especially difficult to prosecute. There are often no witnesses other than the accuser and the accused. If time has elapsed, there may be no physical evidence.

The federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX requires colleges and universities to protect students from discrimination. Guided by Title IX, universities can make accommodations for course work, providing mental health services or allowing a transfer to a different class or dorm to separate alleged victims and perpetrators.

This is where USFís response to Garrett seems to have fallen short. The sanctions Thurston accepted, according to the lawsuit, were a deferred suspension through May 2018, allowing him to continue his studies on campus; two meetings with a university official; and a request that he "refrain from making contact" with Garrett. So Garrett may continue facing Thurston in parking lots, campus buildings and classrooms. As a result, she says, she has experienced panic attacks and dropped three classes. That does not sound like equal access to education.

Itís possible, of course, for the pendulum to swing too far the other way. During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines, including a requirement that colleges use the lowest standard of proof in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault, and opened investigations of schools it suspected of mishandling sexual misconduct cases. Victimsí rights groups cheered, but there was legitimate concern that the rights of accused students were not being adequately protected. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed revisions, most notably restoring the use of the higher standard of proof that previously had been used, which was clear and convincing evidence. What she has proposed is reasonable and will undergo rigorous review, factoring in public comment, before taking effect.

Universities have an obligation to protect equal access to education. Itís no easy charge, and USF should constantly strive to be responsive, decisive and fair.

Comments
Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Editorial notebook: Times editorial writers reminisce about Sears

Sharing memories of the “wish book,” shopping on Saturday nights and many memorable purchases
Updated: 12 hours ago

Editorial: FBI should take a hard look at CareerSource

The scrutiny now extends to the state agency that oversees the local jobs centers
Published: 10/19/18
Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Editorial: Toughen Florida’s building code

Experts are right that Hurricane Michael should force a review of Florida’s building standards. While newer homes generally fared better than older ones, the state needs to reassess the risks posed by high winds and storm surge.
Published: 10/19/18
Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

Editorial: Those who fail to cast ballots in Hillsborough are running out of excuses

You wouldn't skip a trip to the gas pump, would you?Then don't miss the chance to cast your general election ballot, either, when Hillsborough County opens its many early voting sites Monday morning for a two-week engagement.If you do your homework a...
Published: 10/19/18

Editorial: Glazer Children’s Museum quickly regained its step

Jennifer Stancil was terminated from her $169,280 a year job last month as museum president and chief executive, a post she held for three years. Exactly why remained a mystery to those outside the museum.
Published: 10/18/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Editorial: Trump should demand Saudis account for journalist

Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered so far this year just for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That number doesn’t even include Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who hasn’t been ...
Published: 10/17/18
Updated: 10/19/18
Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

Editorial: Restart selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of ...
Published: 10/16/18
Updated: 10/19/18

Editorial: Housecleaning was necessary at Clearwater parks department

The theft of money and a hostile atmosphere show a city department out of control
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/19/18