Friday, April 27, 2018
Colleges

FSU Title IX investigation goes beyond sports

The federal investigation revealed Thursday into how Florida State handled rape accusations against star quarterback Jameis Winston goes beyond sports.

Title IX's guidelines for schools to provide equal athletic opportunities for men and women are well known, but the federal law also governs how they treat sex discrimination, including harassment and rape.

The shift in the 40-year-old law stems from a 2011 Department of Education memo that charged schools with a massive task: change the culture of on-campus sexual violence.

"Just about all the campuses in America were unprepared for that," said Peter Lake, director of Stetson University's Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy.

"I don't think most of them knew it was coming."

And many are still trying to figure out how to deal with it.

• • •

The Department of Education's investigation into FSU centers on Title IX's two separate prongs: Did the school respond to the December 2012 accusations in a "prompt and equitable manner," and did its actions result in a "hostile educational environment?"

If a school "knows or reasonably should know" about an incident, regardless of when it happened, it must investigate, remedy and resolve it. A school's inquiry is separate from criminal investigations, must be "prompt, thorough and impartial," and should last about 60 days, according to federal guidelines.

FSU didn't hold an informal hearing until January, according to a time line from deadspin.com, 13 months after the allegations were reported to campus police, 11/2 months after prosecutors declined to file charges and a few weeks after Winston led the Seminoles to the national championship.

"It's not a specific time limit, but there's no question you're on a shot clock," Lake said. "You can't just lollygag with things."

Although the expectation is clear, it doesn't always happen, said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the Women's Sports Foundation's senior director of advocacy.

Whether it's a lack of funding, understanding or resources, some schools don't quickly respond to allegations.

"One of the main issues is throwing their hands up in the air: 'We really don't know how to resolve this,' " said Hogshead-Makar, a former Olympic swimmer who has served as an expert in several Title IX cases. "I get it. You don't know, but that's an opportunity to figure out how to resolve it."

Title IX calls for university inquiries to end with a conduct hearing, during which both sides tell their stories and present evidence. Those meetings can end in controversy.

The law requires schools to have a lower threshold for guilt than criminal trials. Instead of proving guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," universities must have only a "preponderance of evidence" that a violation occurred. That means if it's 50.1 percent likely someone was assaulted, then the perpetrator should be punished.

In August 2012, basketball player Dez Wells was dismissed from Xavier in a sexual assault case even though he was never charged with a crime. He has since filed a lawsuit, which is pending, against his former school.

"There is a real concern that in an attempt to get rapists off campus, there's warlock hunting going on at the expense of the rights of accused individuals," Lake said.

The lower burden of proof exists for several reasons, said Brett Sokolow, the Association of Title IX Administrators' executive director.

Because punishments are weaker than in criminal courts, the standards of guilt are, too. A higher bar would put a greater burden on the woman, which would inject gender discrimination into a law designed for equality.

"The preponderance standard is the only standard that is gender equitable," said Sokolow, who spoke generally and not about any specific case.

• • •

Title IX's public focus began to shift from sports to sexual assault in a 2011 memo from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. That 19-page letter told universities sexual assault is a form of gender discrimination because it hurts students' educational rights.

"That was a wake-up call that we needed to do more," said Jose E. Hernandez, USF's Title IX coordinator.

Lawsuits or inquiries have popped up at dozens of schools since; from large, public universities (Penn State, Michigan State) to small, private ones (Occidental College in Los Angeles, Hanover College in Indiana). A resolution can take months or years.

If the Department of Education finds that FSU violated Title IX, it has two options: do nothing or take away its funding — a punishment that has never been handed down.

"It gives them one hammer, which is withdraw federal funds," Hogshead-Makar said.

FSU also could face a lawsuit from the accuser's two Title IX attorneys, Baine Kerr and John Clune. Plaintiffs in civil suits can receive money, but courts generally look for patterns and are less interested in isolated incidents than the government's investigators.

The case against FSU reveals one of the challenges schools face with Title IX. Because any ruling for one school could change the standards for everyone else, some experts say officials believe they're trying to hit a moving target.

"Not only is it moving, but it's hazy," said Lake, the Stetson professor.

Universities go to training exercises to try to understand the complex guidelines that vary by case.

How do you balance public safety with student and health privacy laws? Are the schools' responsibilities the same for off-campus incidents? What should investigators do if a woman stops cooperating? Must university police share confidential information with administrators if it violates state law?

"Every college administrator I know," Sokolow said, "would like more information on how to do that right."

Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Comments
NFL draft: Chargers take FSUís Derwin James with No. 17 pick

NFL draft: Chargers take FSUís Derwin James with No. 17 pick

Former Florida State safety Derwin James fell farther than expected Thursday in the first night of the NFL draft before being chosen by the Chargers with the No. 17 overall pick.James became the fifth former Seminoles defensive back ever drafted in t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
NFL draft: Florida Gatorsí Taven Bryan goes to Jaguars at No. 29

NFL draft: Florida Gatorsí Taven Bryan goes to Jaguars at No. 29

Former Florida defensive lineman Taven Bryan gave the Gators a first-round pick for the sixth consecutive year, after being drafted by the Jaguars at No. 29 overall.The 6-foot-4, 291-pound Wyoming native was one of the most talented players in the dr...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Is former Florida Gators lineman Taven Bryan a first-round NFL draft pick?

Is former Florida Gators lineman Taven Bryan a first-round NFL draft pick?

Aside from former Florida State safety Derwin James, the most likely first-round pick from a state college is ex-Florida defensive lineman Taven Bryan.He hopes, at least."That would (stink) if I didn't," Bryan said last month at Florida's pro da...
Published: 04/26/18
The case for the Bucs and NFL draft prospect Derwin James

The case for the Bucs and NFL draft prospect Derwin James

The best weapon against the NFL's evolving offenses, Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher said, is a defender who can do it all — someone who can cover a tight end, shadow a receiver or blitz the backfield."The way the game is played now on defense," Fishe...
Published: 04/25/18
ESPNís Rece Davis on hosting College GameDay from the NFL draft

ESPNís Rece Davis on hosting College GameDay from the NFL draft

When ESPN's Rece Davis heard about the idea for boosting the college football insight into the NFL draft, he didn't need any convincing."My immediate reaction was, this is a no-brainer," Davis said.Davis will spearhead the network's overdue look at t...
Published: 04/25/18
ESPN: Antonio Callaway tested positive for marijuana at NFL combine

ESPN: Antonio Callaway tested positive for marijuana at NFL combine

Former Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway's off-field struggles continue.ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday evening that Callaway tested positive for marijuana at the NFL's scouting combine.Former Florida WR Antonio Callaway -- who some cons...
Published: 04/24/18
Report: Florida Gatorsí Cece Jefferson out four months after shoulder surgery

Report: Florida Gatorsí Cece Jefferson out four months after shoulder surgery

Florida Gators defensive lineman Cece Jefferson will be out four months after having surgery on his right shoulder earlier this week, according to a report Wednesday evening from the Gainesville Sun.Jefferson, a 6-foot-1, 242-pound senior, injured th...
Published: 04/18/18
Florida has signed 15 quarterbacks since Tim Tebow. 10 have transferred

Florida has signed 15 quarterbacks since Tim Tebow. 10 have transferred

Tuesday evening's news that quarterback Jake Allen plans to transfer from the Florida Gators isn't a surprise.Allen, a former three-star recruit in 2017, was fourth on the depth chart. The St. Thomas Aquinas product didn't seem to fit new coach ...
Published: 04/18/18
Auden Tate will be the third FSU receiver drafted in 11 years. Why so few?

Auden Tate will be the third FSU receiver drafted in 11 years. Why so few?

When former Wharton High star Auden Tate hears his name called sometime next week, he'll join a surprisingly small group.Recent Florida State receivers drafted into the NFL.Over the past decade, only two Seminoles receivers have been drafted: Rashad ...
Published: 04/18/18
Police suspected FSUís Deondre Francois intended to sell marijuana

Police suspected FSUís Deondre Francois intended to sell marijuana

Tallahassee police suspected Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois possessed marijuana with the intent to sell it when they executed a search warrant on his home last week, according to an affidavit.The case — which culminated Thursda...
Published: 04/17/18