KNOXVILLE — An independent commission tasked with reviewing the University of Tennessee system’s sexual misconduct policies and making recommendations to improve them submitted its work to the university Thursday.
The 29-page report praised improvements to Title IX compliance made by the university over the last several years while suggesting new measures across the system, including at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The report called the suggestion of a systemwide Title IX coordinator the committee’s “most significant structural recommendation,” and issued four other broad recommendations, each addressed in detail:
– Enhancements to Title IX staffing and resources
– Updates and modifications to policies, grievance procedures and student codes of conduct
– Enhancements to case management, care and support
– Education, prevention and training enhancements
“There are a lot of recommendations in here, and we’re early in looking through them,” system president Joe DiPietro said in a Saturday meeting with the Times Free Press. “We’ve got to distribute them to the campuses, and it will take us time to answer every question about every recommendation.
“But, on balance, I think if you take a look at this report, I’m very optimistic about it for a number of reasons, and I’m encouraged by what they found.”
DiPietro said the university will create the systemwide Title IX coordinator position and have general counsel Matthew Scoggins coordinate a review of the commission’s report at each system campus “right away.”
The committee was born from a lawsuit brought by eight women who alleged UT violated Title IX regulations through a policy of indifference toward sexual assaults committed by athletes.
UT admitted no guilt when it settled the lawsuit for $2.48 million in July 2016. DiPietro announced the creation of the commission when the settlement was made public.
The commission included Washington, D.C., attorney Stanley Brand; University of Connecticut Title IX coordinator and Office of Institutional Equity associate vice president Elizabeth Conklin; Sports Law Associates president Janet Judge, and Nashville-area attorney Bill Morelli.
Among dozens of observations and suggestions, the committee noted “pockets on each campus where training could be more consistent or comprehensive for both students and employees,” and “accessibility challenges” associated with student codes of conduct that are filled with legal jargon.
It also recommended enhancing the resources available at night and on the weekends “when incidents of prohibited conduct often occur.”
The report noted that Title IX offices at UTC and UT-Martin are “housed in space that is not private or of sufficient size for the functions performed.”
Overall, however, the report struck a complimentary tone in its assessment of Tennessee’s efforts at Title IX compliance.
“The Title IX policies and programs at UT have evolved over the last several years with the addition of staff, resources and system support,” an executive summary of the report says. “Across all campuses, it is apparent to the Commission that there has been a focus on increasing awareness and understanding about sexual misconduct policies and procedures.”
UTK hosted the first-ever conference of Title IX coordinators from Southeastern Conference universities in April. Beverly Davenport, who started as UT-Knoxville’s chancellor while the commission was conducting its research, spoke at the event.
Davenport, who has worked on Title IX issues in previous roles at Purdue and Cincinnati, said Saturday she was pleased with Tennessee’s level of devotion to Title IX compliance, relative to peer institutions.
“But none of us are where want to be,” she said. “It’s continuous work. It is a journey that we are all on and will continue to be on.”
Contact staff writer David Cobb at [email protected].