Sexual harassment and discrimination are not new problems in the world of academia. Recent scandals in some major universities, however, have prompted some to wonder if the protections of Title IX are working as intended.

Two sets of problems can occur. The first is that the same colleagues and school officials who are supposed to be supporting the protections are instead supporting and defending the staff members who have been accused of harassment. The other is guilt by accusation and a ruined career caused by a disgruntled student.

The rights protected by Title IX

Title IX prevents institutions from discriminating based on gender or sexual orientation. Some of the protections that Title IX provide include:

  • Equitable treatment in athletics
  • Prevention of discrimination by sex for activities
  • Fair housing, financial aid, and program entrance for all genders and sexual orientation
  • The right to report harassment or assault
  • The right to receive an effective response from the school in regards to your report

What constitutes an effective response? Schools generally create administrative fact-finding processes designed to provide each side an opportunity to tell their story. This is not the same as a criminal court of law that required guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not required to have an attorney, but the way that a case is framed for either the accuser or accused can make all the difference. Those not privy to all the information are also going to jump to their own conclusions.

Going up against an institution

A recent case shows how hard it can be to report sexual harassment and especially for men who have been harassed. A male student accused a female professor at New York State University of inappropriate behavior (suggestive emails as well as touching and kissing). Colleagues and prominent figures came to the professor’s defense. Most of them claiming that the accusations were brought about because the student had harbored hard feelings towards her and that she was innocent of the charges. The professor was eventually found to be responsible for harassing the student, however.

Whether concerns about the behavior of an adjunct instructor or tenured professor, it can be tough to know where to turn to navigate an institution’s reporting processes. On the other side, academics have a lot riding on the line when they become aware of a student report. Getting sound legal advice from an attorney who routinely handles these cases is crucial.