Louisiana colleges and universities have out-of-date Title IX policies, attorney says

By: and - June 17, 2021 12:42 pm

LSU students protest in front of the Football Operations Center in — demanding stiffer punishment for athletic executives who sat on sexual misconduct allegations. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

In August, the U.S. Department of Education began implementing new Title IX rules by which all schools that receive federal dollars must abide by. That means Louisiana’s Title IX policies are out of date, an attorney asked to conduct a comprehensive review of Louisiana’s public higher education campuses told the Louisiana Board of Regents Wednesday.

Title IX is a federal law passed in the 1970s that seeks to protect people in education programs from sex discrimination. The law has gotten significant attention in Louisiana this because of a sexual misconduct scandal at LSU that includes the failure of administrators to report credible allegations of sexual assault or harassment.

Nina Gupta, an attorney for the Nelson Mullins law firm, told the Board of Regents she “found some gaps” in the schools’ policies that varied in scope and significance.

“We had a few systems that referred back to the Board of Regents’ (Title IX) policy, which itself was out of date,” Gupta said.

Gupta said some campuses have been using “a single-investigator model” to investigate Title IX cases. That means “the same individual took the complaint, investigated the complaint and also rendered a decision.” However, “several court cases have seriously called into question the legal efficacy and appropriateness of” a single investigator model, she said. And the new federal rules prohibit that model.

The new Title IX rules, which went into effect under Education Secretary Betsy Devos, an appointee of President Donald Trump, received plenty criticism from women’s rights groups because the conservative DeVos announced that one of her aims was to ensure due process for those accused of sexual misconduct, a change that men’s rights groups applauded.

Among the changes is a requirement that in response to misconduct allegations, colleges and universities conduct live hearings — which could include cross examinations. 

In March, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that orders the Education Department to “consider suspending, revising or rescinding” the policies that the previous administration adopted.

Before this year’s legislative session started, women lawmakers — including members of the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children — expressed anger over the scandal at LSU and anger at what they considered insufficient punishment for school administrators who sat on reports of sexual assault and domestic violence allegations.

LSU suspended, but did not fire, the athletics administrators who chose not to report those allegations. 

During the session, the Legislature passed SB 230 by Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), which proposes that any employee who fails to report a known power-based violence violation “shall be terminated” and requires the chancellor of a college or university to report and publish the number of the school’s employees that have completed annual power-based violence training.

The Legislature also passed HB 409 by Rep. Aimee Freeman (D-New Orleans), which requires university employees to undergo an annual Title IX training program that includes information on power-based violence, trauma-informed interactions, Title IX requirements, state law on power-based violence, and resources for victims.

Individual campuses can add to whatever updated Title IX policies the Board of Regents adopts,Gupta said, but whatever they add must be consistent with federal and state law.

“This is going to be fast work and a lot of work,” she said. “But we aim to be ready to welcome students back to our campuses this fall with a totally compliant, totally effective policy in place.”

Policies “don’t really mean anything unless you do them,” Gupta said, so colleges and universities have to create a culture “where we are protecting our students in word and in deed.”

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.