It’s Not Just Students Who Suffer Under Title IX’s Unfair Procedures

Most people working within the halls of academia are at least somewhat familiar with the excesses having to do with infringement of due process, free speech, and basic rights under the current Title IX regime. The cases that have made headlines and filled books have mainly involved male students who have been falsely accused.

But I too have felt the sting of a Title IX accusation.

What follows is a short account of my amazing experiences as a Title IX target of investigation at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I say amazing because, as I discovered, it no longer is clear in many instances who is the sexual harasser as opposed to the sexual harassee.

My problems can be traced to the April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter of “guidance” issued by the Office for Civil Rights of the Obama Department of Education. It sought to expand Title IX, the federal statute designed to address gender discrimination and funding for women’s sports, to cover areas well outside the original intent of the legislation.

Drafted at a time of concern over the perceived growth of a “campus rape culture,” the letter contained seamless references to sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and all things sexual. In particular, as stated in footnote 2, “Use of the term ‘sexual harassment’ throughout this document includes sexual violence unless otherwise noted [italics mine].” The document extended the definition to include “verbal conduct” that “creates a hostile environment by being sufficiently severe or pervasive and objectively offensive” that it “interferes with or limits” one’s “ability to participate in or benefit from educational programs and activities.”

The letter was mainly aimed at incidents involving student-on-student sexual assault, but its sweepingly vague language invited constraints on speech itself, including, as in my case, even the sort of heated exchanges that are not uncommon in the professoriate.

Under the current Title IX regime, faculty can see their reputations put at risk over charges of “sexual harassment” for simply engaging in professional disagreements, the critical variable being if the contending voices happen to be of different genders and the male colleague’s decibel level is interpreted as excessive.

When one can so cavalierly be accused of conduct associated with the likes of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly, something is amiss in the university.

In my case, I received a three-sentence email from the UM-St. Louis deputy Title IX coordinator on August 23, 2016, informing me that “a complaint has been filed with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity which [sic] you as the accused.” It indicated that an investigation of the allegations was underway and that they needed to meet with me “to discuss the concerns.”

I assumed that what triggered the complaint was a couple of email exchanges several months earlier between me and two female members of the political science department. Some rather nasty words were exchanged, starting with my castigating one female colleague for her persistent use of email to criticize our department chairperson, followed by another female colleague coming to her defense by attacking me out of the blue as a serial sexual harasser. That was followed in turn by my using admittedly uncivil language in reciprocating the hostility she had just demonstrated toward me.

At no time did I use derogatory language of a sexual nature or raise any issues relating to gender, other than to note that during almost a half century of teaching and research at UMSL I had interacted with literally thousands of female faculty, students, administrators, and staff without incident.

While I thought that the email volley was the trigger, I could not be certain, since I was never informed in writing exactly what the charge was and who was bringing it. Such basic due process elements are not required in Title IX cases.

When I met with the Title IX staff on September 1, I was told the general nature of the complaint and given an opportunity to respond. That remained the extent of my interaction with the Title IX bureaucracy over the course of an entire year in which the sexual harassment charge was hanging over my head.

I was never allowed to confront my accusers. To call the Title IX investigatory process nontransparent is to put it mildly. At great expense in time and effort, I compiled endless paper trails and numerous documents as evidence of my nonsexism, submitting these with an offer to submit more if needed, along with a dozen names of prominent first-hand witnesses who could testify on my behalf, including the former chairpersons of my department, three of whom were women.

Months went by with few of these people being contacted, and with zero communication from the Title IX folks regarding the status of the investigation. The wheels of justice can grind very slowly in Title IX matters.

A case that began during the 2015-2016 academic year remained unresolved as yet another academic year (2017-2018) was about to begin. Or so I thought.

It turns out that the case had reached closure in May 2017, but I had never been informed of the outcome. Only on the first day of the fall 2017 semester, August 21, did I receive an email from the Title IX Coordinator reporting that a meeting had been held with the provost to discuss the case and the case had been “closed.” The accuser had been notified of the meeting and outcome in the spring, but I had not.

On the one hand, I was appreciative of the Title IX coordinator’s apology for failing to keep me in the loop and, most especially, the decision that seemed to clear my name, presumably for lack of evidence. However, I never did get any specifics regarding the final report.

I bear no ill will toward the Title IX staffers since they are merely creatures of the system that the Obama Administration created. This case was never about gender. The email exchanges I have described reflected an underlying toxic environment pitting competing personalities and factions in the political science department that had been simmering for a long time, a condition well-known by the university administration.

Title IX has become a handy vehicle for one professor or a faction to vent and press grievances over perceived inequities having to do with governance and other issues. I have offered apologies over whatever role I have played in contributing to departmental tensions, including uttering uncivil remarks in the heat of the moment. I am still waiting for an apology from the other side for leveling unfounded charges against me.

Meanwhile, Title IX, which has a legitimate and important role to play in addressing gender-related problems, needs to be reexamined and retooled if it is to serve that purpose.

I was left with an unanswered question: is it possible any longer in the current climate for one professor to have words with another professor of the opposite sex without it constituting “sexual harassment” or at least triggering a sexual harassment investigation? Free speech, academic freedom, due process, and just plain common sense are at stake here.

  • William L. Anderson

    Thanks to the present interpretations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, every interaction that a male professor has with a female professor now is a minefield. These Kafkaesque policies in which an accused person is given at best vague information about the nature of the charges and permitted no real defense are the creation of the Obama administration and any attempt to bring in even a modicum of due process is met with howls of anger and accusations that advocates of due process want every woman on campus to be brutally raped.

    Because I am close friends (and a co-author) with Candice Jackson, who is the acting head in the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, I have been interviewed at length both by Pro Publica and Mother Jones. It was clear to me that the authors of the hit pieces on her actually believe that any attempt to bring in due process is nothing more than an assault on women. Both writers tried to trip me up, but to no avail. Still, it is frightening to see that a powerful contingent of progressive journalists believes that due process of law is evil.

    • George Leef

      Well said, Bill!

      It’s built into the “progressive” mindset that vague rules allowing them to exert control over people is a good thing. They don’t like the concept of the rule of law; they like the concept of rule by themselves.

    • bdavi52

      I admire your optimism that your Interrogators did not prevail.

      I’m sure, however, that your answers clearly placed you in the box with the rest of the Harassing Deplorables who would obviously seem to prefer that “women are raped & assaulted” rather than have a precious “due process” for the guilty bastard omitted.

      The choice being presented these days is painfully obvious: either you agree that all men are potential rapists living in a Rape Culture constantly harassing women … Or, you’re a rapist and/or a rape-sympathizer. Take your pick!

  • Fred McCoy

    One gets confused. Is the object of scorn “sexual harassment” or “gender harassment”? If it is in-practice the latter, are men to treat women dependent on gender or independent of gender? One wonders if the confusion, ambiguity, and process opacity is intentional method to cow variance from orthodoxy.

    • bdavi52

      It can be incredibly confusing, especially if we try to find truth in that giant pile of bureaucratese.

      Allow me to simplify things, if I may.

      If I am pissed-off at you for any reason whatsoever, I am free to accuse you of Sexual Harassment and/or Sexual Assault regardless of whether or not anything actually happened. And once I do that you are branded with the Scarlet Letter and thrown wholesale into the Machine which will chomp slowly upon you (as in this case) for months, semesters, even unto years as Investigators investigate everything we want to investigate and nothing we don’t want to investigate.

      The outcomes available to you are Lose or LOSE. Either you’re cleared of this accusation and you still wear the imprint of the Scarlet Letter, JUST IN CASE another accusation is leveled at some future time, or even some past point if a historically pissed-off person is found. OR — you’re found guilty. That’s it. Those are your choices.

      Best to change your name and your profession and seek Witness Protection.

      • Fred McCoy

        Thank you. I’m beginning to understand.

  • JWJ

    Don’t believe there is a “fix” to the current kafkaesque situation.

    My question, is why not flood the system with Title IX complaints? Cause isn’t the factor whether someone is sexually harassed dependent on the PERCEPTION of the accuser, then pretty much interaction can be reported as sexual harassment.
    Flood the system and break it.

    Once that happens, then it might be possible to start again with a system that truly protects those that were legitimately harmed, and yet punish those who falsely accuse.

  • Queen Mother😉

    I’m sorry for what you went through. To many of us, this is a feminists/radicals war on male population. There are times when as a Lady, I’m ashamed of being one. These witches from Obama era in: OCR, Title IX office at our schools, feminists groups are just for the male blood. The 2011 DCL was/is wrong. We are all equal under our constitution, we all have the same rights to: due process, innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
    Sorry guys, my heart any many of us goes to you! We have sons, husband and they are awesome!
    Let’s send those witches to Salem and enjoy life! 😉

  • George Avery

    The lack of due process, it should be noted, is NOT limited to Title IX issues. I had a grievance filed against a department chair at Purdue (a former chair of the faculty senate) over his efforts to tamper with my contract to deny me an opportunity to apply for tenure. I did not see his response until AFTER the decision was made, much less get to respond to it – a response that largely consisted of documentable false statements on his part.

  • bdavi52

    “Is it possible any longer…for one …to have words with another of the opposite sex without it (potentially) constituting “sexual harassment”??

    What a silly question!

    Of course not. Everything you say can and will be used against you. As will everything you do (or not do)…every gesture, every look, every joke, every picture hung on a wall, every behavior….past & present. Given that we have defined, in this the Age of the Rape Culture, ‘sexual harassment’ as essentially the state of mind of the ‘harassee’, then — very literally — everything is fair game, potential fodder for the cannon owned & operated by the Title IX battalions.

    To be fair, everyone should be ‘Mirandized’ annually.

    That this still surprises is evidence only of the naivety of those who believed themselves exempt…who thought, quite mistakenly, that by ‘harassment’ what was meant was the detestable ‘quid pro quo’ attributed to O’Reilly, or the criminality associated with Cosby. That is far, far from the case, as Prof. Rochester, and many others, have learned.

    All it takes is my belief that you have (by your words, your silences, your actions, your inactions) harmed me, hurt me, offended me, interfered with my ability (my right!) to work without fear or nervousness or apprehension or alarm or disquiet, or anger, or frustration (the list of bad feelings is endless). All it takes is my conviction that you have created an environment I deem ‘hostile’ in some manner, shape, or form. And if I feel that way (or even if I don’t, and all I want to do is “get you back”) all I have to do is submit a Title IX complaint…and the Kafkaesque Bureaucracy of the New Inquisition lurches into gear (more than willing to grind you under its wheels).

    It’s not just free speech, academic freedom, and common sense which are at stake here, it’s basic humanity. What is at stake is the fundamental truth that none of us has (or deserves or requires or is owed) a right to a life without offense or upset. It’s the fundamental truth that two people can witness (participate in) the exact same thing at the exact same time and see it in two significantly different ways. It’s the fundamental truth that men and women sexually interact even when they’re not sexually interacting (and sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes not so good). And it’s the fundamental truth that just because I ‘feel’ a certain way, that does not mean that you are responsible for my feelings.

    The truth is that everyone suffers under the insanity which is Title IX. Most obvious, of course, are the accused…those who bear the burden of presumed guilt and are subject to Kollegiate Kourt / Star Chamber interrogations (absent due process). But also victimized by Title IX are the accusers themselves who are defined by the Title IX rules (and all associated procedures) to be essentially children — helpless, without volition, incapable of responsible decision making if they’ve been drinking, if they’ve been persuaded, or psychologically pressured, or threatened (as in, and I quote, the “threat to no longer love them”).

    What is tragic in all of this is how easily and thoroughly we lose sight of the real victims of the horrific crime of sexual assault/rape….buried as they are beneath an avalanche of the unhappy, the pissed-off, the disgruntled, the disappointed, and the regretful — those who have used the myth of “Rape Culture” to criminalize an entire gender while infantilizing themselves. It would be pathetic if it weren’t so unbearably sad.

  • 1Gandydancer

    Obviously the “great expense in time and effort [and] endless paper trails and numerous documents” was a voluntary mistake. Dr. Rochester could have chosen to respond with just as little effort as was put into giving him notice of the complaint and waited until/unless there was an adverse decision to challenge the process, if necessary. He might get an Obamajudge, but the judiciary hasn’t been all that favorable towards the campus kangaroo courts. Presumably his university knows this… particularly since UMo has suffered greatly from its enabling of SJWs recently.

    • Marty Rochester

      Apparently you are not familiar with how the Title IX regime typically operates. At my university, as at most universities, when one is charged with a Title IX complaint, one may be given little advance notice as to when the investigation has been concluded and one could then be hauled before a “hearing” with theTitle IX panel and the Provost, at which time it may be too late to try to summon the evidence to defend oneself. Better to provide one’s “defense” early in the process (e.g. the paper trail I referred to in my article) so that it might be part of the “investigation” and thus hopefully contribute to a “not guilty” outcome, which is precisely what happened in my case. –Marty Rochester

      • 1Gandydancer

        I AM familiar with how the Title IX regime typically operates, hence my reference to “campus kangaroo courts”. My point was that it was up to you how you responded to it. It was not necessarily “better” for you to jump through hoops at their request — it was a choice by which you attempted to reduce your downside risk at the cost of the time and expense you invested. But you thus also chose to give them an easy intimidation win, and to encourage them to continue in the same vein. Do you have legal insurance?

        • Maximus300

          It sure is easy for you to sit there and say “you didn’t have to do all that work”. It’s not your career at risk is it. You are so cavalier about saying he is giving “them” an intimidation win. Let’s put your life’s work in jeopardy and see if you will not pull out all the stops to save it from unfounded allegations. What a POS you are.

          • 1Gandydancer

            “…during almost a half century of teaching and research at UMSL I had interacted with literally thousands of female faculty, students, administrators, and staff without incident.”

            Prof. Rochester’s career and life’s work is, at this point, almost certainly not in jeopardy. Further, it is in the nature of kangaroo courts that that his effort to logically defend his position was wasted on whoever he directed it at. I think it was just a waste, period. YMMV. GFY.

          • Maximus300

            Your experience over the last 50 years does not count. We are in a new environment beginning with the “Dear Colleague” issued in 2011. That changed the rules of the game and it has ruined many lives. A vigorous defense is absolutely important and your high handed attitude of it was all for nothing and shouldn’t have been done is 20/20 hindsight. You do not know if there will not be any ramifications going forward. Why don’t you tell Professor Rochester which office he can go to in order to get his reputation back.

          • 1Gandydancer

            He never lost his reputation with anyone for whom mere female accusation is not sufficient for him to lose it, and this stage in his life he ought not care about his reputation with idiots.

            You do know that DeVos has declared the “Dear Colleague” letter inoperative?

          • Maximus300

            Again you make assertions about things of which you have no specific knowledge. He “ought” not care is you projecting your attitudes on him. People you claim are idiots he may have a different opinion about. Empathy is not your strong suit. BTW, the OCR letter and Title IX policies are currently under review, not inoperative.

          • 1Gandydancer

            You may go through life without enough self confidence to make normative judgements, but I don’t admire that state. I repeat: If someone is stupid enough to believe any nonsense proclaimed by a female “victim” such a person IS an idiot and no one as secure in their life as Dr. Rochester appears to be should give a damn what such a person thinks. I’m perfectly secure about that normative judgement. What’s the matter with you?

            The OCR letter is dead as a doornail until at least 2020. Wake up and smell the roses.

          • Maximus300

            It’s not an issue of self-confidence. It’s a matter of fighting back against false allegations and a twisted system. Too many people given the responsibility to adjudicate Title IX complaints are willing to suspend rational thought and too many institutions are willing to throw the defendant under the bus in the interest of self-preservation. You can afford to be secure since you weren’t the subject of the complaint. You obviously are not aware of the environment that the OCR letter created these last six years. How nice it must be to pronounce your security about your judgments of what other people should think and do. However, since your not the person who is being subjected to this circus, your views are worthless. The OCR letter is not dead. Guidance nor regulations has not been changed but is under review and hopefully will be replaced with rational rules that protect all parties.

          • 1Gandydancer

            It’s dead. DeVos wants it gone and won’t act on the threats it implied. Period.

            According to Dr. Rochester one of his colleagues is a harpy who makes up bogus sexual harassment complaints. She’s been deflected from him (probably because the Title IX bureaucrats realize he is a hard target, and not primarily because of any effort he put in to demonstrate that he has testimonials, etc., but because he is tenured and entrenched) but will presumably proceed to other targets who will almost certainly be more vulnerable. I don’t find it admirable that he has neither named her nor published their exchange so that her next victim will have that material available to him to demonstrate her pattern of behavior.

          • Maximus300

            Actually, Devos retracted the letter today, but is still letting institutions choose which evidence standard they use while adjustments to regs are worked out. No threat of pulling funding but the preponderance standard can be used. I realize his preparation had no bearing on its outcome. The point is you were castigating the preparation with a perfect hindsight that Rochester did not have and could not afford the luxury of assuming it would all go away like you suggest. It’s is foolish with threats of this nature to not take them seriously. Your advice is just plain wrong.

          • 1Gandydancer

            Sez you. I disagree.

            And I was right about the letter, too.

          • Maximus300

            Lousy comeback.LOL. Davos said they were going to revoke it last July. It wasn’t dead until yesterday. So you were wrong when you first said it here. And institutions can still use the preponderance standard.

          • 1Gandydancer

            So they can. Then they get sued. Mostly they lose, even in our degraded court system. As one appeals court judge said, “Where’s the kangaroo?”

            And, so the “Dear Colleague” letter was dead in July. Why you think this advances your position I cannot imagine.

          • Maximus300

            They SAID they were going to do it. They did it yesterday. Until yesterday, it was still in FULL EFFECT. Timing was coincidental. It could have been rescinded last month or not for another six months, but bottom line is it was effective when our conversation started. Nice try, but you still lost.

          • 1Gandydancer

            You wish. But it was dead as soon as the threat was dead.

          • Maximus300

            NO, cases still proceeded under the “Dear Colleague” letter rule until it was officially withdrawn on 9/22/2017. You still were wrong and now you just cannot admit it. Additionally, institutions can STILL use the preponderance of evidence standard if they so choose while Devos reviews and implements new regs. So it really is still outstanding for those schools who still choose to use it. It’s still a threat and will remain a threat until the “clear and convincing” standard is required by regs. You obviously have no clue what you are talking about.

          • 1Gandydancer

            Nonsense. Such disciplinary cases proceed not under some safe-harbor Federal rule, but under the rules established by each college or university, on their own authority and at their own risk. Said colleges and universities were on notice that the letter was a dead letter: It would do them no good on appeal to the courts, and was no longer backed up by any threat to their funds. If they continued their kangaroo court procedures they had all the downside and no upside.

          • Maximus300

            BS. The letter was in force until officially rescinded. If it was really dead then why did Davos take the step to officially revoke it? Even so colleges can still use the preponderance standard and stick it to the accused. You still don’t know what your talking about.

          • 1Gandydancer

            BS. It was dead in July. I’ve already said why, but just keep clowning yourself. And the harpy is still free to do it again, because of terminal timidity, which you apparently find admirable. You are a clown, squared.