Court ruling might change how UK addresses sexual misconduct cases



A contested new revision has the potential to affect UK’s policies and procedures for conducting disciplinary hearings in cases of campus sexual misconduct thanks to a recent ruling from a federal appeals court.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers four states including Kentucky, said in a September ruling that students at public universities accused of sexual assault must be allowed to face their accusers during campus disciplinary hearings– a right not previously available to the accused at UK.

In the case that spurred this decision, the court ruled that the University of Michigan recently violated the rights of a male student by refusing to allow him or a representative to question witnesses after being accused of sexual assault at a fraternity party.

The court’s ruling is now binding in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, which has already caused some stir among those who advocate for the rights of victims of sexual assault, including the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office.

Gretchen Hunt heads the Attorney General’s Office for Victim Advocacy and said that while her office cannot comment directly on the Sixth Circuit’s decision, it does maintain its support of due diligence among Kentucky’s public universities, and wants college campuses to be involved in the discussion on sexual violence.

“That’s our response. We want universities to work in a multidisciplinary way. We want a shared goal to end sexual violence on campus,” Hunt said. “As much as these are campus issues, these are also community issues.”

This comes after UK recently completed its own overhaul of administrative regulations in June 2018, and came out with updated procedures for conducting disciplinary hearings in these sensitive cases.

As they currently stand, UK’s disciplinary policies involving cases of sexual misconduct currently allow those accused of sexual misconduct to cross-examine all witnesses who testify in their hearing, excluding their accuser.

A committee charged with addressing and reformulating UK’s administrative regulation pertaining to sexual misconduct worked for approximately a year before it was able to submit a new draft regulation to the administration. Chair to the University Senate Council and UK law professor Jennifer Bird-Pollan headed that committee.

Bird-Pollan said that at the time, the committee did not entertain the idea of including a clause that guaranteed the right to cross-examine accusers, because the university already allows respondents to submit their questions to a third-party “hearing officer” who would administer them on their behalf.

Chartering seemingly unexplored waters, UK will be soon be forced to assess the potentially adverse effects the Sixth Circuit’s ruling will have on students who are victims of sexual assault.

UK spokesperson Sarah Geegan said that the university is reviewing the ruling for any impact it might have on the campus, and as a result, would not be able to comment further on the issue.

Those who work closely with the administration say they have faith UK will continue to work in the best interests of accusers and the accused regardless of any regulatory changes imposed by the federal government.

“Policies and procedures always rely on the good work of people with integrity to implement them well,” said Bird-Pollan.