Most colleges have a Title IX coordinator. Their thumb shouldn’t be on the scale

Sep. 9, 2021 By Andrew Miltenberg

College students accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault face a fierce battle to save their reputations. With their future on the line, the last thing they need is a university administrator stacking the deck in favor of their accuser.

Most colleges and universities have a Title IX Coordinator, who organizes and directs the hearing process when students are accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Their job is to make sure that the school complies with federal regulations.

Although the coordinator doesn’t serve on the hearing panel, their work impacts how the hearing proceeds. Decisions they make along the way can consciously or unconsciously bias the outcome. That’s why Andrew T. Miltenberg, an attorney who specializes in defending students accused of sexual misconduct at college, says students need an experienced lawyer at their side to act as their advocate and make sure that the hearing is fair.

Title IX is the short name for a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at any educational institution that receives federal money. Colleges typically designate an administrator to supervise all aspects of compliance with the law, including rules that require universities to investigate allegations of sexual harassment or assault.

The trend is for larger universities to have dedicated staff members, such as human resources professionals, who are trained in Title IX investigations, Miltenberg says. Smaller colleges may bring in outside investigators, but sometimes this task still falls to the Title IX Coordinator. Trained investigators are needed when examining allegations of such a personal, intimate nature. This is one area where the coordinator’s personal feelings may impact the hearing.

Title IX coordinators are often drawn from a pool of professionals that include former sex-crimes prosecutors, victims’ rights advocates, and domestic violence counselors. Miltenberg says initially this made sense, as these professionals had experience with calming people and gaining understanding under difficult circumstances. However, this practice of hiring former prosecutors and advocates as Title IX coordinators means they often have a very specific lens through which they view these types of allegations.

There are several different ways that the Title IX Coordinator can impact your case. “They affect everything from how much time is spent on the investigation, to the order people are investigated, to how much of an opportunity the attorney has to review evidence before the hearing, to who is on the hearing panel, to what happens at the hearing, as well as the sanction,” says Miltenberg.

An important part of the job for Title IX Coordinators is ensuring a fair hearing for both the accuser and the accused. “The coordinator is the centerpiece for the Title IX process,” says Miltenberg. But in matters related to accusations of sexual misconduct, Miltenberg has seen Title IX Coordinators who allow their personal experiences and politics to interfere with the outcome.

“You really do need an advocate to keep the Title IX Coordinator on the straight and narrow,” says Miltenberg. “We’ve had cases where the coordinator acts as an advocate for the accusers, or has taken the accuser to the hospital or therapy. We’ve had cases where the Title IX Coordinator clearly goes out of their way to exclude evidence that would be exculpatory.”

An attorney is needed to stay on top of coordinators and ensure that the hearing process is fair for both sides. “It’s not easy, and I think you do need a lawyer for that,” says Miltenberg. He cautions students against thinking they can accomplish this by speaking openly and politely to the Title IX Coordinator. “There are people who have an agenda and that finds its way into these cases,” he adds.

If you are facing accusations of sexual misconduct on campus, it’s important that the investigation and coordination of the hearing remain unbiased. An experienced Title IX attorney can make sure that your school fulfills its role with professionalism and fair-mindedness while advocating on your behalf. For more information, contact Andrew T. Miltenberg, Esq., of Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP today.