University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro announced the members of a special commission formed to review Title IX programs at every school in the University of Tennessee system today in what feels like an important step towards properly handling the scourge of campus sexual assault.
DiPietro appointed this commission after announcing his intention to do so in July, when the University of Tennessee in Knoxville settled a lawsuit filed by eight women who claimed that the university was indifferent to reported sexual assault cases that took place on campus, fostering a “hostile sexual environment.”
One of the victim’s claims was dismissed in May due to the statute of limitations, but the nature of the incident is indicative of the others in the case. From local ABC affiliate WATE:
Jane Doe I says she was forcibly raped by a University of Tennessee varsity basketball player at his apartment in Volunteer Hall. She said the reported the rape the next day to the University of Tennessee Police Department.
In the lawsuit, Jane Doe I claims the university attempted to limit access to the records of the investigation that was done by the University of Tennessee Police Department. She also said her assailant was represented by an attorney who is a former University of Tennessee athlete and member of the University of Tennessee Board of Athletics.
According to the victim, her assailant intentionally delayed the administrative hearing regarding the case so that he could finish out the basketball season before transferring to a new school, reportedly leaving the University of Tennessee publicly on “good terms.”
Much to his credit, DiPietro responded to these incidents and the lawsuit that followed by creating this commission to investigate and assess Title IX procedures on campus. In a statement, DiPietro said that “one incident of sexual assault is one too many,” a refreshing statement coming from a school with an NCAA basketball team in an era when athletes are revered and their transgressions ignored.
The commission includes attorney Stanley Brand, University of Connecticut Title IX coordinator Elizabeth Conklin and Sports Law Associates president Janet Judge who has advised universities on Title IX compliance for 20 years. The commission will convene November 17 and will be granted full access to all University of Tennessee campuses to assess their Title IX practices and procedures in order to provide a report to DiPietro six months later on their findings.
“I want the confidence that we did everything within our power to appropriately deal with the situation,” DiPietro said, “and that we provided the necessary support for all involved, hence our desire for an independent commission to take a thorough look at our approach.”