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Former Cal Poly student alleges Title IX procedures that led to his expulsion were unfair

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A former Cal Poly student and Cal Poly Mustang Marching Band member, who was found guilty of engaging in non-consensual sexual activity, filed a petition against California State University (CSU) administrators on Feb. 6 to try and get his degrees back.

The former student, referred to as John Doe, is alleging that the process he underwent through Cal Poly's Title IX office was unjust, and therefore his expulsion, which stripped him of his earned master's and bachelor's degrees, was unfair.

Doe is one of several students fighting against higher education administrations, alleging that the investigative processes that found them guilty of sexual misconduct—non-consensual sex or sexual activity—were unjust.

Two separate class-action lawsuits filed in 2019 against the University of California (UC) and CSU systems, allege that the Title IX procedures used to find male students responsible for sexual misconduct were unjust. In 2019, a male University of Southern California (USC) student also filed a lawsuit against the school administration in the hopes of overturning his expulsion, a consequence of the school's determining that he had non-consensual sex with another student.

On Jan. 4, 2019, the judge in the USC case ruled that a student who is found to have participated in sexual misconduct and is facing expulsion—or other disciplinary action—should be allowed a live hearing where both parties may cross-examine one another in order to have a fair investigation. The motion was echoed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as part of the proposed new Title IX rules she released last year.

The recent lawsuits and newly proposed procedures are opening the doors for former students, disciplined for violating Executive Order 1097, to challenge school administrations, higher education institutions, and university Title IX offices. Executive Order 1097 is a system-wide policy that prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation, sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence, and stalking against students.

The former Cal Poly student's petition—filed on Feb. 6, 2020, against CSU chancellor Timothy White and the CSU board of trustees—claims that White is responsible for the investigation, adjudication, and appeals of all student misconduct matters at the university through his issuance of a series of executive orders, and he is responsible for the improper expulsion of Doe.

The petition alleges that the Title IX investigation and administrative action was based on three she-said, he-said, complaints of off-campus sexual activity.

In February 2018, three female Cal Poly students made separate—the petition claims they were planned—reports against Doe to the Cal Poly Title IX Office. The females were all members of the Cal Poly Marching Band and had learned that each of them had been physically intimate with Doe at some point in the past.

Cal Poly SLO Title IX investigator Tiffany Little investigated the reports over the course of six months and concluded that Doe had engaged in non-consensual sexual activity in two of the three reports.

The petition claims the Aug. 20, 2018, decisions depended entirely on the credibility of the complainants and that Doe had no opportunity to question or challenge their statements, nor was he provided with all the evidence before a decision was made.

In early December 2018, Cal Poly offered Doe a settlement that would include maintaining the findings against him but conferring his degrees. Doe declined the offer because CSU wouldn't set aside findings of sexual misconduct against him, the petition claims.

In light of the California Court of Appeals' decision in the USC case, Doe was notified in February 2019 that the resolution of his appeal would be delayed because the procedures used during the investigation process of sexual misconduct allegations would likely change. But instead of conducting further investigation, the petition claims that CSU simply issued new reports in June 2019 including information from the original investigation.

Doe was again found responsible for sexual misconduct, and expulsion was recommended. Doe appealed the decision, but got rejected.

Toni Molle, director of public affairs for the CSU Chancellor's Office, told New Times via email, "to protect the privacy of the students involved, the California State University will not comment on the specific facts of this case other than to say that student was found responsible for sexual misconduct in two cases."

While outcomes of Title IX investigations may be appealed to the chancellor, Molle said, each campus is responsible for responding to complaints in accordance with the complaint, investigation, and discipline processes established by the Chancellor's Office.

In accordance with the ruling in the USC case, Molle said the office reviewed and revised its Title IX policies to ensure they were compliant with all state and federal laws.

Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier told New Times Cal Poly and CSU's Title IX processes and procedures are robust and designed specifically to provide fair and thorough review of all claims of sexual misconduct or discrimination.

"Cal Poly's Office of Equal Opportunity appropriately responds to all reports of sexual misconduct made either to the Title IX coordinator or to university police," Lazier said. "We take every opportunity afforded to us to hear the concerns of our campus community members. These concerns are taken seriously, and we consider them as we constantly review and work to improve the programs and services we provide across campus." Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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