Between lawsuits against University of Montana administration, the implosion of the law school and a professor resigning over his controversial blog, Title IX has been the talk of the campus this semester. But the actual process of what happens with a report or a complaint isn’t common knowledge. The Kaimin sat down with Alicia Arant, UM’s Title IX/Office of Equal Opportunity coordinator, to find out exactly what happens after someone calls the office at (406) 243-5617 or files a report with Title IX’s online reporting form. 

 

The initial report

Violations of Title IX can be reported by mandatory reporters, by a third party or by the person harmed by the violation. When the Title IX office receives the report, they reach out to anyone who experienced harm. This first communication has information about resources on and off campus, how to report crimes to the police and info on protective and supportive measures Title IX can provide, such as any academic accommodations someone would need to equally access University education. The office then invites the person to come to talk in-person. There is no obligation to respond. 

 

Intake meeting

If someone harmed by a Title IX violation comes into the office, Arant and one other of the four office employees hold an intake meeting to learn what happened. The primary purpose of the meeting is to ensure equal access to University activities and education through protective and supportive measures, which Title IX can provide even if there’s no investigation. Sometimes, the report process stops there. The meeting also determines if Title IX has jurisdiction over an investigation. Arant will describe the investigation process to the individual, then talk about potentially filling out a Formal Complaint. 

The Formal Complaint

Formal Complaint is capitalized for a reason. This complaint is necessary to start an investigation or informal resolution. It identifies the individual who has been harmed and the individual who was responsible for said harm, and these people become the complainant and the respondent, respectively. It summarizes the reported conduct while laying out the provisions of the discrimination and harassment policy allegedly violated by the conduct. Finally, it requests that the University investigate. This complaint is drafted by the office, so the complainant doesn’t have to worry about writing it. Sometimes, when there is behavior that poses a risk to campus but no individual is willing to file a Formal Complaint, Arant herself will file and sign a complaint if she believes taking no action would be negligent. 

There are two paths the Formal Complaint can go down: Grievance proceedings or informal resolution. 

Grievance proceedings start with an investigation notice, sent to both parties with the Formal Complaint. Both parties then have separate meetings with Arant, where they discuss how they can be protected and supported through the process and learn what happens next. 

The case is assigned to one of the office’s two investigators. Both parties can identify witnesses and produce evidence they believe might be relevant. 

Witnesses are interviewed with two people from the office present, an interviewer and a note taker. One person makes a summary of the testimony and sends it to the witness for review. Sometimes the office gets feedback contradicting the testimony. This feedback is put in the preliminary investigation report, along with a summary of the complaint, witness testimony summaries and evidence. 

The report is sent to both parties, who have 10 days to respond and submit additional evidence or witnesses. Their response goes into a final investigation report. Then it’s time for the hearing.

 

Investigation hearings

Each party needs a hearing adviser. This can be anybody. If a party doesn’t select an adviser, the University provides a trained volunteer. The hearing panel consists of one representative each from the student senate, the faculty senate and the staff senate — all chaired by a hired Missoula attorney. Hearings are always held over Zoom. The chair has a pre-hearing conference with each party to discuss rules of decorum, answer questions and discuss questions and witnesses. Each witness called is required to have gone through the investigation process. There should be no surprises on the day of the hearing. Hearings typically last a full day. Parties’ advisers can question the opposing party and any witnesses. Panelists can also ask questions. When the respondent is a student, the panel is responsible for any sanctions. If they are an employee, sanctioning is up to the University. 

The hearing chair drafts a written decision and sends it to the Title IX and Equal Opportunity Office, which sends it to both parties. Either party can appeal the finding or sanctions to the University president. The president’s decision can be appealed to the Commissioner of Higher Education 

Whatever happens in the investigation and hearing, the office’s obligation to provide protective and supportive measures lasts as long as that individual is affiliated with UM.

 

Informal resolution

An informal resolution can happen at any point in the process, and at any point in the informal resolution process, it can go back to grievance proceedings. Individuals have to sign an agreement to participate, and things learned solely from informal resolution can’t be used in grievance proceedings later. More complaints are informally resolved than adjudicated, according to Arant. 

In informal resolution, any outcomes are negotiated between parties and laid out in a final agreement signed by both parties and Arant. The hope is it mirrors the same outcome of a hearing, and Arant won’t sign an agreement where the terms are disproportionate to an expected sanction. Title IX and the Equal Opportunity Office ensures the agreement is followed. Outcomes can range from training to voluntary expulsion, and all outcomes must include an educational component if the respondent stays with the University. 

Arant said not everything has to go through the formal process. Often, someone will come in, tell their story and tell her to put it in a file and not do anything official about it. Most people come seeking advice, information and support. Most protective and supportive measures involve academic accommodations, and the Title IX and Equal Opportunity Office make many Student Advocacy Resource Center referrals.