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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
The University of Tennessee has received a long-awaited critique of its sexual assault policies, and now it must figure out a way to fund the independent panel's recommendations.
The four outside experts, tasked to review Title IX compliance and sexual assault prevention and response across the UT system, made five major recommendations:
- A statewide coordinator for policies related to TitleIX
- Additional TitleIX staff and resources
- Updated and modified policies and procedures
- Enhanced support for students
- Increased education, prevention and training
Each will require additional funding and not equivocation on where the resources will come from.
UT President Joe DiPietro said he hoped to fill by the end of the year the experts' recommendation to hire the statewide coordinator for Title IX, the federal law that guides campuses on sexual discrimination and violence responses.
In an interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee, he said that progress would be a "priority," but added that funding changes would be a challenge.
"Resources are always finite," DiPietro said. "We'll probably have to struggle with how do you find the resources to implement the programming at some of these places."
The process has been a challenge since the university was accused in a Title IX lawsuit of fostering a "hostile sexual environment" on the Knoxville campus and mishandling sexual assault cases, especially accusations against student-athletes. The lawsuit placed blame for a culture of sexual violence at the top of UT's administration, including DiPietro, then-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, then-athletics director Dave Hart and football coach Butch Jones.
The university, while admitting no wrongdoing, found the resources to settle the lawsuit for $2.48 million by splitting the costs between the Knoxville campus and the athletics department and avoiding what if felt would be a cost of $5.5 million if the lawsuit went to trial.
When the settlement was announced, DiPietro said he was appointing the independent panel and, in fact, it had been in the works before the settlement. He found the resources to pay up to $250,000 for its work, including $45,000 plus expenses for each of the four members.
The panel, in a 28-page report, found training, prevention and awareness efforts had increased on nearly all UT campuses — more so on the Knoxville campus — but could be more consistent and comprehensive for students and employees.
Notable in the report were concerns from all campuses about what help is available late at night and on weekends when misconduct often occurs. Knoxville campus staff and students said they had difficulty reaching someone when calling the campus help line (974-HELP) during those times.
DiPietro and Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport said, in addressing the issues raised in the committee's findings, they wanted to establish UT as a national leader in those efforts. To do that, they must find the resources.
Since the lawsuit settlement nearly a year ago, significant salary increases and bonuses have been given to the university's top administrators and some assistants and new six-figure-salary positions — full and part time — have been created. The university expressed a need for the increases and positions and found a way to fund them.
DiPietro expressed a need last year to determine how well the university was responding to Title IX policies, the independent panel he hired delivered and now he must find a way to fund the recommendations — struggle or not.
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