HCU Title IX Policy

I. Policy Statement

Houston Christian University (HCU) is committed to providing a positive learning and working environment free from discrimination. In support of this commitment, HCU prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, genetic information, covered veteran status, and any other basis protected by law. Discrimination and harassment are incompatible with HCU’s mission to provide a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual, and professional excellence as a result of our central confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord”, and can threaten the educational experience, careers and well-being of members of the HCU community, including staff, faculty, students, and visitors.

State and federal law protects individuals from discrimination and harassment in connection with employment. Additionally, the law also prohibits discrimination and harassment in all educational programs and activities of a school, including academic, extracurricular, athletic, housing, and other programs and activities. This protection may extend to conduct that occurs both on and off University property. The law also prohibits retaliation against an individual for opposing the types of practices prohibited by this policy, for making a complaint of discrimination or harassment, or for participating in an investigation of such a complaint. Any person who believes he or she has been subject to unlawful discrimination or harassment should feel comfortable with reporting their concerns without fear of retaliation.

Acts of discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation will be addressed consistent with this policy, which specifically addresses circumstances requiring the application of the US Department of Education’s Final Rule regarding Title IX, effective August 14, 2020. Other University polices found in the student and employees handbooks discuss additional expectations about sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as separate grievance and adjudication processes.  As noted below, reported behavior may not meet the Final Rule definitions for purposes of Title IX, yet be subject to review by the University or other legal authorities, for resolution.

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II. Responsibility

The Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer is the HCU Title IX Coordinator, as well as the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Officer, and is the person designated by the University to coordinate its efforts to comply with and to carry out its responsibilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), The Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and other equal opportunity and affirmative regulations and laws, and is responsible for overseeing and in administering this policy. Inquiries about HCU’s policies and compliance with Title IX, The Age Discrimination Act of 1975, or the aspects of HCU’s equal opportunity or affirmative action programs should be directed to:

Sandra N. Mooney
Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer
Houston Christian University
7502 Fondren Road
Houston, TX 77074

The Title IX Coordinator, or their designee, can provide information about HCU’s policies regarding Title IX, and will ensure that such complaints are addressed by the appropriate University officials. The Title IX Coordinator or their designee, will assist the parties in receiving support services and will facilitate any interim measures during the investigation. For additional information or inquiries regarding Title IX, you may also visit Office of Civil Rights – DOE for the address and phone number of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) office that serves your area, or call 1-800-421-3481.

III. Prohibited Discriminatory Conduct

The DOE, in the Final Rule for Title IX effective August 14, 2020, defines sexual harassment broadly to include any of three types of misconduct on the basis of sex, all of which jeopardize the equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect: Any instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school’s employee; any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access; any instance of sexual assault (as defined in the Clery Act), dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking as defined in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The Final Rule prohibits sex-based misconduct in a manner consistent with the First Amendment. Quid pro quo harassment and Clery Act/VAWA offenses are not evaluated for severity, pervasiveness, offensiveness, or denial of equal educational access, because such misconduct is sufficiently serious to deprive a person of equal access.

The Final Rule uses the Supreme Court’s Davis definition (severe and pervasive and objectively offensive conduct, effectively denying a person equal educational access) as one of the three categories of sexual harassment, so that where unwelcome sex-based conduct consists of speech or expressive conduct, schools balance Title IX enforcement with respect for free speech and academic freedom.

The Final Rule uses the Supreme Court’s Title IX-specific definition rather than the Supreme Court’s Title VII workplace standard (severe or pervasive conduct creating a hostile work environment). First Amendment concerns differ in educational environments and workplace environments, and the Title IX definition provides First Amendment protections appropriate for educational institutions where students are learning, and employees are teaching. Students, teachers, faculty, and others should enjoy free speech and academic freedom protections, even when speech or expression is offensive, however HCU’s religious mission should be top of mind whenever exercising these rights and may not shield all actions under other employee or student codes of conduct.

If the allegations in a formal complaint do not meet the definition of sexual harassment in the Final Rule or did not occur in the HCU’s education program or activity against a person in the United States, the Final Rule requires that HCU must dismiss such allegations for purposes of Title IX but may still address the allegations in any manner the HCU deems appropriate under the school’s own code of conduct.

IV. Programs and Activities Protected by Title IX

The Title IX statute applies to persons in the U.S. with respect to education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Under the Final Rule, HCU must respond when sexual harassment occurs in the University’s education program or activity, against a person in the U.S.

Education program or activity includes locations, events, or circumstances over which the HCU exercises substantial control over both the respondent and the context in which the sexual harassment occurred, and also includes any building owned or controlled by a student organization that is officially recognized by HCU.

Title IX applies to all of a school’s education programs or activities, whether such programs or activities occur on-campus or off-campus. HCU may address sexual harassment affecting its students or employees that falls outside Title IX’s jurisdiction in any manner the school chooses, including providing supportive measures or pursuing discipline.

V. Accessible Reporting

In addition to the Title IX Coordinator listed above in section II, HCU considers all employees, excepting those employed in dining and facilities services, to be “mandatory reporters” for the purposes of both Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Act.  Anyone aware of an activity that may violate Title IX, or any other criminal act, may report this activity to a University employee who is obliged by both University Policy and in some cases, the laws of the State of Texas, to inform the Title IX coordinator immediately.  The University will investigate all such reports in a timely fashion.  Concerned parties may also report incidents of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault anonymously through the University’s Campus Shield application, or through the Title IX link provided at the bottom of HCU’s main web page located at HC.edu.

VI. Responses to Title IX Complaints

HCU will respond to all complaints of possible Title IX violations promptly and confidentially. The Final Rule requires a school to investigate sexual harassment allegations in any formal complaint, which can be filed by the individual alleging the harassment, also known as the complainant, anyone with knowledge of such an incident, or signed by a Title IX Coordinator.

While the Final Rule affirms that a complainant’s wishes with respect to whether the school investigates should be respected, the State of Texas requires that all allegation of sexual assault/harassment be investigated.  Therefore, the Title IX Coordinator will sign a formal complaint to initiate an investigation over the wishes of the complainant unless doing so is unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.

HCU will offer supportive measures to the complainant.  The University will take into account the complainant’s wishes regarding the supportive measures, and will offer those measures even if a formal complaint is not actually lodged.  Supportive services is defined as individualized services reasonably available that are non-punitive, non-disciplinary, and not unreasonably burdensome to the other party while designed to ensure equal educational access, protect safety, or deter sexual harassment.

The University will explain in detail, the process for filing a formal complaint, discussing complainant rights, the investigatory process, adjudication and resolution.  Unless a clear danger to the complainant or campus exists, the DOE forbids the University from taking disciplinary action against alleged perpetrator of the complaint known also as the “respondent” until the formal Title IX grievance process has been completed.

If a formal investigation is opened, all actions on the part of HCU must be fair, free from conflict, and without bias towards either party.  Supportive services must be offered to the respondent when informed of the investigations, and a strict adherence to due process for all parties which is fair and impartial, must guide all decisions and actions. Throughout the process, HCU must not restrict rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment, when complying with Title IX.

VII. Complaint Grievance Process

HCU’s Title IX complaint grievance process is designed to provide a transparent, equitable process for resolving formal complaints about sexual harassment.  All parties will be granted due process throughout the investigation and hearing activities, and accommodations and communication will be available to everyone equally.  The respondent is presumed not to be responsible for the allegations in the complaint until the grievance process is completed.

When appropriate, remedies assigned when a respondent is found responsible will be designed to maintain equal access to education.  Remedies may include separating parties into different sections of a class, negotiating online or remote instruction for one or both parties, or other actions designed to maintain educational access, but also may include removal from HCU.  Please keep in mind, the University’s disciplines process includes additional sanctions and remedies for sexual harassment and is in no way bound by the limits set here within.

The process will include an objective evaluation of all relevant evidence, inculpatory and exculpatory, and avoid credibility determination based on a person’s status as a complainant, respondent or witness.

The University intends for these situations to be resolved in a prompt manner, but there is no “one size fits all” timeline that can be given for a thorough investigation and hearing.  Instead, all parties will receive estimates in communications about the next steps in the process and will receive prompt notices regarding any delays or extensions.

As with all employee and student disciplinary proceedings at HCU, the University utilizes the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in resolving Title IX complaints.

VIII. Investigations

Upon receipt of a formal complaint, or a complaint signed by the Title IX Coordinator, a trained investigator will be assigned to review the facts in the complaints and interview all parties.  The investigator will immediately communicate with both parties notice that the complaint is under formal investigation and their contact information.

Throughout the process, HCU will send written notice of any investigative interviews, meetings, or hearings.  HCU will send the parties, and their advisors, evidence directly related to the allegations, via email and will provide no less than 10 calendar days for the parties to inspect, review, and respond to the evidence. HCU will send the parties, and their advisors, an investigative report that fairly summarizes relevant evidence, via email and will provide no less than 10 days for the parties to respond.

Throughout the investigation and any hearing, both parties may present any fact and expert witnesses and other inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. HCU will not restrict the party’s ability to discuss the allegations or gather evidence but may bring code of conduct disciplinary actions separately is behavior warrants.

Both parties may choose an advisor of their choice, who may be an attorney.  When a party cannot provide or afford an advisor, the University is required to provide a competent party to serve in this role, who may be or not be, an attorney.  Advisors play a crucial role in the hearing process and should be engaged as soon as possible.

HCU must dismiss allegations of conduct that do not meet the Final Rule’s definition of sexual harassment or did not occur in a school’s education program or activity against a person in the U.S. Such dismissal is only for Title IX purposes and does not preclude the University from addressing the complaint through student or employee conduct and disciplines processes.

HCU may, at the University’s discretion, except where the decision conflict with Texas HB 449, dismiss a formal complaint or allegations therein if the complainant informs the Title IX Coordinator in writing that the complainant desires to withdraw the formal complaint or allegations therein, if the respondent is no longer enrolled or employed by the school, or if specific circumstances prevent the school from gathering sufficient evidence to reach a determination.

HCU must give the parties written notice of a dismissal (mandatory or discretionary) and the reasons for the dismissal.

HCU may, at the University’s, consolidate formal complaints where the allegations arise out of the same facts.

The Final Rule protects the privacy of a party’s medical, psychological, and similar treatment records by stating that schools cannot access or use such records unless the school obtains the party’s voluntary, written consent to do so.

IX. Hearings

HCU has determined that all Title IX hearings will be conducted live, via an electronic meeting software platform such as Zoom or Skype and all hearings will be recorded.

HCU will permit each party’s advisor to ask the other party and any witnesses all relevant questions and follow-up questions, including those challenging credibility.

Such cross-examination at the live hearing must be conducted directly, orally, and in real time by the party’s advisor of choice and never by a party personally.

Only relevant cross-examination and other questions may be asked of a party or witness. Before a complainant, respondent, or witness answers a cross-examination or other question, the decision-maker must first determine whether the question is relevant and explain to the party’s advisor asking cross-examination questions any decision to exclude a question as not relevant.

The Final Rule provides rape shield protections for complainants, deeming irrelevant questions and evidence about a complainant’s prior sexual behavior unless offered to prove that someone other than the respondent committed the alleged misconduct or offered to prove consent.

If a party does not have an advisor present at the live hearing, the school must provide, without fee or charge to that party, an advisor of the school’s choice who may be, but is not required to be, an attorney to conduct cross-examination on behalf of that party.

If a party or witness does not submit to cross-examination at the live hearing, the decision-maker(s) must not rely on any statement of that party or witness in reaching a determination regarding responsibility; provided, however, that the decision-maker(s) cannot draw an inference about the determination regarding responsibility based solely on a party’s or witness’s absence from the live hearing or refusal to answer cross-examination or other questions.

The HCU hearing officer or decision maker, will issue a written determination, issued to both parties simultaneously, regarding responsibility with findings of fact, conclusions about whether the alleged conduct occurred, rationale for the result as to each allegation, any disciplinary sanctions imposed on the respondent, whether remedies will be provided to the complainant, and information on how to file an appeal.

X. Appeals

The University Provost or designee serves as the Title IX appellate authority.

The Final Rule states that a school must offer both parties an appeal from a determination regarding responsibility, and from a school’s dismissal of a formal complaint or any allegations therein, on the following bases: procedural irregularity that affected the outcome of the matter, newly discovered evidence that could affect the outcome of the matter, and/or Title IX personnel had a conflict of interest or bias, that affected the outcome of the matter.

XI. Informal Resolution

In some circumstances, HCU, at its discretion, may choose to offer and facilitate informal resolution options, such as mediation or restorative justice, so long as both parties give voluntary, informed, written consent to attempt informal resolution.  However, information resolution will not be used to facilitate the resolution of a complaint that an employee sexually harassed a student.

Resolution may not be required as a condition of enrollment or continuing enrollment, or employment or continuing employment, or enjoyment of any other right, waiver of the right to a formal investigation and adjudication of formal complaints of sexual harassment.

At any time prior to agreeing to a resolution, any party has the right to withdraw from the informal resolution process and resume the grievance process with respect to the formal complaint.

XII. Retaliation

The Final Rule expressly prohibits retaliation, and any complaints of retaliation should be filed according to the University’s prompt and equitable grievance process.

Charging an individual with a code of conduct violation for making a materially false statement in bad faith in the course of a Title IX grievance proceeding does not constitute retaliation; however, a determination regarding responsibility, alone, is not sufficient to conclude that any party made a bad faith materially false statement.

In addition to the Final Rule from the DOE, the State of Texas (SB 212) also prohibits retaliation.  As defined by Texas, retaliation is action taken against any person who in good faith makes a complaint of, or opposes, discrimination, harassment, or sexual misconduct of the type prohibited by this policy or who has testified, assisted or participated in an investigation of discrimination, harassment, or sexual misconduct, when such action would dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a charge of discrimination, harassment or sexual misconduct. Retaliation includes acts of intimidation, threats, and other acts of discrimination. If warranted, steps may be taken to ensure that retaliation does not occur. This may include monitoring future evaluations of a complainant, respondent, or witness, and may include reassignment.

XIII. Amnesty and Leniency

Houston Christian University is committed to maintaining a safe and supporting environment for all members of our community. It is essential to emphasize that being a victim of sexual assault is NEVER a violation of the HCU Student Code of Conduct. Individuals who have experienced such incidents will not face punishment for being victims.

Recognizing the potential hesitation of individuals to report sexual harassment due to concerns about Student Code of Conduct violations, HCU affirms the following:

1. Confidentiality: The Title IX Office will not disclose the identify of a victim or witness to the Student Code of Conduct Office unless explicitly requested or if there is a risk to a person’s health of safety.

2. Amnesty: Amnesty will be granted for any Student Code of Conduct violations that may arise from the same set of facts and circumstances as the reported incident. This includes violations related to the incident itself or those discovered during the investigation, with the primary goal of supporting the well-being of the individuals involved.

Our university is dedicated to creating an environment where reporting sexual harassment is met with support, understanding, and a commitment to the overall welfare of our community members.

XIV. Policy Approval and Review

The Board of Trustees has the responsibility for the approval of this policy. The university administration will conduct a biennial review to ensure that the policy complies with all Federal and State requirements. Revisions to the policy will be approved by the Board of Trustees.