My understanding of Title IX is that it is a federal law that requires, among other organizations, universities, to ensure that women are not denied equal opportunities.

In order to ensure compliance with this law, universities create their own policies that they believe tackle relevant misconduct like sexual harassment, stalking, and other related behaviors. However the Title IX office of a university does not attempt to tackle behaviors that fall outside of ensuring compliance with the federal law.

Usually, faculty and staff are required to report or consult with the Title IX office if they become aware of misconduct. However, there is also a belief I have encountered that legally, academic personnel must then "back off" and completely withdraw from any conversations, actions, or other matters that relate to the issue and allow the Title IX office alone to handle it.

Is there any form of legal concern for an academic department, or faculty/staff, acting on this information further? For example, can a department chair enact sanctions on a perpetrator? Can faculty confront the perpetrator and demand their behavior cease? Can it even be discussed without legal ramifications?

Note that I am not asking about university policies on this kind of further action, but what the law and legal concerns would be. I will ask a similar question about policies on Academia Stack Exchange.

1 Answer 1


There is no (statutory/regulatory) legal basis at all for claiming that a department, chair, faculty member or other individuals must "back off" in the face of a Title IX claim. However, the chair and department could face civil liability for violating the rights of the accused (depending on what the action taken was). This assume that there is no university rule mandating "backing off" – violating university rules may have consequences.

The possibility of civil consequences arises if the university (via the department or the chair) violates their contract with the accused, by penalizing the person contrary to the terms of the contract (look for the grievance clause). However, academic units are usually set up in such a way that "the department" can't do anything, but the chair can, perhaps following a vote of the faculty. The faculty could denounce the accused, but as long as they didn't cross the line to defamation they can express themselves as they see fit. The chair, on the other hand, probably has the power to actually punish the accused, and would need to back off somewhat. For example, the faculty might wish to impose a substantive sanction, but they almost certainly don't have the power to do so, whereas the chair probably does. So the chair needs to check that his actions, as The administrative officer in the department acting as the agent of the university, do not constitute breach of contract w.r.t. the accused.

  • 1
    Could you clarify your last remark: "The chair, on the other hand, probably has the power to actually punish the accused, and would need to back off somewhat." Given the rest of your answer, why do you say a chair "would need to back off somewhat"?
    – Davis
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 1:27

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