UT System to review policies regarding relationships between employees and students

UT System to review policies regarding relationships between employees and students

austin photo: news_kvue_major applewhite_feb 2013
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The entire University of Texas System is launching a review of its current policies regarding relationships between university employees and students.

The decision comes after a special weekend meeting of the UT System Board of Regents. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and regents chairman Gene Powell issued the following as part of their statement:

Today, we are announcing that Paul Foster, First Vice Chairman of the Board of Regents, will lead a dedicated and focused effort to review and study all policies in place concerning relationships between UT employees and students at all 15 UT institutions. The review will include policies concerning disciplinary actions and procedures as well as compliance with policies for immediate notification of institution administration and the Board of Regents whenever and wherever policies are violated. (Current UT System Rule 178 which went into effect November 1, 2012 covers these policies and requirements, but the rule will be reviewed for possible strengthening.)

This comes after a flashpoint of incidents where university employees, namely coaches in the Austin flagship school’s athletics department, were revealed to have been disciplined (and in the case of women’s track and field coach Bev Kearney, terminated) for having “inappropriate, consensual relationships” with students.

Friday night, it was revealed that Major Applewhite, an assistant football coach, had himself engaged in a relationship with a student during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. UT men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds was quick to issue a statement that night:

In determining appropriate discipline, we analyze the facts and circumstances surrounding the behavior and its relation to job responsibilities. Major fully accepted his discipline, including counseling. We have high standards for behavior and expect our staff and coaches to adhere to them in all aspects of their lives.

Applewhite’s salary, then $260,500, was frozen until early 2010 and he was required to attend counseling sessions. The incident notwithstanding, he has remained with the team and made $575,000 in 2012 as co-offensive coordinator, as USA Today reports.

The revelation of Applewhite’s indiscretion came after correspondence between Dodds and Applewhite had been acquired by University of Texas’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan, through public information requests.

The Texan’s managing editor, Trey Scott, said that they had received the letter, from Dodds to Applewhite describing the latter’s conduct as “inappropriate” at 5 p.m. Friday, the close of business and the deadline to fulfill requirements of the Texas Public Information Act.

Shortly thereafter, the University released a statement revealing Applewhite’s involvement with a student to the press at large. (Full disclosure: Until last December, I served as The Daily Texan’s managing editor.)

The System’s statement concludes with the following:

We will reach out to national experts to assist in this review and will provide a timeline and announce more details over the next several days. Our goal is to be both timely and thorough in building a model that can be used nationwide as an example of best practices in dealing with these critically important issues of student protection and student safety.