Anderson controversy prompts review of admissions

After a petition circulated in December to remove Jacob Anderson, a student accused of sexual assault, the university released a statement saying it would form a committee to review current admissions practices. Photo by Noah Whitehead | Photo Editor.

UTD was thrust into the national spotlight in December 2018 after a student petition to remove Jacob Anderson, a UTD student accused of sexual assault, went viral. Anderson transferred to the university in 2016 after expulsion from Baylor University.

University President Richard Benson said in a statement that the university had “admitted a student while unaware of his legal history.” Anderson was granted his diploma but was barred from entering campus or pursuing further study at the university. Benson said a committee would be formed to review the admissions process.

Executive Vice President Hobson Wildenthal said that, as he understood it, Anderson applied for transfer admission before he was formally expelled from Baylor University in in the spring of 2016. Wildenthal said a lack of information concerning Anderson’s disciplinary record was the primary reason why his application slipped through the cracks.

“I haven’t seen his record,” Wildenthal said. “It’s always possible there’s something there that we missed … there’s always human error. But the first thing we (want to fix) is policy and structure.”

Ryan Slack, director of transfer admissions, said as long as students meet certain basic requirements, they are automatically admitted under an assured admissions policy.

“We have students, that if they don’t qualify for assured admission, automatically go through holistic review,” Slack said.

Review of these students is conducted by a board of admissions officials. The number of officials on the panel can vary but is typically around ten, Slack said. The holistic process is not applied to those applicants who meet the requirements.

Requirements for students from non-community colleges include a 3.0 GPA cutoff and at least 42 transferable credits, with no more than 90 attempted credit hours. Applicants must also be in good standing with the last university attended.

Slack said good standing refers to the applicant’s academics based on their transcript. What constitutes good academic standing can vary widely from university to university, he said.

Wildenthal said the admissions process is centered around the goal of growing the university’s enrollment. He said as the university grows, there will have to be changes to admissions policies. Furthermore, as for a student’s general disciplinary record, Wildenthal said there’s little consistency in what individual institutions choose to report on transcripts and other official documents.

In December 2018, Texas state representatives filed two separate bills to require colleges to disclose a student’s known disciplinary history on official transcripts. House Bill 449, filed by Arlington Rep. Chris Turner, would require all universities, public or private, to note any expulsions or suspensions on a student’s official transcript. A staff member at Turner’s office in Austin said the bill wasn’t filed directly in response to the Anderson case but had been in the making for three years.

House Bill 524, filed by Dallas Rep. Victoria Neave, would require public universities to include a note on a student’s official transcript if that student were to violate the university’s code of conduct by committing a sex offense. Both bills have been filed and are currently in committee review. A representative for Neave’s office in Dallas did not respond to a request for comment.

Wildenthal said the admissions review committee at UTD would meet over the course of the spring semester but that depending on the two proposed bills, changes could happen much sooner. He said beyond the Anderson case and the legislation, the committee will be reviewing the entire admissions process.

“This was directed at a transfer application, but there’s no reason to restrict it to undergraduate transfer,” Wildenthal said. “(We) might as well worry about grad students and freshmen.”

Wildenthal said had the incident occurred and been reported at UTD, the matter would have been investigated under Title IX guidelines. If a student is found to be in violation, they are often expelled or removed from campus, per the recommendations of the Dean of Students and the Title IX Office.

The victim in the Anderson case filed complaints at Baylor University’s Title IX office. After Anderson’s Title IX hearing, he was removed from Baylor’s campus. However, Wildenthal said universities aren’t legally required to share information between Title IX offices.

“Title IX is, in a sense, extralegal,” Wildenthal said. “I’d imagine most institutions would be very leery of reporting their conclusions for fear of being sued.”

Information on any expulsions within any of the UT System schools is made available to any other UT System institution to which a student might transfer. Dallas-based Title IX lawyer Patricia Davis said in contrast, Baylor University is a school that elects to report little information.

“Baylor is one of the colleges that has chosen not to put any kind of mark at all on anyone’s transcript that would allow the next college to know that there was any kind of disciplinary problem at all,” Davis said.

Davis said because of the non-criminal nature of Title IX proceedings, any findings will not show up on a criminal record, either.

“If Mr. Anderson had a criminal record, (UTD) would be able to find that,” Davis said. “But because this isn’t a criminal proceeding … there would be no public record of … any findings that he violated the policy at Baylor.”

Davis said universities try to balance privacy, as protected by FERPA, with the safety of the campus, as outlined in Title IX – which can result in communication issues.

“If I were to give any advice to colleges that are accepting transfers,” Davis said, “I would include in the application process some question about whether there’s been any disciplinary issue at the previous college.”

Davis said while disciplinary history might be self-reported, it would still make a difference.

“People may lie, but it (should be) the same as it is with employment (applications),” Davis said. “If you’re found to have lied on your application, you’re liable to be fired, and that should be the same with colleges.”

On Feb. 7, Benson issued a memo to potential members of the committee, which will be chaired by Provost Inga Musselman. Committee members will include academic officials such as Dean of Students Amanda Smith as well as Student Government President Eric Chen and Vice President Carla Ramazan. Four unnamed members of the Academic Senate, comprising faculty members, were also invited to join the committee.

Wildenthal said at the moment, the proceedings will not be open to the public, but this could change as the committee begins to meet over the spring semester.

“The committee’s work will be really straightforward — what do we do, can do we do it better (and) let everyone know how it happened,” Wildenthal said. “A lot of people have no idea what’s going on … the answer is, the way things are done, it’s perfectly natural (that this happened). We admit 5,000 to 8,000 students a year and we don’t subject every application to an investigative criminal background check.”

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