Board of Regents to review employee-student relationships after recent events

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After the second high-profile student-coach relationship in five months was brought to light, the UT System Board of Regents announced it will begin a concentrated effort to review all policies concerning relationships between UT employees and students.

In a statement released Sunday by board chairman Gene Powell and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, the pair reasserted their commitment to the safety of UT students and said the board would reach out to national experts in their review of policies regarding employee-student relationships. Paul Foster, board vice chairman, will lead the efforts to study the relationship policies at all 15 UT System institutions. 

“Our chief concern is and always will be the safety and welfare of the students at our 15 institutions,” Powell and Cigarroa said in the statement. “The No. 1 priority of all UT administrative leaders, faculty, staff and athletic personnel should be protecting our students and ensuring that their experience at any UT institution is a positive and safe one.”

Current System policy, which went into effect November 2012, categorizes allegations of sexual misconduct as “significant events” that must be reported to the system “in a timely fashion.” According to the statement, the rule will be reviewed for possible strengthening. 

The regents met via telephone conference during a specially-scheduled meeting earlier Sunday to discuss legal issues related to individual athletics personnel and issues related to relationships between employees and students, generally. The last time the board scheduled a meeting on a Sunday was Aug. 17, 1958. 

On Friday, Major Applewhite, offensive coordinator for the football team, and DeLoss Dodds, men’s head athletics director, released separate statements regarding a previously undisclosed incident of “inappropriate, consensual behavior” that occurred between Applewhite and an adult student during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl events. 

Applewhite’s salary was suspended for the duration of the calendar year, and he was ordered to schedule a session with a licensed professional counselor.

In January, former women’s track and field head coach Bev Kearney resigned, several months after admitting to an “intimate consensual relationship” with a student-athlete in the track and field program. 

When Kearney admitted to the relationship in October, the University placed her on administrative leave before notifying her in January that it was prepared to begin the termination process. It was at this point that she resigned.

According to a policy in the University’s Handbook of Operating Procedures, instituted by UT in 2001, all relationships must be disclosed to appropriate members of the University. 

“The University strongly discourages consensual relationships between supervisors and subordinates, teachers and students and advisers and students,” the policy states. A failure to report the relationship will result in “disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

Kearney’s attorney, Derek Howard, said the University’s justification for firing Kearney did not reference this specific policy. 

“[The University] doesn’t mention [Kearney’s] failure to report the relationship as the reason for firing her,” Howard told The Daily Texan in January. “It’s because she had the relationship, period.”

Howard declined to comment after the board’s meeting Sunday.

Kearney was the first African-American to serve as a head coach at UT and the first African-American coach to win an NCAA national team championship in Division I track and field. Under her coaching, the Longhorns won six national championships and earned 14 straight top-10 finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships between 1994 and 2007.

Published on February 4, 2013 as "Guidelines between staff and students to be reviewed".