Originally published on Dallas News.
Texas A&M took major steps this week to assure students and parents that the university is serious about properly handling sexual abuse on its campuses.
By immediately enacting sweeping new accountability rules and spelling out tougher mandatory sanctions for those found guilty of abuse, the university is sending a strong message to thousands of students starting their fall semesters that their safety is a priority.
New investigators and counselors will be hired. The process for reporting sexual misconduct will be streamlined. And we applaud an important new rule that, going forward, the dean of students — not a coach or an organization leader — will decide an accused student's campus status.
Now comes the hardest part. School officials must make sure that the rules are followed and that there are serious consequences for misbehavior as well as recourse for victims. Too often in abuse scandals, women who bravely come forward feel abused by a lack of accountability from a system charged to protect them.
A&M is off to a good start by doing a lot of things right in trying to fix this.
First, President Michael K. Young made good on his promise to make public two reviews — one internal and one by an outside law firm — of how his school's abuse complaints were handled. That's a far cry from the lack of transparency at other universities embroiled in similar scandals
We also like that A&M smartly involved students in the review and that they were allowed input on recommendations for changes. Involving students in forging solutions makes it more likely that they will serve as watchdogs for follow-through.
Of course, those accused of these heinous acts deserve a chance to defend themselves. We believe in due process. But this controversy erupted at A&M — like it has at so many universities — because women said school officials responded poorly to reports of sexual violence, protecting the accused over the accuser.
That can't happen if we have any hope of putting an end to this criminal behavior on college campuses. Horrific sex-abuse scandals have rocked scores of universities, including Baylor and Michigan State. They were made worse by secrecy and cover-ups.
A&M knows it has more work to do. It's forming a task force to carry out the new procedures and vows to improve communication to all involved in such cases. It also would be wise to continue to involve students in ongoing solutions.
Time will tell if this new course significantly changes campus culture. These steps move the university in the right direction.
Texas A&M's new rules on sexual abuse
Mandatory expulsion for students, faculty and staff found guilty of serious sexual misconduct.
Creating and publicizing a range of sanctions based on severity of violations, showing how each will result in a reprimand, probation, suspension or expulsion.
Faculty and staff are banned from having consensual relationships with undergraduate students at A&M System schools.
Each complaint will be assigned to one case manager to prevent a student from having to repeat the complaint to multiple staff members.
SOURCE: Texas A&M University