FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas paid a former student $20,000 in a settlement after he claimed administrators mishandled a sexual assault allegation made against him, according to documents obtained by KNWA/Fox24.
The settlement will pay the former student, called “John Doe” to keep his identity secret, $20,000 for non-wage claims, “including damages and attorneys’ fees.” It also provides the student with a letter that says his circumstances could’ve turned out differently had new disciplinary measures been implemented at the time of the accusation. The settlement means the former student will drop an ongoing lawsuit against the UofA.
“John Doe” served community service time and was still allowed to graduate, said Gillian Gullett, a former student who accused him of a 2017 rape. She said she first approached the Fayetteville Police Dept., and after determining they wouldn’t pursue a criminal case, she reported the rape through Title IX, a federally-mandated program that purports to protect students from sex discrimination.
Gullett said the Title IX coordinator at the time, Tyler Farrar, determined that her case didn’t meet the standards for punishment. This was referenced in the letter sent to “John Doe.”
“The University’s Title IX Coordinator reviewed the Fayetteville Police Department’s report and the University’s Final Investigative Report before finding you not responsible,” wrote the Title IX Coordinator, whose name is redacted but is listed as Liz Means in university records.
Through the Title IX process, a ruling can be appealed before a three-person panel. Gullett appealed, and two of the three panelists voted April 27, 2018, to overturn the decision. Gullett said the punishment was community service and a short course. Emails sent to two addresses associated with Justin Zachary, one of “John Doe’s” lawyers, were unreturned by the publishing of this article.
“It was 184 days until they found him responsible,” Gullett said. “He got 10 hours of community service, has maintained complete anonymity and they gave him $20,000.”
The letter stated that a change in disciplinary procedures could’ve resulted in a different outcome had they been in place before.
“Since the Hearing Panel’s decision and in accordance with federal regulations that took effect on August 14, 2020, the University has updated its disciplinary procedures for students accused of similar policy violations,” the letter said. “Given the closeness of the evidence presented to the Hearing Panel, it is possible that the revised procedures could have led to a different outcome.”
Julia Nall is the UA student body president. She said the decision to settle sends the wrong message to victims, especially during “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”
“This is one in a really long series of disappointing and inadequate decisions,” Nall said. “We need more concrete action. We need more people working in the Title IX office.”
Nall said this could prevent future victims from coming forward.
“That’s knowing cases are already underreported,” Nall said.
In a statement, a University of Arkansas spokesperson said the decision to settle doesn’t take away from administrators’ commitment to victims.
“With the conclusion of this litigation, the University reiterates that it takes all reports of sexual assault seriously and remains committed to providing fair and thorough processes for complainants and respondents alike,” Mark Rushing said in a statement.
In a statement posted to the UA website in early April, Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz discussed sexual assault.
“We’ve sought the insights and ideas from student advisors about effective communication, messaging and training efforts,” Steinmetz said. “And we will always strive to create an environment in which there is zero tolerance for sexual violence. I personally believe it’s imperative that we provide a campus that is safe, that is supportive, that is vigilant, and that is doing its utmost to understand the causes and consequences of sexual violence.
Gullett, who has become a noted advocate for sexual assault survivors, said the decision wipes away much of the work she’s done. During her senior year, Steinmetz gave her an award for the work she’s done to promote sexual assault awareness. He signed the settlement April 12.
The settlement doesn’t exonerate “John Doe,” but Gullett said it sends a message: money over people.
“The monetary risk to the university is so much more important than the risk to students’ mental health, physical health and safety,” Gullett said.