KU v. K-State court disagreement inspires Board of Regents to propose ‘Notice of Litigation Policy’

If one state university is going to sue another state university, the Kansas Board of Regents at least wants to know about it first. Same goes for when a university plans to file a brief opposing another university in a court case.

That’s the gist of a proposed “Notice of Litigation Policy” the Regents are scheduled to discuss at their monthly meeting Wednesday. According to a Regents memo, it falls under a board goal of addressing inconsistencies in the way state universities handle Title IX investigations and proceedings. (Reminder: Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education, and it requires universities to investigate and adjudicate cases of sexual harassment, sexual violence and intimate partner violence that create a hostile environment for a student on campus.)

UPDATE: The Board of Regents approved the policy on Wednesday as written with no discussion.

A KU-versus-K-State situation inspired the proposed Regents policy.

It’s the case of Navid Yeasin v. KU. KU expelled Yeasin in 2013 when he tweeted a series of derogatory comments about an ex-girlfriend (also a KU student) after the university ordered him not to contact her. He sued KU in 2014.

KU argued that it acted according to its responsibility to provide a secure learning environment for its students, and that Yeasin’s off-campus actions created a hostile environment on campus for the woman.

Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild ruled KU did not have jurisdiction to expel Yeasin because there was no evidence that the incidents leading to his expulsion occurred on campus. In September 2015 the Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, because KU’s Student Code didn’t give the university authority to act when the misconduct occurred outside its campus or at university sponsored or supervised events. (Note: After being sued, KU updated the Student Code in November 2014 to clarify that the university does have off-campus jurisdiction in Title IX cases.)

According to the Regents memo, here’s how K-State got involved:

“They were interested in the case primarily because they had made the determination that Title IX did not require the University to investigate and hear student complaints of sexual harassment when the harassing activity did not occur on campus or at a campus sponsored event. Their concern was heightened when the case was appealed to the Court of Appeals, the ruling of which could have impacted all the universities by the Court’s interpretation of Title IX responsibilities. Though the attorneys for both institutions had discussed the situation and attempted to come to terms, they were unsuccessful in reaching a mutual understanding of the law and/or the practical effects of interpreting the law in various ways. Accordingly, Kansas State University filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals taking a position contrary to that of the University of Kansas.”

And the kicker, according to the Regents memo: “Board members became aware of the controversy only when it was reported in the news.”

When it comes to Title IX, “having state universities disagree about the parameters of this federal law was unacceptable,” according to the Regents memo. The proposed notice of litigation policy is envisioned as one step in studying current campus Title IX practices and policies, and ultimately developing a board policy to add uniformity.

• I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at sshepherd@ljworld.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.