Texas state lawmakers are renewing efforts to require colleges and universities to include certain disciplinary action against students on their transcripts, alongside grades and course history.
The idea has been a topic of debate in the offices of university administrators and state lawmakers, and it gained fresh public attention after University of Texas at Dallas President Richard Benson said school officials were unaware Jacob Anderson had left Baylor University while under a sexual assault investigation before he transferred to UT-Dallas.
Benson said he was unaware of the investigation into Anderson until Anderson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for McLennan County prosecutors dropping four sexual assault counts and placing him on deferred probation. The deal prompted a petition to bar Anderson from campus and his graduation ceremony, which Benson agreed to.
Baylor President Linda Livingstone said administrators are reviewing the issue of discipline notations on transcripts and studying proposed legislation. She said she would welcome a consistent statewide standard that aligns with federal requirements.
“It’s one that we’ve got to get right, in terms of what we do as institutions of higher education,” Livingstone said. “It’s one that has a lot of implications for students that are affected on both sides of the issue.”
Title IX and related U.S. Department of Education guidance to universities, which addresses sexual misconduct and sex-based discrimination, does not provide any requirement for notations on transcripts if action is taken against a student or if a student leaves a university while under Title IX investigation.
“Certainly I think if we can find a way to come up with some guidelines or clarity on what that means, it would probably be helpful to institutions as we look at students transferring,” Livingstone said. “I think we’re seeing more and more students transfer, too, which raises the significance of what we do and how we do it.”
Two state legislators pushing a discipline-reporting requirement said UT-Dallas would have at least known about Anderson’s situation had it been disclosed on his transcript, which schools use to list academic records. Some Texas schools already include discipline-related information.
“The Anderson case is exhibit A of why my bill would be beneficial to universities and students,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, wrote in a statement. “It’s important that in instances where a student is expelled or suspended, or in this case, withdrew from a university as a result of a sexual assault allegation, that the school that the student transfers to is aware of those circumstances.”
Turner’s bill, House Bill 449, would require schools that suspend or expel a student for any reason to include a notation on the student’s transcript. If a student withdraws during a university investigation based on charges that could have led to suspension or expulsion, the school would have to complete the investigation, determine responsibility and dole out a punishment, if possible. That punishment would be marked on the transcript.
The bill would also allow a student to appeal placement of the transcript notation.
An identical version of Turner’s bill unanimously passed the House Higher Education Committee last session but did not go any further.
And state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, proposed transcript notations for any student found to have violated an institution’s sexual misconduct policy. Schools would also have to take note if a student transfers in the midst of a sexual misconduct investigation. Neave’s bill, House Bill 524, would also have an option to appeal.
Neave said she is working with Turner on the issue and that the legislation is meant to ensure universities obtain relevant information about applicants. The idea was borne out of a sexual violence task force she has convened this year.
“I think the organizing of the students UT-Dallas showed that there was serious concern about being an environment where there might be a concern for student safety,” Neave said. “We want students to be able to be in an environment where they can learn without having that type concern or fear for their safety.”
People who try to transfer to Baylor are asked on their applications if they have a history of disciplinary action against them at a previous institution, Livingstone said. If the applicant does, a special committee in the student conduct office will investigate and determine whether a student’s history should exclude them from campus.
Though the success of the policy relies on the initial honesty of the applicant, a university accepts responsibility for the students it admits, Livingstone said.
“It’s a pretty in-depth process and takes a lot of time to investigate, but we feel like it helps us understand better these students that might be coming to us and making wise choices about whether they should actually be on our campus or not,” she said.