Virtual Rule-making hearing

General Counsel C. Ryan Stinnett speaks before Board of Trustees at the virtual rulemaking hearing on Oct. 23.

The UT Board of Trustees held a public rulemaking hearing Friday morning to hear proposals for permanent adoption of federal changes to Title IX policy and for adoption of new system-wide immunization requirements.

The hearing was held virtually for the safety of the members of the board as well as the public, with certain members speaking from the ballroom in the Student Union and others joining over Zoom.

The hearing was the first step in a process of adopting new rules, and served as a time for the board and the general public to present information and opinions on the proposed rules to the UT administration for further consideration.

Once the proposed rules have been evaluated and revised by administration, they will be sent back to the Board of Trustees for another hearing, which is expected to take place in late November or early December of this year.

Four of the five proposed rules presented before the board by UT General Counsel C. Ryan Stinnett were identical in nature and concerned the permanent adoption across UT’s four campuses of the federal Department of Education’s changes to Title IX policy.

These changes, which were issued on May 6 and became effective on Aug. 14, were implemented by the board earlier this year on a temporary basis through the adoption of an emergency rule. This rule is set to expire after 180 days, and so the proposed rules would implement the revised Title IX policies on a permanent basis.

These revisions, which affect the university’s response to reports of sexual harassment and abuse, include revised definitions of key Title IX terms, new rights to an advisor for involved parties, a new process for appealing a determination and a new requirement for a Title IX hearing with cross examination of witnesses, all of which are designed to make the process more fair for those accused of sexual misconduct.

There were no public comments filed on these proposed rules for any of the four campuses, and no parties present made any comment on the proposed permanent adoption of these changes.

The lack of comments could be reflective of the arduous process of temporarily implementing the revised policies, which on the Knoxville campus included a months-long review by an implementation team with representatives from offices and organizations across campus.

The fifth proposed rule pertained to new systemwide immunization requirements, which inspired four comments submitted by concerned members of the public.

The proposed rule would require students to show proof of immunization for diseases including measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and meningococcal disease before beginning classes.

Stinnett explained that the rule would also allow universities in the UT system discretion over whether to require a flu or COVID vaccine.

“The proposed rule would also allow the university to require students to have the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine if one is developed and recommended by the CDC or the Tennessee Department of Health,” Stinnett said.

“It is very important to note that the proposed rule gives discretion to the university to require flu or COVID vaccines but does not mandate that UT will impose those requirements.”

The rule would also allow for several exemptions for students who attend class fully online, who have medical contraindications or who object to vaccines on religious grounds.

In responding to comments submitted by members of the public, Stinnett reiterated that students would not be required to take an unsafe COVID-19 vaccine.

“As the rule is written, the COVID vaccine would only be required when the CDC or Tennessee Department of Health determines that it is a medically effective and safe immunization,” Stinnett said.

Following the presentation of the proposed immunization requirements, John Compton, chair of the Board of Trustees, made the only comment from those present during the hearings.

“Since this is a rule pertaining to our campuses and since our board meets on our campuses, I would ask our board to also follow these requirements, and if you haven’t had your flu shot already, I would encourage you to get one,” Compton said.

The Board of Trustees followed up the rulemaking hearings with their general board meeting for the fall, and will pass the proposed rules onto UT administration for further evaluation.

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