UT paying lawyers $45K each to evaluate sexual environment

The University of Tennessee will pay four attorneys $45,000 each plus expenses to evaluate the UT system’s Title IX programs in the wake of a federal lawsuit settled in July that accused the school of maintaining a “hostile sexual environment,” reports the News Sentinel.

UT President Joe DiPietro said Wednesday that he hopes to keep the cost of the independent commission under $250,000.

The group will meet privately for the first time with DiPietro on Nov. 17 in Knoxville and will then begin its work independently of the university after Thanksgiving, he said. Subsequent meetings will also be secret, unless the commission decides to hold public meetings for community feedback. The group’s correspondence would also be privileged, DiPietro said.

“Our view of this is because it’s an independent commission and it’s under the purview of (law firm) Neal & Harwell, that the meetings and information are private,” DiPietro said. “But there will be a public report at the end of it.”

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said that because the commission was hired by UT’s president rather than appointed by the board of trustees, the meetings are not subject to open meetings laws. Although documents the commission generates for the university would be public, anything considered “legal advice” would be covered by attorney-client privilege, she said.

…The four commission members are:

•Stanley Brand, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington with experience handling political corruption cases.

•Bill Morelli, an attorney in Nashville who specializes in compliance law and ethics code development who spent more than two decades with Ingram Industries, a manufacturing company.

•Elizabeth Conklin, associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX and Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the University of Connecticut.

•Janet Judge, president of Sports Law Associates LLC, who concentrates on sexual harassment, sexual violence prevention in intercollegiate sports and employment law.