College student commits suicide after Title IX ruling

Thomas Klocke, a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, killed himself a few days after an adverse Title IX ruling left his future academic career in doubt. Ashe Schow of Watchdog.org reports on what sounds like another example of college administrators abusing the civil rights of accused students in ways that would never be allowed in a court of law. At issue are two different version of an exchange that took place in class one day last May.

The accusing student…claims that in May 2016, Klocke made a comment during a class about “privilege,” and then proceeded to open his laptop and type “gays should die” into his web browser’s search bar. The accuser (who is not being named because Watchdog was unable to contact him for comment) claims he typed into his own browser search bar, “I’m gay.”

The accuser next claimed that Klocke feigned a yawn and said under his breath: “Well, then you’re a faggot.” The accuser says he told Klocke he should leave the class, to which Klocke allegedly responded: “You should consider killing yourself.”

It all sounds terrible, but Klocke told administrators a very different version of events:

Klocke also told his side of the story, claiming his accuser sat next to him that day in class and called Klocke beautiful. Klocke said he typed into his browser “Stop – I’m straight,” to which his accuser replied: “I’m gay.”

Klocke further said his accuser kept glancing at him, so he asked him to “stop.” He denied faking a yawn and said he was the one to ask his accuser to leave. His accuser began typing on his phone and laughing, which Klocke found distracting, so he moved across the room about 30 to 45 minutes into class. Klocke denied typing any slurs into his web browser.

So you have a he-said/he-said. Normally, before any disciplinary action was taken you would want some kind of investigation to see which story was true. But it’s not clear that happened in this case, at least not in any even-handed way. The accuser said he had related his version of events to the professor teaching the class, but it appears no one ever asked the professor if that was true. As for witnesses, the accuser only found one who would say that he heard someone say “you should leave.” Meanwhile, Klocke was told he could not attend the class and could not contact anyone in the class, meaning he had no way to find witnesses who might support his version of events without creating more trouble for himself.

The accuser had a friendly relationship with Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Heather Snow who wound up acting as his advocate throughout the process. Klocke, the accused student, was never given a hearing to present his side and the Title IX coordinator was never notified as required by school policy. Instead, Associate VP Snow and associate director of academic integrity Daniel Moore got together and (allegedly) agreed to punish Klocke absent any clear evidence:

On May 24, 2016, Moore and Snow discussed the case. Snow asked if Klocke acknowledged the behavior he was accused of, to which Moore replied: “not at all.” He told Snow the students had completely different accounts of the incident in question, but did not tell Snow what Klocke’s story was.

Moore also told Snow he didn’t have enough evidence to keep Klocke out of class. Snow agreed, saying “there isn’t enough to go off of” and said Klocke should be allowed back in the class with a mutual no-contact order with his accuser. Instead, Moore said he would look for another way to keep Klocke out of the class, and Snow told him to see if the class would be offered later in the summer…

Moore sent Klocke a letter the next day, on May 25, stating that Klocke had been found responsible for harassment (even though Moore and Snow acknowledged there was no evidence to support this claim). Klocke was placed on disciplinary probation for the remainder of his time at UTA, and would have this on his disciplinary record.

A few days after the conclusion of this kangaroo court, Klocke killed himself. His father, who is an attorney, has filed a lawsuit against the school and the accuser. In this case, the admonition to always believe the victim seems to have run roughshod over any kind of appropriate investigation or process to determine what really happened. Perhaps certainty wasn’t possible in this case, but if so that’s all the more reason administrators should not have been dishing out punishment that could impact a student’s ability to attend graduate school, something Klocke reportedly had hoped to do.