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Colleges still struggle with Title IX compliance

Federal government doesn’t provide enough guidance, some say
University Business, December 2016

More than 40 years after it was established, Title IX continues to pose compliance challenges for higher education institutions struggling with sexual assault investigations.

The University of Maryland recently made national headlines when its student government passed a $34 per student fee to support Title IX investigations of campus sexual assault and discrimination incidents.

It would have been the first student fee of its kind in the U.S., but after intense media scrutiny the fee was rescinded in October. Instead, President Wallace Loh adjusted his proposed budget to hire new staff to help process claims—which were taking 140 days to investigate, as opposed to the 60 days as recommended under federal guidelines.

Also in October, an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found a student accused of sexual assault at Wesley College in Delaware had been treated unfairly, the first instance of a Title IX violation in that regard. Although recent emphasis has been placed on protecting victims’ rights, the ruling serves as a reminder to institutions that both parties in any incident are entitled to equal rights and protections.

The case is a reminder of the complexity of the Title IX landscape, according to Brett Sokolow, CEO and executive director of ATIXA, a nonprofit organization of Title IX administrators. “There’s just this multiheaded hydra of a monster going on with Title IX—and all for noble purposes,” he says. “The body of Title IX knowledge is immense, and it’s constantly expanding.”

Colleges struggle with compliance, in part, because the federal government doesn’t provide enough guidance in deciphering the law and translating it into on-campus action, Sokolow says. He also points to high turnover in Title IX work, which can result in confusion and mistakes when a new administrator arrives at a school and is not fully familiar with the institution’s policies.

Title IX administrators should embrace full process transparency and understand the need to maintain an impartial, balanced stance regarding all claims. Important, too, is an awareness that the cost of remedies is escalating; increased counseling, credited tuition and other mandated responses need to be reflected in budgets.

Campus officials also may want to consider specific fundraising efforts to support Title IX operations. “That might be a very popular source of donor dollars and a way that donors could really feel like they are contributing to something worthwhile,” says Sokoloff.

Title IX administrators should work with their institutions to find ways to balance daily caseloads and compliance tests while staying atop the latest developments and training.

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