Universities and Title IX -- A Deeply Troubling Account

Members of the UVU faculty, like faculty members across the nation, have faced troubling and interminable Title IX investigations. Isn't there a better way to go about this?

Here's an especially interesting story, an essay that will be in the Sunday Magazine of the NYT and is available today in the on-line edition:


A couple of excerpts:

In academia, the phrase “Title IX investigation” is so common that we sometimes forget that many people have never heard the term. When I called my dad after Marta hung up with the associate dean and left to go teach, he asked me — once I stopped crying — what a Title IX investigation even was.
What it usually means, I said, is an investigation of sexual misconduct. We hear about them most often in cases of sexual assault — usually of a female student by a male student, usually in relation to the campus rape crisis. But Title IX also applies to faculty or staff: that professor who won’t stop asking his student out for drinks; that teacher who touches students on the arm, thigh, breast; that mentor who persuades her graduate student to sleep with her, even after he has said no.
Marta tried to explain the discrepancy to Melanie, the university investigator assigned to her case, during her first interview on March 28, but Melanie seemed unimpressed. “I do think it’s relevant to point that out,” she said, before pivoting back to a long list of questions she had: Did Marta meet with students at night? Did Marta offer alcohol to students? Did Marta ask for sexual favors from her students? Did Marta know anyone named Rebecca James? No, Marta said, no and no and no.
Melanie also hadn’t been able to locate a current student named Rebecca James in Marta’s department, but she said that the name could always be an alias, and she was still obligated to investigate Marta now that a “credible” accusation had been made.
Their interview at the university’s Office of University Rights and Responsibilities, which manages Title IX complaints, lasted almost an hour. Afterward, I briefly met with Melanie in a large conference room with a box of tissues on the table. She said she didn’t have anything to ask me, but she could answer any questions I had.
“We just want to figure this out as quickly as possible,” I told her. “It might have already jeopardized our job opportunities —” My voice broke.

I reached for a tissue. Melanie was young, probably in her late 20s or early 30s, with long straight hair and an impassive face. “You’re fine,” she said, though it was clear I wasn’t.
“If you can figure out that it’s an outsider or somebody from the outside that’s posing as a student,” I finally said, “can you just close the investigation?”
“Good question,” Melanie responded, her voice bright again. “Because of the funding that we receive through Title IX, we’re required to investigate everything. And with that we want to really run everything to the ground.”
I nodded. I knew that universities could lose federal funding if they didn’t show they were protecting students, and I was glad — I am glad — for that. But I was still confused. Melanie continued. “If we find out that — and Marta asked the question — if we find out that the information is false, for our purposes that’s not really our end goal; we’re just trying to determine whether or not there’s a policy violation.”
Listening to my recording of our conversation recently, I wondered why I didn’t stop Melanie at that point. Was she really saying that if they realized the accusations were invented, if the accuser herself was a fiction, they would still investigate? Did it not matter whether the complaints were true or false?


Eventually, I wrote to the president of A.S.U. He had told us during our faculty orientation that we should always feel free to reach out directly to him, so I decided to take him at his word. I told him that someone had been using the university’s Title IX process to harass us, that this person had impersonated students and faculty members and had posted false statements about Marta on Reddit. I explained that there was no evidence that either Marta or I had done anything wrong, yet the Title IX office had told us that it could not close its investigation if emails kept coming in from this anonymous individual. “We are strong believers in the importance of Title IX protections,” I concluded, “but we also feel like there has to be a system in place to protect faculty and students from outsiders who might use that system to defame and harass.”
That afternoon, I received a response from the vice provost, who assured me that investigators were being urged to move expeditiously. “I know it can be frustrating to wait for findings,” she added, “but we are obligated to look into allegations that are brought to us.”
Two weeks passed. We met with Melanie and her supervisor and were told that, in the future, anonymous accusations would be fact-checked before new investigations were opened. Melanie told us she had started writing up her report, but she said she couldn’t give us a timeline for its completion. I wrote again to the vice provost. She said the report was now with the provost, and we could expect an answer soon.


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