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Title IX To-Do List

May 10, 2016

By Karla Hignite

For many institutions, the thought of bad media exposure from a Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) audit may be more frightening than the audit itself, suggests Dolores Stafford, executive director of the National Association of Clery Compliance Officers and Professionals (NACCOP), and a former chief of police at The George Washington University. Stafford and her NACCOP colleague Adrienne Meador Murray, director of training and compliance activities, and former director and chief of police for Trinity Washington University, co-presented the recent NACUBO webcast Title IX: Key Issues Surrounding Institutional Compliance.

During their presentation, Stafford and Murray provided guidance to chief business officers and their staff who have responsibility for managing the intake and resolution of complaints of sex-based harassment and discrimination as required by Title IX. From the Department of Education's OCR "Dear Colleague" letter to the recently enacted Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, the session covered new requirements and outlined a checklist of must-do actions to help campuses remain compliant.

Among the items on that to-do list:

  • Appoint a Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinators as appropriate.
  • Implement a robust and effective training program and awareness campaign.
  • Identify and train all "responsible employees." 
  • Ensure policies are in compliance.

Title IX Reporting Infrastructure

Included in the expectations the Department of Education spelled out in its 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter is the appointment of a coordinator for student and employee sex-based harassment and discrimination complaints. So, a preliminary question for every institution is whether it has an effective Title IX reporting infrastructure in place. For starters, has your institution officially designated a Title IX coordinator?

In addition to the campus Title IX coordinator, who serves as the designated primary contact for the Department of Education, some institutions may choose to appoint deputy or assistant coordinators. Considerations for this include when an institution has multiple campuses (common for many community colleges); athletics programs; fraternities and/or sororities; and specialized populations such as a law, medical, or business school. Very large institutions can also benefit from having deputy coordinators deployed across the campus to ensure accessibility for students and employees. Even small institutions might benefit from a deputy coordinator to avoid any potential conflicts of interest for an individual filing a complaint.

Bear in mind that only the designated coordinator has ultimate oversight responsibility, and deputy coordinators should have titles that clearly indicate their supporting role to the senior coordinator. That said, in addition to serving as a point of contact for student or employee complaints, deputy coordinators can be an asset with ongoing training and outreach efforts to help ease the load of the senior coordinator.

Training and Awareness Campaign

The Department of Education requires that an annual notice of nondiscrimination be sent to all employees and students that provides information about the campus coordinator and how to notify him or her, along with institution procedures for filing a complaint. In instances where deputy or assistant Title IX coordinators have been identified, the annual notice should indicate contact information for each deputy, including the specific responsibilities and populations served by each deputy (e.g., who will handle complaints by students, faculty, and other employees).

As for your institution's Title IX training and education, one way to identify any gaps is to sit down with key players on campus to map your efforts. At a minimum, this would likely include your public safety office, student health, student housing, and employee relations. You might start by creating four timelines to identify current employees, current students, incoming employees, and incoming students. Next, identify who is doing what with regard to training and education. Note programs taking place on an ongoing basis, such as your annual notice, and any special sessions for various groups. Looking at the totality of those timelines is one way to identify any holes in your program. Keep in mind that what constitutes a robust campaign will be different for a two-year or technical college versus a residential institution, where residence halls bring additional obligations.

Identify Responsible Employees

In addition to appointing a Title IX coordinator, every institution must identify "responsible employees" for the purposes of reporting complaints that fall under Title IX. These are individuals who are likely to witness or receive reports of sexual harassment or sexual violence and who are then obligated to report what they know to the Title IX coordinator. A first step is for your institution to assess who fits this definition. Training of these individuals is also in order to ensure they understand what constitutes sexual harassment, how to stop sexual harassment, and how to report information reported to them.

While the list of responsible employees will likely get revised each year, for the purpose of an audit, it's important for an institution to maintain each previous list as historical documentation. Determining responsible employees requires careful consideration. Some institution leaders may be inclined to identify all employees as responsible employees. In that scenario, all employees would then also require appropriate training to comply with Title IX requirements. So, it may be best to first include a smaller group in that pool and ensure they are properly trained before expanding training to others identified as responsible employees.

Ensure Policies are in Compliance

Maintaining multiple policies for the intake and resolution of complaints of sex- and gender-based harassment and discrimination can make the compliance process more onerous for an institution than it otherwise would be. Having multiple policies is by no means against the rules. Some institutions may deem it necessary to maintain separate policies for students versus employees, or to have one policy for tenured faculty, and another for non-tenured faculty, and another still for union employees. And yet, these discrepancies can typically be served by one master policy that spells out any important differences. In fact, a properly crafted umbrella sexual misconduct policy can address concerns related to Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Access to the full discussion of this Title IX webcast, which first aired April 20, 2016, is available on demand. And, it's not too late to take part in the live NACUBO webcast of The Clery Act: Strategic Planning to Mitigate Institutional Risk, coming up Thursday, May 26, 2016, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern. This session, also presented in partnership with the NACCOP, will provide guidance to CBOs and their staff who are managing compliance of the Clery Act on their campuses. Given the many nuanced and complex requirements of the federal mandate, the presenters will discuss key questions about the current state of institutional compliance and offer advice and practical guidance to aid in mitigating institutional risk associated with non-compliance prior to an audit.

Karla Hignite, editorial consultant to NACUBO, is editor of NACUBO's HR Horizons; e-mail: karlahignite@msn.com